Braves seek to reverse losing trend at Turner Field
Updated: Thursday October 11, 2001 10:34 PM
ATLANTA (AP) -- Now that they have a commanding lead in the playoffs, the Atlanta Braves aren't the least bit concerned about their mediocre record at Turner Field during the regular season.
The Braves became the first team to make the postseason with a sub-.500 mark at home, which should provide a glimmer of hope to the Houston Astros after two straight losses at Enron Field.
Not so, said Atlanta outfielder Brian Jordan, whose team wants to finish off the best-of-five series Friday with a sweep.
"This is a totally different season," Jordan insisted after an off-day workout at The Ted. "Besides, when we needed to win at home this season, we did. Coming home, I think we have the advantage."
They certainly a mental edge over the Astros, who are 0-for-6 in postseason series and have never won an elimination game. "How can this keep happening?" Jeff Bagwell asked Thursday. "The talent has definitely been there."
The Braves were just 40-41 at Turner Field but did win six of the last nine, clinching the NL East championship and a 10th straight postseason appearance. In the final 10 days, Atlanta took two out of three from both Philadelphia and the New York Mets, its closest rivals.
Now, the Astros are struggling even more.
"It's like someone upstairs doesn't like us, and I don't know why," Craig Biggio said. "We're good people. We live right. But baseball is a cruel game."
With a tough act to follow, Atlanta's John Burkett will make his first postseason start since 1996. Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine started the first two games for the Braves, allowing two earned runs in 14 innings at tiny Enron. Shane Reynolds, a 14-game winner during the regular season, will try to extend Houston's season.
The Astros are making a change in their lineup, starting Jose Vizcaino at shortstop instead of Julio Lugo, who made crucial errors in each of the first two games. Manager Larry Dierker said that was his plan all along since Vizcaino has a .396 career average (19-of-48) against Burkett. Lugo is 2-of-7 (.286).
"This is the exact same thing we did during the regular season," Dierker said. "Certainly there's more Lugo in our future than there is Vizcaino if we look two years down the road. We need to play Lugo and let him know he's our guy. But Vizcaino's had a tremendous amount of success against Burkett."
The 36-year-old Burkett considered retirement after being released by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in spring training a year ago. He was picked up by the Braves and wound up making the All-Star team this season.
"I thought my career was over," he said. "Now, here I am, starting Game 3 of the playoffs for the Atlanta Braves. Just playing with a team like the Braves is incredible."
With firsthand knowledge of how quickly things can change, Burkett knows it's important to knock out the Astros as soon as possible.
"Even though we're up 2-0, I feel like we need to win Friday," he said. "You lose one game in a series like this, and the momentum changes." The Braves didn't have manager Bobby Cox for their workout. He was in Birmingham, Ala., with his sister, Joy Rogers, who suffered a brain hemorrhage on Wednesday.
General manager John Schuerholz did not talk with Cox before the workout, but assumes he will return to Atlanta for Game 3. If not, dugout coach Pat Corrales likely would take his place.
"I know Bobby will find a way to be here," Jordan said. "This will motivate us to win tomorrow so he can go spend a little more time with his sister."
The NL Championship Series begins Tuesday. Houston, which won the Central division on the final day of the season after squandering a 5 1/2-game lead with 12 to play, arrived late for a workout at Turner Field after their flight was delayed by inclement weather in Texas.
Considering their playoff history, the Astros might be better off spending their time with a motivational speaker. Houston is on the verge of its third playoff loss to the Braves, also falling in the first round in 1997 and '99.
Once again, the Killer B's -- Bagwell and Biggio, joined this season by Lance Berkman -- are losing their sting in the October spotlight. The Braves have pitched around Bagwell, who has three singles and three walks but zero RBIs. Biggio and Berkman are both 1-for-8.
Biggio is a .146 career hitter in the postseason, while Bagwell is batting just .182.
"Believe me, you never forget," Jordan said. "They may say it's not, but it's got to be in the back of their minds."