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Neagle Wins 20th; Braves Beat Padres

September 08, 1997|From Associated Press

SAN DIEGO — Denny Neagle started Sunday wondering if he'd even get a chance to go for his 20th victory. Several hours later, he was drinking champagne out of a paper cup.

Unable to raise his arms over his head during his windup because of an injury to his non-throwing right shoulder, Neagle nonetheless became the National League's first 20-game winner Sunday. He gave up three hits over seven innings as the Atlanta Braves defeated the San Diego Padres, 4-0.

"I'm trying not to show how excited I am," Neagle said after winning 20 games for the first time. "I couldn't be happier right now. It's real satisfying for me, to know that I can come in here and win 20 games and prove that I can pitch with the best in the game."

Neagle (20-3), supposedly the most anonymous member of the Brave rotation, joined Roger Clemens, who earned his 21st victory for Toronto earlier in the day, as the top winners in the majors.

"It's outstanding," said teammate and four-time Cy Young Award winner Greg Maddux. "He's come ready to pitch every fifth day and he's mixed his pitches well all year. He just deserves it."

There was some doubt, though, if Neagle--a strong contender along with Maddux for the Cy Young--could pitch Sunday. Shagging fly balls in the outfield during batting practice Thursday, Neagle reached down for a ground ball and accidentally stepped on his glove, aggravating a shoulder injury.

After a couple days of worrying and receiving treatment, he came to the stadium early and played catch in the bullpen with pitching coach Leo Mazzone. He told Mazzone he didn't want to raise his arms over his head during his windup for fear of pinching a nerve in the shoulder.

The Braves even had a Plan B--starting John Smoltz if necessary and letting Neagle start Tuesday against the Dodgers.

"But my arm felt so good, and I felt so live and fresh and ready to go, I didn't really feel like not going over my head was going to affect me that much," Neagle said.

It did early, though as he gave up three singles in the first two innings, during which the Padres stranded five runners. Because he wasn't going over his head, he was drifting toward home too soon, causing his fastball and changeup to sail up.

Mazzone told him to slow down his delivery, which he tried while throwing his warmup pitches the next inning.

"From the third through the seventh innings I felt pretty good as far as sharpness and being able to spot pitches," Neagle said.

"He's a great competitor," Atlanta Manager Bobby Cox said. "He's so smart. He's like our other guys. They can adjust to almost anything."

Despite Neagle's early troubles, San Diego's top six hitters had only one hit with two walks and one hit batter against him.

Neagle won his fourth consecutive start, striking out six and walking three.

Chipper Jones had a hand in the first three Brave runs. He hit a two-run homer off Joey Hamilton (10-6) in the first inning, his 20th.

Jones doubled leading off the fourth and scored on Fred McGriff's double.

Javy Lopez hit a run-scoring single in the ninth for Atlanta's final run.



Who: Atlanta Braves

Where: Dodger Stadium

When: Tuesday, 7 p.m.; Wednesday, 7:30 p.m.

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