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Atlanta was reveling in Padrecide last Thursday night. The fans in Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium insisted that Centerfielder Dale Murphy come out of the dugout after his second homer of the game put the Braves up 5-1 in the fifth. Brother Francis fived owner Ted Turner atop the dugout of America's Team, as Turner's cable SuperStation trumpets the Braves—with no apologies to the Dallas Cowboys. And after Atlanta scored another run in the sixth, insuring its four-game sweep of second-place San Diego, the message board proclaimed: WE'RE WORLD SERIOUS.
The phone rang in the press box. Public Relations Director Wayne Minshew picked it up and heard the voice of Trainer Dave Pursley: "Joe says to shove 'World Serious....' "
Joe, of course, is Manager Joe Torre. Joe knows hubris when he sees it. Hubris is the classical Greek term for printing World Series tickets in July. "It's too early for that stuff," said Torre. "I don't want to see it again until we make the playoffs."
While most everybody in Atlanta was counting his San Diego Chickens before they hatched, the Los Angeles Dodgers were unpacking for a four-game series with the Braves. The world champions had been sleepwalking through most of the season in third place in the NL West, and they arrived in Atlanta 10½ games behind the Braves. They left town on Sunday only six and a half games back, a half game behind the Padres, who rebounded in Cincinnati by taking three of four from the Reds.
Ah, baseball. It's a funny game, a game of inches, a humbling game, a game of peaks and valleys, a game of 162 games. One indication that the Braves' games against San Diego and Los Angeles were important was the opening salvo of pennant race clichés. Said the Dodgers' Steve Garvey, who was off his game until last week, "The hunt is on." Garvey said that one day after The Atlanta Constitution announced, "The rout is on in the National League West."
As the week began, Atlanta was five games up on the Padres and eight on the Dodgers, with 16 of its next 22 games against those two teams. The Braves were in the throes of a terrible hitting slump though, having scored in only one of their last 40 innings. Murphy had gone nine games without a homer and had only one RBI in his last seven games.
So Atlanta swept Tuesday's double-header against the Padres to reduce its magic number to 59, with only 66 games remaining. The 6'5" Murphy had an entire career in one night. He went 5 for 8 with two homers and four RBIs and saved the second game by making a wonderful catch to rob Ruppert Jones of a two-run homer in the top of the 10th. In the 9-2 first-game victory, Bob Walk pitched a five-hitter as Murphy homered, doubled and singled. In the second game, the Braves came back from a 5-1 deficit, thanks largely to two-run homers from Murphy and Chris Chambliss, and sent the game into extra innings. In the top of the 10th, Murphy leaped high over the right centerfield fence to catch Jones's ball, and in the bottom of the inning Second Baseman Glenn Hubbard hit a two-run homer off Gary Lucas to win the game 8-6. The 5'8" Hubbard, who's called Yosemite Sam because he looks like a miniature mountain man, had pulled a muscle in the first game but talked Torre into starting him anyway in the second game.
Tuesday was also the day that a new book hit the stands, entitled The Amazing Braves, America's Team. The book sells for $3.95 and wins a prize for chutzpah, which is Yiddish for hubris.
On Wednesday, Phil Niekro won his 250th game, 8-6, to give the Braves an eight-game lead over the Padres. Niekro, who pitched for the '64 Milwaukee Braves, is still the ace of the staff with a 10-3 record, bless his 43-year-old knuckleball. Third Baseman Bob Horner, who was eclipsed by Murphy this year, also reminded the Padres he was still around with two homers, Nos. 19 and 20, both after brushback pitches from Andy Hawkins.
Wednesday was also the last day for the tepee of Chief Noc-A-Homa, or Chief Noc-A-Homeless as he's now known. The Braves' management decided to dismantle the mascot's home in left-field in order to make room for 250 additional seats. "Those are good seats, and we need them," said Minshew. The Chief must now content himself with doing a prayer dance before every game, circulating through the crowd and sharing top-of-the-dugout time with unofficial mascot Brother Francis, a sort of Friar Yuk, who in real life is Bob Kelly, owner of the Pew & Brew in suburban Marietta. Rumor has it that the Chief and the Monk don't get along, but on a winner those little things are quickly forgotten. Noc-A-Homa's alter ego is Levi Walker Jr., a 40-year-old part-Chippewa, part-Ottawa Indian from Michigan. He wasn't put out by his eviction. "Any sacrifice I can make for the World Series is O.K. by me," he said. Asked where he would go now, Walker deadpanned, "I don't have any reservations anywhere."