On the brink
Diamondbacks roll past bumbling Braves, take 3-1 lead
Updated: Sunday October 21, 2001 11:31 AM
ATLANTA (AP) -- The Arizona Diamondbacks hardly had to do anything. They just hit some nice, easy grounders and let the Bad News Braves find all sorts of ways to mess up.
Atlanta dropped the ball. Or threw it away. Or didn't throw it at all.
The Diamondbacks were just casual bystanders while Greg Maddux and the Braves fell apart. Arizona scored six unearned runs to take command of the NL Championship Series with an 11-4 victory Saturday night and a 3-1 edge.
"It was like we were in the 'Twilight Zone,'" Braves third baseman Chipper Jones said. "We came back to the dugout after that inning and said 'Where are we, what the heck is going on?' Things like that don't happen."
The Diamondbacks can earn their first trip to the World Series on Sunday night -- with Randy Johnson rested and ready to go. As the ultimate insurance policy, Curt Schilling would be ready to pitch Game 7.
"I've never been in a situation where you have two guys like that and only one game to go," Arizona reliever Greg Swindell said. "You've got to love your chances."
Especially with the way the Braves are playing. After clinching another NL East championship and sweeping Houston in the first round of the playoffs, this group of postseason veterans need a lesson in Baseball 101.
"It's embarrassing," Maddux said. "Nothing I did worked out."
Their misery began in the first inning, when Craig Counsell reached first on a passed ball after striking out. It lasted until the ninth, when Rey Sanchez's second error gave the Diamondbacks four more unearned runs.
"They're not a team that usually gives you extra outs," said Schilling said, having watched it happen two nights in a row. "You don't have that kind of thing happen when you play against the Atlanta Braves. I've never seen it."
Luis Gonzalez finished off Atlanta with a three-run homer.
"They have the kind of pitching staff where they want you to put it in play and let their defense do the work," Schilling said.
Not on this night. As if to show the Braves how it's done, former Atlanta outfielder Danny Bautista ended the game with a tumbling catch in center field.
Then there was Maddux, the winner of 11 straight Gold Glove awards. He resembled a Little Leaguer in the four-run third, which turned the game in Arizona's favor.
The Braves became the first team in the 33-year history of the NLCS to make three errors in one inning, which included an errant throw by Maddux and a mental gaffe by the four-time Cy Young winner that was even more shocking.
Maddux was knocked out in the fourth. Arizona started the inning with three straight hits, the last a two-run double by Counsell, Arizona's Mr. October. He finished with four RBIs.
Pitching on three days' rest for the first time this season, the 35-year-old Maddux lasted just three innings -- his shortest start in 29 postseason appearances
For the second consecutive night, the Braves were undone by the fundamentals. In the fifth inning of Game 3, Julio Franco and Marcus Giles both failed to cover first, and Javy Lopez let two runs score when he dropped a throw to the plate.
After that batch of miscues, Schilling cruised to a 5-1 victory.
Surely, it couldn't happen again to a team playing its 105th postseason game since 1991. It did, just one night later.
Jones got the follies started by bobbling Tony Womack's chopper to third. While that error didn't hurt the Braves -- Womack was thrown out trying to steal second -- they were about to unravel.
Counsell followed with a routine grounder to Sanchez, a slick-fielding shortstop acquired by the Braves just before the trade deadline. He sidearmed the throw to first and watched it sail off the screen in front of the Braves dugout for their second straight error.
Counsell sprinted to third on Gonzalez's single, then things really got interesting.
Reggie Sanders hit a grounder back to the mound. Maddux snared it, but instead of wheeling around to start a double play, he appeared distracted by the sight of Counsell caught off third.
Maddux hesitated, waiting for Jones to cover the bag. Even when he got to third, Maddux didn't throw. Then he looked to first -- too late to get Sanders. By that time, Counsell was sliding back into third.
"I got a ball hit back to me and I didn't throw it where I should have," Maddux said.
With the bases loaded, Steve Finley hit a liner up the middle. Maddux got a glove on the ball, scrambled off the mound to retrieve it and made an off-balance throw to the plate.
But the ball sailed past catcher Paul Bako, allowing two runs to score. Pitching coach Leo Mazzone was so stunned by Maddux's miscues that he went to the mound with a towel.
"Go figure," Arizona manager Bob Brenly said. "I don't know how to explain that. I've marveled at Greg Maddux as a player, a coach, a broadcaster and now a manager, at his ability to help himself by fielding his position. It was so out of character to see the plays he made tonight."
Arizona starter Albie Lopez, who dominated the Braves during the regular season, lasted only three innings. He gave up an RBI double to Chipper Jones in the first and a 422-foot homer to Andruw Jones in the second.
It didn't matter as Maddux added another chapter to his postseason misery. He dropped to 4-8 in the NLCS and 10-13 overall in all playoff games.
Going back to the regular season, Maddux has a stretch of 10 starts without a win -- his longest since going 13 starts between victories in 1990. Unless the Braves can force a Game 7, he won't get another chance to end the streak this year.
The last team to rebound from a 3-1 playoff deficit was the Braves, who outscored the St. Louis Cardinals 32-1 to win the final three games of the 1996 NLCS.
Notes: The attendance was 42,291 -- about 8,000 short of a sellout. ... Arizona got two runners on base after strikeouts, the other on a wild pitch. ... Maddux made the 32nd start of his career on three days' rest. ... Lopez went 2-0 against the Braves during the regular season. He gave up just one run in 14 innings. ... Two AL teams have made three errors in an LCS inning, most recently the Angels in 1986.