The only thing Brown doesn't have is his proper rest, unlike the Atlanta troika of John Smoltz, Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux, who took advantage of the Braves' bye week—known elsewhere in baseball as the Division Series. Atlanta disposed of the endearing, mistake-prone Chicago Cubs in three straight, closing them out 6-2 behind Maddux last Saturday in Chicago. The Braves have now won 12 of 13 Division Series games since this by-product of the wild card began. For a team with seven consecutive division tides and absolutely no problems with self-esteem, the Division Series serves roughly the same purpose as scheduling Rutgers early in your football season. Get some work Get a win. Indeed Atlantans treat the Division Series less like a playoff than homecoming weekend. The Cubs' Sammy Sosa received standing ovations in recognition of his 66 home runs before his first at bat in each game in Atlanta, and Glavine's five innings of spotless work in Game 2 didn't even draw a ripple of applause after Mickey Morandini broke up the possible no-hitter.
There's a way to capture the Braves'—if not Atlanta's—attention, according to Astros leftfielder Moises Alou: Play them tough in the regular season. (The drained Cubs won six of nine from Atlanta, but their sheer Cubness is too ingrained to strike fear in postseason rivals.) "I remember when I was in Montreal, we always played Atlanta tough," Alou says. "Near the end of the 1992 season a few of their guys told me they'd rather play Pittsburgh in the playoffs than us because of the way we played them. When I was with Florida last year, it was the same tiling. You not only have to play the Braves tough to help your own confidence, but they don't like to go into the playoffs against those teams. I'm sure San Diego [which was 4-5 in 1998 against Atlanta] has their respect."
If you had looked at the Padres heading into the playoffs, you would have had to wonder why. San Diego hadn't scored more than four runs in any of its last 13 regular-season games, and continued that streak against the Astros until it exploded for a 6-1 win in Game 4 on Sunday. Still, the Padres entered this week's series against the Braves with a streak of 22 straight games with fewer than 10 hits. Their only consistent threat of late, aside from the more celebrated Vaughn and his 50 home runs, has been Leyritz, a sometimes catcher and first baseman whose best position is batter's box, despite a righdianded posture that's hardly regal. His hands flutter on the bat as he settles in his stance, his right knee bent, his left leg stiff until he raises it almost a foot to stride into the pitch. Leyritz, new to the National League, was showing off his stroke in batting practice a day after joining San Diego in late June—he wanted to be traded after Boston relegated him to third-string catcher and platoon DH—much to the bemusement of Gwynn, who has 2,928 career hits and is professorial about his craft. "Merv, look at him," Gwynn said to Padres hitting instructor Merv Rettenmund. "What's he trying to do?"
"I don't know," Rettenmund replied.
Of course the now Wohlersless Braves, who have popped more corks in early October than most sommeliers, probably can see Leyritz ruining 1996 in their sleep. The King rules: His postseason homer/at bat ratio matches the Braves' ratio of one World Series victory for their six previous postseason trips in this decade.