Work in Sports
ST. LOUIS (Ticker) -- It was expected that rookie Rick Ankiel would experience postseason jitters. But few thought four-time Cy Young Award winner Greg Maddux would struggle in Game One of the National League Division Series.
Betrayed by his defense, Maddux allowed six runs in the opening inning while Jim Edmonds had three hits, including a homer, in his first playoff game as the St. Louis Cardinals stunned the Atlanta Braves, 7-5.
After Ankiel, St. Louis' rookie lefthander, survived a shaky first inning, the Braves completely self-destructed in the bottom of the frame. Fernando Vina reached on an infield single when the ball caromed off the first base bag. J.D. Drew followed with a broken-bat single to put runners at the corners.
Edmonds, who never before had faced Maddux (0-1), lined a single into the left-center field gap. Gold Glove center fielder Andruw Jones ranged over but pulled off the ball as left fielder Reggie Sanders approached. The play was generously ruled a base hit.
"I was just trying to run and get the ball and it dropped," Jones said. "It probably was miscommunication. Nobody called for it. I should have caught it, it was my fault."
Maddux surrendered a run-scoring single to Will Clark. Chipper Jones, whose error in the ninth inning Sunday opened the door to a loss that gave St. Louis home-field advantage today, booted a chopper to third base. After Edgar Renteria bunted over the runners, Carlos Hernandez was intentionally walked.
The strategy backfired on Braves manager Bobby Cox as Maddux grooved a pitch to Placido Polanco, who ripped a single up the middle. Clark and Lankford scored and Hernandez came around for a 6-0 lead when Atlanta catcher Paul Bako threw wildly to second attempting to nail Polanco.
"I guess it was a fast-moving fastball, like a sinker, and it stayed there," Polanco said. "I was looking for a pitch like that to drive it. I was trying to stay away from the ground ball. I think he (Maddux) left it there and I took advantage."
"We took advantage of a few little miscues early," Clark said. "We played little ball today and little ball worked."
Maddux was philosophical about the inning.
"It happens," he said. "Sometimes, there's not a whole lot you can do about it. You just try to play the game right and take your chances. I thought they hit it where nobody was."
"They kind of steamrolled real fast," Cox said. "We did everything we could to give them six runs. They could not have ordered it up much better. We just could not stop it. It just kept happening."
Cardinals manager Tony La Russa gave Polanco the start at third in place of Fernando Tatis, who has slumped badly over the last two months.
"This is a very important game," Polanco added. "I've got to relax and try to take every at-bat like a good one. I didn't know I was playing until today, so when I saw my name in the lineup, I said, 'Here we go, let's go.'" The Braves, who dropped Game One of their Division Series with Houston last season, got back within 6-4 by the third inning today but never were able to overcome the early deficit.
Game Two is Thursday at 4:00 p.m. EDT.
Ankiel was far from effective, allowing four runs and four hits in 2 2/3 innings. He walked six and became the first pitcher to throw five wild pitches in an inning -- in any game, regular or postseason.
After Mike James (1-0) was dominant over 2 1/3 scoreless innings in relief, Mike Timlin survived a rocky sixth. Rookie Britt Reames held Atlanta hitless through the eighth but closer Dave Veres had trouble in his first postseason contest.
With Atlanta trailing 7-4, Andruw Jones opened the ninth by reaching on an error by shortstop Edgar Renteria. Chipper Jones struck out but Andres Galarraga was hit by a pitch. Brian Jordan followed with a single to left to slice the deficit to two runs before Sanders struck out on a 3-2 pitch and Keith Lockhart flied to left field.
"I got the save but if it wasn't for the five innings ahead of me, it wouldn't have mattered," Veres said. "We never had doubts all along. It was everybody else doubting us."
"To get this first win was important," James said. "I feel pretty good about it and it gives us a little momentum going into Thursday."
Maddux, who lost for just the second time in six Division Series decisions, had made nine straight postseason starts where he allowed two earned runs or less. The veteran righthander walked three and allowed a homer to Edmonds in the fourth.
After being staked to the 6-0 lead, Ankiel was bailed out of the second inning when pinch-hitter Javy Lopez lined into an inning-ending double play. St. Louis threatened in the second but stranded a pair of runners and the Braves capitalized on the momentum swing and Ankiel's wildness in the third.
Maddux drew a four-pitch walk but Ankiel got rookie Rafael Furcal to foul out. The highly touted lefthander proceeded to lose the plate, throwing two wild pitches in a walk to Andruw Jones. Chipper Jones struck out but Ankiel uncorked another wild pitch that allowed Andruw Jones to take second.
Ankiel threw his fourth wild pitch to plate Maddux during a walk to Galarraga and Brian Jordan singled to left to cut the deficit to 6-2. The fifth wild pitch of the inning moved both runners into scoring position and Sanders walked. Walt Weiss followed with a two-run single to left and La Russa turned to James.
"I was trying to do too much instead of relaxing," Ankiel said. "I was anxious. It was just one of those days.
"Once you make a wild pitch, your focus should be on the next pitch. That's what I was trying to do, but for some reason I couldn't find it. I told myself I just needed to go out there and throw strikes, but I wasn't able to."
Edmonds homered to right to open the fourth and St. Louis threatened against Braves reliever Mike Remlinger in the fifth.
James allowed the first two batters in the seventh to reach and La Russa turned to Reames, a 27-year-old rookie who missed all of 1997 and 1998 with an injury and did not make his major league debut until August 20.
Reames struck out Galarraga before walking Jordan to load the bases. Sanders hit a fly ball to shallow center for the second out and Reames got pinch-hitter Bobby Bonilla to ground to first.
"I was actually pretty calm," Reames said. "Once you get that first pitch over with, then it is just like you have been out there your whole life. This is what you work up to. You have a job to do. When you go in there you just try to go in there and throw strikes."
Controversial Braves closer John Rocker entered the game in the eighth and walked Drew, fired an errant pickoff attempt and allowed a stolen base. With La Russa playing his trump card in pinch-hitter Mark McGwire, Cox turned to Kerry Ligtenberg, who got Renteria on a line drive to left after intentionally walking baseball's single-season home run leader.
"It was a very tough ballgame," La Russa said. "You can't compliment James enough. Reames, Timlin did all right and Veres overcomes a leadoff error. Our bullpen's outstanding."