Wednesday, August 25, 1999

BRAVES 5, REDS 2


Sweep proves we're not in Braves' class

BY CHRIS HAFT
The Cincinnati Enquirer

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Jeffrey Hammonds knocks the ball loose from Braves catcher Eddie Perez.
(AP photos)
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        ATLANTA — Class opened for the Reds this week at Turner Field. They learned a simple lesson: The difference between themselves and an elite team such as the Atlanta Braves.

        The Reds have no trouble defeating other top NL clubs such as the Arizona Diamondbacks, Houston Astros or New York Mets. But if they aspire to greatness, they must approach Atlanta's level — and their performances against the Braves have shown they're far from that.

        Atlanta's 5-2 victory Wednesday afternoon completed its second three-game sweep of the Reds this year. It also marked the first time Cincinnati has failed to win a game in Atlanta since the Braves moved here in 1966.

        The Reds (73-52) remained close to the top in one respect. They trail Houston by 11/2 games.New York leads the Reds by 31/2 games in the wild-card race.

WHIFFIN' IN DIXIE
  How Reds regulars fared in the three-game sweep in Atlanta:
  • Mike Cameron: 2-for-12, HR, 2K
  • Dmitri Young: 1-for-7, 1K
  • Greg Vaughn: 4-for-12, 2K
  • Sean Casey: 0-for-7
  • Barry Larkin: 2-for-9, 1K
  • Aaron Boone: 3-for-11, HR, 2K
  • Pokey Reese: 2-for-10, 2K
  • Eddie Taubensee: 0-for-6, 2K
  • Brian Johnson: 0-for-5, 1K
  • Team: 17-for-95, .179
        The NL East-leading Braves (80-49), who extended their winning streak to seven games against Cincinnati, are another matter.

        “It shows we have a lot of work left,” Reds left fielder Greg Vaughn said after he and his teammates reached their first three-game losing streak since Cleveland swept them June11-13. “But are we in a state of panic? No ... It just lets us know as a team we have a lot of work to do.”

        Pitching could bridge part of the gulf separating the Reds and Braves, who have won seven division titles, four NL pennants and a World Series since 1991. Cincinnati's starters allowed 16 earned runs in 16 1/3 innings in this series for an 8.64 ERA. Atlanta's starters allowed six runs in 22 innings, a 2.45 ERA.

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Mike Cameron is forced at second.
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        Tom Glavine (11-9), the NL's reigning Cy Young Award winner, punctuated the Braves' effort by surrendering six hits and both of the Reds' runs in seven innings. The Reds' Denny Neagle (3-5), an ex-Brave, yielded five runs and five hits in 5 innings, though three of Atlanta's runs came on Andruw Jones' first-inning homer that carried over the left-field wall.

        “I thought it was a ... pop-up,” said Vaughn. “I've never seen anything like it in my life.”

        Of course, the flip side of this is offense. The Reds have floundered this year against Atlanta, hitting .144 (27-for-187) while averaging two runs a game. The Reds mustered four, five and eight hits, successively, in this series.

        Then there's competitive savvy, which has become a Braves habit.

        It's what helped Atlanta steal seven bases in Monday's series opener. It's why John Smoltz, despite his aching elbow and altered delivery, still stifled the Reds on Tuesday. It prompted Bret Boone to bunt for a hit in Wednesday's first inning, preceding Jones' homer, and it enabled Glavine, who permitted a dangerous number of line drives and fly balls, to allow just two Reds into scoring position after Mike Cameron began the game with a home run.

        “We're not going to be able to make mistakes and not do the little things and win,” Vaughn said. “This was a good test and this shows us that. We're not going to be able to walk people or let them steal six or seven bases a game. We're going to have to take advantage of all our scoring opportunities. If you do those things, you can play with anybody. This was just another reminder.”

        Nobody in the Reds' clubhouse would admit to being intimidated by the Braves, who have beaten them seven games in a row overall, 10 times in the last 11 meetings and 22 of the last 26. Atlanta has won its last eight home series against Cincinnati.

        “We still have another shot at them,” said Vaughn, referring to the three-game series beginning Monday at Cinergy Field. “Take away a couple of big innings and we're right there, except for the first game. We feel we can play with them.”

       



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