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It Was Touch and Go
Hank Hersch
October 21, 1991
Two one-run wins in Atlanta gave Pittsburgh an edge in the National League series
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October 21, 1991

It Was Touch And Go

Two one-run wins in Atlanta gave Pittsburgh an edge in the National League series

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To start Game 2, Atlanta manager Bobby Cox selected 21-year-old lefty Steve Avery, who calmly went 18-8 this season. Before pitching, he likes to catch a nap on the trainer's table, though his ritual before Game 2 was interrupted when reserve Mike Heath gave him a Wet Willie (that's a moistened finger in the ear, if you're scoring). No matter. With his fastball reaching 98 mph, Avery fanned nine and spaced six hits through 8? shutout innings.

The Pirates' Smith was nearly Avery's equal, but a bad-hop RBI double by Lemke in the sixth bounded wickedly over the head of Buechele and gave Atlanta a 1-0 win. Reliever Alejandro Pena came on to get the save—his 12th in 12 chances since joining the Braves in August—but it was Avery's darting fastball and preternatural poise that drew raves. "Best pitching performance we've seen this year," said Pirate catcher Don Slaught.

"I'm just out there having fun," said Avery afterward. "How can you not enjoy it when millions of people are watching and all the attention's on you? It helps me concentrate."

Said Cox, "I said he'd be toying with hitters by 1993. I was only two years off."

On Saturday the series swung to the Chop Shop, occasionally called Atlanta- Fulton County Stadium, where feathered headdresses pass for chic and aah-yooo-ayy-yooo passes for witty repartee. In this crazed corner of the world, there is only one form of obeisance: Extend your arm and chop till you drop (tomahawk optional). Prison chain-gang workers, seeing the Braves' bus pass on its way to the airport, do it. Baseball commissioner Fay Vincent, looking as if he were shaking something distasteful off his hand, does it. A former First Family, the Carters, do it. And actress Jane Fonda, going for the burn, does it.

Recognizing that where there's a fad, there's a buck, Paul Braddy of Peachtree City, Ga., bagged his $60,000-a-year salesman's job on Aug. 31 and borrowed $5,000 to make his first batch of foam-rubber tomahawks. Braddy has already hawked nearly 200,000 tommies at $5 a pop, and when his trucks showed up with 10,000 units on Saturday in the first inning, they were gone by the second. "This is Everyman's dream to do this, and I did it," says Braddy. "It's one of those 'I could have had a V-8' things."

Amid the incessant sound of the tomtoms and the spooky chanting, the Braves got four runs with two outs in the first to propel righthander John Smoltz to a 10-3 win. For Pittsburgh, the chop of horrors came from the Braves' Olson, who whacked a two-run shot off John Smiley for a 4-1 lead. The homer was Olson's first since Aug. 10, and it came on a doubly significant day: his sixth wedding anniversary and the opening day of the pheasant season back home in Minnesota. "This is the first year I haven't been there in a long time," said Olson. "My best buddy's taking my dog, and I'm jealous."

In a decidedly different social circle, rapper M.C. Hammer encountered Fonda, the fianc�e of Braves owner Ted Turner, outside the clubhouse. "Love the way you do that chop," Hammer said. "I love your music," Fonda responded. Of such meetings are workout videos born.

By Game 4, Pittsburgh manager Jim Leyland had used all of his 11 pitchers except that night's starter, Randy Tomlin, who promptly yielded a leadoff double to Lonnie Smith and two first-inning runs. But the Bucs drew even at 2-2 in the fifth, capitalizing on an Atlanta mistake: Rightfielder Justice tried to gun down Pirate Gary Redus at third on a single by Bell, and his peg skipped past third baseman Terry Pendleton.

In the eighth, Pirate reliever Bob Walk concluded his two shutout innings by facing pinch hitter Sid Bream while 51,109 chopaholics bellowed, "Sid! Sid! Sid!" through the entire at bat. Before getting Bream to fly out on a 3-2 pitch, Walk soaked up the scene. "It happens once or twice in your career when you can pitch in an atmosphere like that," he said later. "I just wanted to step off and look around and enjoy it."

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