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BASEBALL PLAYOFFS : Braves Top Rockies; Mariners Pull Even : NL: Atlanta eliminates Colorado, 10-4, looks ahead.

October 08, 1995|ROSS NEWHAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ATLANTA — A 10-4 victory Saturday night enabled the Atlanta Braves to put the lid on their National League division series against the Colorado Rockies and pull the cork on the champagne.

Vintage or otherwise, many of the Braves opted for beer in the sanctuary of the trainers' room.

This was a celebration characterized by relief and restraint.

"There's a general sense of great relief," pitcher John Smoltz said. "I don't care how much we were favored by, a five-game series with the first two games on the road against a very strong team represented a very dangerous situation.

"In many ways the Rockies are a mirror image of where we were in 1991. If they stay together, I feel sorry for the teams in the [National League] West because the Rockies are going to pose a lot of trouble. They're going to be a force to be reckoned with.

"I mean, this was a series that could have gone either way. Now we can attack the two series we would normally attack."

He referred to the NL's championship series--which begins Tuesday night in Cincinnati--and the World Series. A victory in the latter is the only prize to elude the Braves in the '90s.

It is their goal of goals, and the Rockies were only a steppingstone. Some wondered whether champagne was appropriate, whether it would obscure the real goal.

"A lot of guys feel, 'We've been here, we've done this, it's not what we're about,' " pitcher Tom Glavine said of the restrained celebration after the Braves eliminated the Rockies in four games. "We talked about it when we won the division and decided it wasn't fair to shut the new guys out with no celebration, no sense of accomplishment.

"I think it's important to have a little fun and relax, to enjoy this newest accomplishment. We all know what the goal is. The attitude of the veterans has rubbed off on the younger players. We all know we have two more steps."

For the Rockies, the next step is a flight back to Denver. They reached the postseason five years faster than any other expansion team, and Dante Bichette, who maintained his MVP form by going 10 for 17 against the Braves and hammering a three-run homer off Greg Maddux on Saturday night, said:

"We're all disappointed right now, but also proud of how far we've come. We didn't have what it takes to be a champion, but I think we learned what it takes."

Bichette, however, may have played his last game for the Rockies. He is one of five key Colorado players eligible for free agency.

"I hope it works out," Bichette said. "I've never has as much fun as I've had the last few weeks."

The fun continues for the Braves. Glavine will face the Reds in Game 1. Manager Bobby Cox wouldn't go beyond that, but Maddux will probably be held for Game 3 rather than making another start on three days' rest.

He made 94 pitches in seven innings Saturday night. Among Colorado's 10 hits were Bichette's three-run homer in the third and Vinny Castilla's solo homer in the sixth. Alejandro Pena pitched the final two innings, the Braves having rebounded from the Bichette homer against an ailing Bret Saberhagen and four relievers.

Fred McGriff, who went three for 14, drove in five runs with two homers and a bases-loaded single. Marquis Grissom set a club record for the postseason with five hits. He finished the series 11 for 21. Chipper Jones was seven for 18, including a two-run double that rallied the Braves from a 3-0 deficit in the third.

For Saberhagen, it was a frustrating return to the postseason for the first time since 1985, when he emerged as the 21-year-old ace of a Kansas City team that defeated Toronto in the American League championship series and St. Louis in the World Series. It was also a painful conclusion to his half-season tenure as would-be savior of a beleaguered rotation.

Plagued by the inflammation in his shoulder, however, a valiant Saberhagen could do little more than compound the injuries and inconsistency. In his last two starts he yielded 14 hits and 14 runs in eight innings. In 10 starts with the Rockies, including Saturday night's four-inning stint, he was 2-2 with a 6.70 earned-run average and will soon have surgery.

"This isn't the story I had written," Saberhagen said. "If I was 100% I think we'd have won this game, maybe won the series, probably won the division by two or three games, but I was like 60%, maybe not even that.

"The frustrating part is that the team had put such confidence in me by trading for me, the expectations were so high, that I can't help but feel I let them down. For the season to end with me out there pitching at less than 100% is tough to swallow."

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