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Updated: Friday October 4, 2002 1:51 AM
  MLB RECAP
San Francisco Giants
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Stats: Batting |  Pitching
R H E
3 7 0
W Kevin Millwood
(1-0)
L Kirk Rueter
(0-1)
Atlanta Braves
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Stats: Batting |  Pitching
R H E
7 8 0
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  Kevin Millwood
  Mark DeRosa

ATLANTA (Ticker) -- In what was a no-lose situation for the San Francisco Giants, Kevin Millwood came through with a must-win for the Atlanta Braves.

Millwood tossed six strong innings and Javy Lopez and Vinny Castilla hit back-to-back homers to lead the Braves to a 7-3 victory over the Giants, evening their National League Division Series at one win apiece.

Starting in place of Greg Maddux, who was pushed back to Game Three due to a blister on his right index finger, Millwood (1-0) allowed two runs and three hits to post his third career postseason victory. The 27-year-old righthander struck out seven without a walk and improved to 17-3 in 26 starts since May 24.

"It was as close to a must-win as you were going to get," Millwood said. "Everybody battled. The whole team fought all night long. That's what good teams do. I felt like it was a do-or-die game and I was going to give it all that I got for as long as I can. It was definitely the biggest game (for me) this year. To go down two games to none, it would have been really tough to win."

"He was very aggressive," Giants right fielder Reggie Sanders said. "You can tell in the first inning it was going to be a tough night. He did definitely what we thought he was going to do. He didn't change anything. He had his pitches working. He kept us off-balance."

The outing was Millwood's best in the playoffs since holding the New York Mets to three runs and five hits in Game Two to even the 1999 NL Championship Series. He pitched the first one-hitter in NLDS history against Houston in 1999.

"I think in any situation, you try to go back to a similar situation that you were successful in," Millwood said. "I was successful then, so I wanted to go back and pull something up, and that's what I did. I knew in my mind that I had been in that same situation and I did well. Really, nothing better for me to think about than that."

"He's had a great year," Atlanta manager Bobby Cox added. "Kevin was coming off sort of a so-so year last year. He was extra good tonight. He has not thrown 95, 96 (miles per hour) maybe ever. The good thing is Tommy (Glavine) threw 70 pitches the other day and Millwood threw 70, and they both came back on three days' rest, which they can do very easily."

After disappointing seasons, Lopez and Castilla started the bottom of the second inning with solo homers off Giants starter Kirk Rueter to give the Braves a 3-1 lead.

"I've been having like a wrist injury that's been nagging me all year long," Castilla said. "The wrist is strong now, so I've been able to drive the ball. I was looking for something to hit hard. He gave me something to hit and I hit it."

"They are two good hitters," Rueter said. "Those are two pitches that I'd probably like to have back. They did what they had to do with a mistake."

Chipper Jones and Rafael Furcal had RBI singles for Atlanta while Mark DeRosa added a two-run triple in his first career postseason start.

J.T. Snow, Rich Aurilia and Barry Bonds accounted for San Francisco's runs with solo homers. Bonds' shot was just his second in 105 career postseason at-bats and first in the playoffs since Game Six of the 1992 NLCS, also against Atlanta.

Rueter (0-1) was less than impressive in his second career postseason start, surrendering seven runs - six earned - and seven hits in three innings with two walks and a strikeout.

"In the first inning, I got the ground balls," Rueter said. "I felt good. It just seemed like it was one of those nights. I'm going to have games like this. Unfortunately, it came in Game Two of the playoffs."

"It appeared they had a pretty good game plan against Kirk," San Francisco manager Dusty Baker added. "Kirk got some balls up, but the ball Javy hit was a pretty good pitch. But it looked like his ball was not sinking as much as usual and there were a couple of balls that even were cutting. I looked up on the board and he was throwing 87-88 miles an hour, which is almost too hard for Kirk. So he might have been a little over-amped early and was throwing the ball really almost too hard to sink for him."

Game Three is Saturday in San Francisco.

After falling short in a late-inning comeback in Game One, the Braves jumped out to an early lead against Rueter.

With one out in the first, Julio Franco walked and moved to second on Gary Sheffield's groundout before scoring on a single to left by Jones.

Snow drew San Francisco even in the second, smacking a 1-0 offering over the left field wall for his second career postseason homer and first blast since August 4. He has hit safely in six of his last seven playoff games, going 8-for-22 with two homers and six RBI.

"It doesn't mean much," Snow said. "We lost, that's the bottom line."

Atlanta immediately answered with three runs in the bottom half to stake Millwood to a 4-1 lead.

Lopez, who also homered in Game One, and Castilla belted consecutive pitches over the center field wall to mark the second time the Braves have gone back-to-back in postseason history. Ryan Klesko and Brian Jordan hit consecutive homers in the eighth inning of Game Four of the 1999 NLCS against the Mets.

"I'm not Mr. October," Lopez said. "I do try to contribute all I can. It was a fastball. I hit it good. Things are starting to happen for me in the postseason. My approach is the same. Things are just starting to happen now."

"He's swinging the bat much better ever since we went to Florida our last (road) trip," Cox said of Lopez. "He hit the ball good there. It was toward the end of the season. (Batting coach Terry Pendleton) has been working real hard with him, not so much the hands or stride but just swinging at pitches that are around the plate, and that made a big difference for him."

Other than hitting just 11 homers in an injury-plagued 1999 season, Lopez posted the lowest total of his nine-year career. Castilla belted 12 homers this year, his fewest since swatting nine in 105 games in 1993.

"Javy and me have been in comeback games before," said Castilla, who homered at home for the first time since June 3. "The regular season is over. It's all about the playoffs now. Every time you win this kind of game, it pumps you up. It feels good to know I got my swing back."

"This is a dream for every player," Lopez said. "This is a time we're all looking for. What I did in the past, I left behind."

The rally continued when DeRosa blooped a double into shallow right field and advanced on a sacrifice by Millwood. Furcal followed with a bloop single to center to plate DeRosa and put the Braves ahead by three runs.

Atlanta took a commanding lead in the fourth, scoring three times for a 7-1 cushion.

Lopez led off with a single and Castilla walked before DeRosa roped a shot down the right field line to score both runners and chase Rueter. Manny Aybar retired Millwood and Furcal, but the Giants reliever and catcher Benito Santiago got their signals crossed on the first pitch to Franco, allowing DeRosa to race home with the seventh run.

San Francisco tried to climb back into the game when Aurilia belted a first-pitch homer with two out in the sixth for his first career postseason blast.

Lefthander Mike Remlinger started the seventh for Atlanta and retired the first two batters before Snow and Sanders slapped consecutive singles. David Bell battled through a 10-pitch at-bat before striking out to end the threat.

Bonds capped the scoring, leading off the ninth with a towering solo shot just inside the right field foul pole off closer John Smoltz.

"I was trying to throw my best pitch to get him out," Smoltz said. "I didn't get the second one over in there. It's OK, a fastball that just didn't stay in. He's amazing, he kept it fair."

The single-season home run king found no solace in his first postseason blast in 10 years.

"I'll get some relief when we win the World Series," Bonds said. "We kicked their (butts) yesterday and they kicked our (butt) today, period. We'll see them on Saturday."

© 2002 Sportsticker
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