Sunday, October 06, 2002

Braves 10, Giants 2

AP Sports Writer

        SAN FRANCISCO — One of the best control pitchers in history plunked a player in the head. That was about the only mistake Greg Maddux made.

        And once again, pitching has the Atlanta Braves nearing the NL championship series.

        Maddux needed only 67 pitches in six innings Saturday to silence his critics. After so many postseason outings he would just as soon forget, he finally had a memorable one as the Braves routed the San Francisco Giants 10-2 for a 2-1 lead in their NL division series.

        One game after Kevin Millwood shut down San Francisco in a 7-3 Game 2 win, Maddux shook his past playoff blunders to win his first postseason game in three years.

        Atlanta just needs a win from Tom Glavine and company in Game 4 on Sunday to advance. The Braves have been to nine of the last 10 NL championships.

        Maddux hit Jeff Kent on the ear flap of his batting helmet in the third with two outs, but Kent stayed in.

        “I was just trying to come in and I came in and missed in,” Maddux said.

        When asked if he noticed Kent's glare, Maddux said he expected it.

        “Why wouldn't he?” he said. “I don't blame him. I'd be (mad) if I got hit.”

        Maddux, who allowed two runs on five hits, retired the next nine batters before giving up a home run to Barry Bonds that cut Atlanta's lead to 6-2. Maddux ended a four-game postseason losing streak and avoided tying Glavine with the most postseason losses.

        Maddux won 16 games this year to register at least 15 victories for the 15th straight season, a feat accomplished by only Maddux and Cy Young. Maddux doesn't think he's been that bad in the playoffs.

        “There are a lot more things I'm worried about than what people think,” he said. “I don't worry about it. I want to pitch for the right reasons, and that's not the right reason. The 24 guys in here is why you pitch.”

        Maddux's start was pushed back to Game 3 because of a blister on his throwing hand, which began to bother him as he got deeper into the game Saturday.

        Jason Schmidt's first postseason appearance ended in disappointment after a strong start. With one out in the sixth, he gave up three straight walks to Gary Sheffield, Chipper Jones and Andruw Jones before giving way to Manny Aybar.

        Atlanta scored five runs on the next two pitches to break a 1-all tie. And two unlikely hitters were responsible.

        Vinny Castilla, who batted just .232 during the season, had a two-run single, and Keith Lockhart, a non-roster invitee to spring training, added a three-run homer.

        Castilla, hitting .364 in the series, drove in two runs with his single and Lockhart followed with a drive that barely reached the arcade atop the elevated right-field fence.

        “Our game plan was to try to hit,” Braves manager Bobby Cox said.

        It was Lockhart's first homer in exactly three months. He had four RBIs for the game.

        “I've gotten some hits, but that's probably the biggest,” Lockhart said. “I'll enjoy it. We talked earlier how there were not many in the season, but the ones I've had have been pretty timely.”

        Giants manager Dusty Baker stood behind his decision to pitch Aybar. Baker thought Aybar, a sinkerball pitcher who's had success against Castilla, could get a double play.

        Bonds hit his third postseason home run in the sixth and raised his career playoff average to .204. All three of his homers in the postseason are off Atlanta, including a ninth-inning shot in Game 2. Bonds has nine career homers off Maddux, matching the nine he's hit off Atlanta's John Smoltz for the most he's hit off any pitcher.

        Bonds finished 1-for-3 with an intentional walk. Some shirtless fans on boats outside the stadium in McCovey Cove were left empty-handed. They waited for Bonds to send one into their gigantic, homemade mitt with the slugger's No. 25 on two of the fingers, but it never happened.

        Maddux was the man on this spectacular summerlike October day in the Bay area, which had plenty of fans in the bleacher seats slapping on sunscreen. The temperature was 70 degrees at first pitch.

        The four-time Cy Young winner had the record Pacific Bell Park crowd of 43,043 booing him early, too, after he hit Kent.

        “I don't want to talk about it,” Kent said. “We're in a playoff situation. There's no sense moaning about getting hit.”

        After the intentional walk to Bonds in the first, Maddux pitched to him the next two times. With runners on first and second in the third inning, Bonds hit a hard grounder up the middle that shortstop Rafael Furcal — playing behind second base in a shift — fielded for an easy out.

        Bonds then homered in the sixth before Maddux gave way to the Braves' excellent bullpen after the sixth.

        Maddux improved to 11-13 with a 3.23 ERA in 30 postseason appearances.

        He was booed when he came to bat in the fifth, and again after grounding out. Fans waved white towels called “Rally Rags,” just as they did when the Giants were in the playoffs in 2000.

        Andruw Jones added a two-run single in Atlanta's four-run ninth as the fans started leaving in a hurry.

        It was a tough day for Bay area fans. The Athletics lost 11-2 to Minnesota to force a fifth game Sunday in Oakland.

        Schmidt had four strikeouts in the first two innings, when he was able to get ahead of hitters. After a triple to Furcal in the third that led to the tying run, Schmidt retired 10 straight before the walks.

        Bonds and manager Dusty Baker are both trying to snap playoff droughts. Bonds has lost all five series he has played in, while Baker is 0-for-2 as a manager in the postseason.

       Notes: Braves reliever Chris Hammond, who left Game 1 with a stiff neck, pitched a scoreless seventh. ... The Giants used eight pitchers to tie Texas' 1996 mark for most used in a division series game.


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