- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
The Dodger arrogance, if that's how it was taken, was further fueled by Strawberry's performance Friday night. There was obviously no way to pitch to him. Was it possible for the fans to stop him if the Braves couldn't? "You have to remember," Strawberry said patiently, "I played in New York."
Taking that challenge, a group of Braves sponsors issued free tomahawks, one per turnstile click, for Saturday's game. The stadium was ablaze with these red spongy weapons. But despite that escalation in the arms race, the players on both teams remained utterly carefree. Cox relaxed in the Atlanta dugout before the game, thinking about the previous night's highlight. "Did you see Jane?" he asked. "Looked good." She had worn a deep-scoop-back affair—bareback in the park.
The Dodgers, apparently having all shopped for shoes, were relaxed, too. Pitchers Bob Ojeda and Kevin Gross showed up with tattoos on their arms: a wolf howling at the moon. Ojeda was showing the Body Image Studio card around, as if soliciting business for the tattoo parlor. Reliever Roger McDowell was fooling around with a remote-control car.
Well, Mickey Mouse, on loan from Walt Disney World, threw out the first pitch, and then things got goofy. As the umpires gathered at home plate, McDowell's neon-green radio-controlled car bearing the lineup card departed the Dodger dugout, heading for the plate. Upon its arrival there, L.A. coach Bill Russell bent over to pick up the card and soberly delivered it to the umps. The car turned back, doing three small doughnuts in the dirt before it reached the dugout and was garaged.
Thereupon the Dodgers visited their comic routines on Braves starting pitcher John Smoltz, an unpredictable righthander who was 2-11 with a 5.16 ERA at the All-Star break and 10-2 with a 3.06 ERA after. The Braves' sports psychologist, Jack Llewellyn, sits behind home plate during every game Smoltz pitches in Atlanta. With 95° temperatures and with thunderheads rolling in, Smoltz could have made better use of a meteorologist. He walked Butler, let Eddie Murray single and then served Kal Daniels a nice pitch. Daniels lofted it to center, where Ron Gant misplayed it for a two-run triple. Then the rains came.
Smoltz had lots to think about but little to do during the one-hour-and-19-minute rain delay. "I lay down, I sat down, I walked around, I was going nuts," he said. Meanwhile, Llewellyn remained in his seat. Doctor, heal thyself. At least Smoltz knew to get out of the rain. But once the game resumed, Smoltz was his usual (second-half) unhittable self for five innings.
The Braves, meanwhile, found Dodger starter Tim Belcher to be well off his game. In the third inning, Belcher walked Gant with the bases loaded to give Atlanta its first run and was promptly yanked. Then, in the fifth, reliever Gross got tattooed again, giving up an RBI double to Dave Justice to tie the game. It stayed that way until the 11th.
Amazingly, the 44,773 fans who paid to get in remained for every bit of this, shaking their soggy tomahawks at all the usual suspects. There is that difference between Atlanta and Los Angeles, Butler admitted: "In L.A., it's in by the second inning, out by the seventh." In by two, out by seven—baseball as a dry-cleaning experience. Finally, in the 11th, the Braves took the starch out of the Dodgers. McDowell, working overtime out of the bullpen in the absence of the sore-elbowed Jay Howell, appeared in his fourth straight game. He walked Jerry Willard, who had had only three major league at bats since 1987, and then gave up a double to Terry Pendleton. Gant, who is on his way to a second straight 30-30 season (through Sunday he had 30 steals and 29 home runs), then knocked a McDowell fastball off the leftfield wall to win the game.
Atlanta finished the series with some emphasis on Sunday. It loaded the bases against Los Angeles's Ramon Martinez in the first inning, whereupon Sid Bream, who had been struggling so much at the plate that Cox had pinch-hit for him the night before, lifted a fastball right out of the Chop shop. That was that. Martinez has been a mystery. He was 12-3 at the All-Star break but has done a reverse-Smoltz since. After giving up five earned runs in two innings Sunday, he was 2-6 in his last nine starts, with a 6.39 ERA. The Braves' Steve Avery, who is just 21 years old and in his first full season in the majors, was hard to solve, too, but in a different way. He took a two-hitter into the ninth before giving up two more hits and a run for the 9-1 victory. With that win he went to 16-8 for the year. Glavine, Smoltz and Avery—none is older than 25—had now combined for 46 victories.
Avery, who served time on last year's last-place team, showed that he needs work only on his geometry. Asked if playing for the Braves felt different this year, he said, "It's a 360-degree turnaround." You mean 180, right? "Hey, I only went to high school," he said, laughing.