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Braves' Pressure Flattens Cubs

National League: Lopez homers in ninth, Jones delivers in 10th to give Atlanta 2-1 victory and 2-0 series lead.


ATLANTA — The Atlanta Braves downplayed the experience factor before the start of their National League division series against the Chicago Cubs.

They said that being accustomed to playing at this time of the year wouldn't help them unless they put pressure on the Cubs, who haven't qualified for the season-ending party often.

The pressure is on now.

Chipper Jones' one-out, run-scoring single in the 10th inning gave the Braves a 2-1 victory over the weary and shaken Cubs on Thursday night at Turner Field--and a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five series.

A sellout crowd of 51,713 celebrated as Jones drove in Walt Weiss from second base with a line drive against Terry Mulholland that barely landed inside the left-field line.

The Braves rallied to tie the score, 1-1, in the ninth on a one-out solo home run by Javy Lopez against Cub starter Kevin Tapani, who pitched an outstanding game. Chicago slugger Sammy Sosa was held in check again, going hitless in four plate appearances with a walk.

The victory was the Braves' 15th in their final at-bat this season, and their ninth in a row in the division series.

No NL team has won a division series after losing the first two games, and the Braves are 3-0 in the division series. Atlanta had 2-0 leads in its previous series, and the Cubs acknowledge what they're facing.

"We know this is not going to be easy," said Cub Manager Jim Riggleman, whose team is making its first appearance in the postseason since 1989. "We're facing a great team that knows how to play at playoff time, and we're in a big hole now.

"But this club has been through some difficult situations all year, and we've always been resilient. Things have not been going well for us, then Sammy will give us a big homer, somebody will give us eight big innings and [closer Rod] Beck saves the game for us. That's been the story for us."

It wasn't Thursday.

With one out in the 10th, Weiss walked against Mulholland (0-1), who began the inning after Tapani gave up five hits--including Lopez's homer--in nine strong innings. Tony Graffanino, pinch-hitting for Keith Lockhart, laid down a sacrifice bunt. In the ensuing confusion at first, Mulholland was charged with an error, and both Weiss and Graffanino were safe.

"I was looking for a [cut-fastball] inside, and that's what he threw me," said Jones, who struck out in his first three at-bats against Tapani. "I saw the ball going into the outfield, and I knew the left fielder wouldn't be able to catch it.

"The only question from there was whether it was fair or foul. If it was fair, I knew we would win the game. With the night I had up to that point, I think that was a little bit of justice."

Tapani had thrown 99 pitches entering the ninth. Riggleman said he didn't consider removing him because Tapani wasn't tired.

"He's been a workhorse for us all season," Riggleman said of Tapani, who led the Cubs with 19 wins. "He was feeling good, and I thought he had enough to get through the inning. If I didn't think he had enough, I would have started the inning with [Mulholland]."

Atlanta starter Tom Glavine also pitched well. Glavine--the NL's only 20-game winner--gave up three hits and one run in seven innings.

"I really thought they were both just awesome, just great," Atlanta Manager Bobby Cox said. "They both left after giving up only one run, and you can't ask for much more than that."

Lopez's sixth postseason homer wasn't his only big play. He helped turn two inning-ending double plays by throwing out runners after batters struck out swinging.

The second in the 10th got the Braves out of a jam with runners at first and third. That enabled rookie left-hander Odalis Perez (1-0), the Braves' fifth pitcher, to earn the victory with two-thirds of an inning in relief.

"Javy came up big," Jones said. "The thing about this team is that we know what the playoffs are about.

"Everybody just keeps the same approach, and we go out and do our jobs. We believe that if one guy doesn't get it done, the next one will."

The Cubs now turn to rookie right-hander Kerry Wood to prolong their season in Game 3 on Saturday. Wood has been sensational this season, but he hasn't pitched since Aug. 31 because of a sore elbow.

"Kerry Wood will be ready," Sosa said. "Wood is like Randy Johnson [of the Houston Astros], he gets the team and the fans pumped up. I know he's going to give us what we need."

And the Cubs need a lot now.

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