Apart at the seams
Errors, shaky pitching put Braves in hole at home
Updated: Saturday October 20, 2001 1:44 AM
ATLANTA (AP) -- The Braves are counting on pitching and defense to carry them through the postseason. That strategy backfired Friday night in the NL Championship Series.
Especially the defense, which fell apart during a three-run fifth inning that propelled the Arizona Diamondbacks to a 5-1 victory and a 2-1 lead in the series.
"We didn't make the plays -- that's the bottom line," Brian Jordan said. "We gave them extra outs. You can't do that."
There was an obvious error: catcher Javy Lopez misplayed a throw that allowed two runs to score. Two other mental blunders made it impossible for Atlanta to escape the inning.
"You can't make mistakes and expect to beat a Schilling," Jordan said.
In addition to another dominating performance on the mound, Schilling sparked the big inning with a single to right against Burkett.
Jordan scooped up the ball and came up raring to throw, hoping to catch the slow-running pitcher at first. But Julio Franco never looked up, so Jordan aborted his plan with obvious disgust.
Franco joined the Braves on Aug. 31 from the Mexican League and wasn't aware that Jordan has thrown out several runners at first during his career.
"We just haven't played together all year," Jordan said. "He just came over here. We'll know next time."
That was just the beginning of Atlanta's defensive woes.
Tony Womack followed with a bunt, merely hoping to move the runner into scoring position. The ball rolled to the right of the mound, where Burkett and Franco converged.
But second baseman Marcus Giles broke one of baseball's cardinal rules, breaking too late from his own position to cover first. Womack raced across the bag with a single, not even drawing a throw.
"It was my fault," Giles said. "I should have told Julio I was playing up the middle. The bottom line is I'm normally covering first on that play."
Craig Counsell followed with another bunt, this one resulting in a sacrifice. Luis Gonzalez was walked intentionally, and the Braves brought in sidearmer Steve Reed with the idea of getting an inning-ending double play.
Unfortunately for the Braves, Lopez covered the plate tentatively, perhaps remembering a Sept. 30 play against the New York Mets.
In that late-season game, Robin Ventura barreled into the Atlanta catcher, leaving him with a high sprain to his left ankle. Lopez missed more than two weeks, finally returning for Game 2 of the NLCS.
With the 6-foot-5, 235-pound Schilling lumbering down the line, Lopez let Jones' throw sail right by his catcher's mitt. The ball wound up against the backstop, two runs scored and the Diamondbacks had a 4-1 lead.
With Schilling on the mound, it was game, set, match.
After the game, Lopez lingered in an off-limits area of the clubhouse for nearly an hour. Finally, Jordan urged him to meet with a few reporters who were still lurking near his locker.
"It was a real goofy play," Lopez said. "I turned to switch my leg. The play happened so fast, I didn't have time to think. Unfortunately, at that moment, I was thinking more about the runner than the ball. I screwed it up."
Lopez insisted, however, that he wasn't thinking about his collision with Ventura, who slid into the catcher's ankle.
"No, I wasn't thinking about that at all," Lopez said. "Schilling isn't the type of guy to slide."
The Braves will come back with Greg Maddux in Game 4 on Saturday night, hoping he can even the series on three days' rest.
This is about as close to a must-win situation as a team can get when facing just a 2-1 deficit in a best-of-seven series.
If the Braves don't beat Albie Lopez, 22-game winner Randy Johnson -- who threw a three-hit shutout in Game 1 -- will be ready to pitch the clinching game Sunday.
Schilling -- the ultimate insurance policy -- also lurks down the line if the series stretches to seven games.
The Braves have no chance of getting that far unless they get their pitching and defense straightened out.
"I take all the blame," Javy Lopez said. "All the blame."