"He synergized our lineup," Schuerholz says of McGriff, who through Sunday had hit .312 and 13 home runs since coming to the Braves. Ron Gant, David Justice and Terry Pendleton—the Braves' biggest bats—had batted .252 collectively before McGriff arrived, but they had hit .305 since then. "He's made a huge difference for the pitchers, too," says Glavine, "because we know we'll get runs."
San Francisco, meanwhile, suddenly had such pitching troubles that they summoned 21-year-old righthander Salomon Torres from Triple A Phoenix to make his big league debut Sunday in the face of a four-game losing streak, the Giants' longest of the season. Torres's arrival was occasioned by Trevor Wilson's departure from the first game against the Braves with inflammation in his left shoulder. Torres is a promising pitcher whose forte is supposed to be his location, though you would not have known that when he showed up at the wrong terminal in Phoenix and missed his flight to San Francisco.
Torres arrived in time to see Bryan Hickerson last only 5? innings in the Giants' second loss to Atlanta. That turned out to be the longest effort by a San Francisco starter in the Giants' tailspin, which ended Sunday when Torres went seven innings against the Florida Marlins, yielding three runs on five hits to win 9-3. Before then Baker was certain Billy Swift could stop the slide and the Braves in the final game of that series. "This is our man who stops all slumps," Baker announced. But only seven pitches and five batters into the game, Atlanta led 3-0, and the fans seated in the Stick's outfield had caught as many of Swift's balls as had catcher Kirt Manwaring: two, courtesy of back-to-back home runs by McGriff and Justice. The Braves mashed four more home runs, with McGriff and Justice doubling up again and catcher Damon Berryhill winning the longest-drive contest with a blast of 425 feet, in a 9-1 rout won by Maddux.
The Giants never looked so vulnerable as they did that day. Forty percent of their original starting rotation, Wilson and Bud Black, spent the afternoon in the Los Angeles office of Dr. Frank Jobe having their injured arms attended to. First baseman Will Clark limped off the field and onto the disabled list with his right knee as crooked as Lombard Street after he collided with Atlanta shortstop Jeff Blauser. And Swift, who had never thrown 175 innings in a season, announced he had "a tired arm" after his odometer hit 183?.
Baker and pitching coach Dick Pole have done a splendid job in nursing both Swift and John Burkett through the season. Those two pitchers together completed only two of their first 55 starts while going 35-12. But both Swift and Burkett were staggering last week, with Burkett having been tagged for 28 hits and 19 runs in 13 innings over his past three starts.
Says Baker of his rotation, "I'm concerned about it, but it's not like someone's going to beam me down a pitcher from outer space." The Giants used more ordinary means to obtain Jim Deshaies (11-13 and loser of six straight) in a trade last Saturday with the Minnesota Twins.
On the other hand the Atlanta starters have been as good as advertised. Their main worry of late is getting on the clubhouse golf course, a popular two-hole, 60-foot layout. "It's tough getting a tee time," Glavine says. The pitchers, who have been known to putt around right up until their starts, are staging a more serious competition for the Cy Young Award, even if they prefer not to discuss it.
Avery was especially reluctant when reporters mentioned that topic, though his 4-1 mark and 2.22 ERA in August had put him high on the leader board. "Oh, no, you don't," he warned reporters. "You guys started mentioning that stuff to Burkett, and he's had three straight tough ones. You've got enough stuff on your mind in a pennant race than to worry about individual stuff like that." Though it would be a fitting cap to his season, Avery simply can't see that far ahead.