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Able Ashby Becomes Brown's Set-Up Man

October 09, 1998|ROSS NEWHAN

ATLANTA — The question confronting the San Diego Padres in Game 1 of the National League championship series wasn't the weather as much as whether to ask their ace, Kevin Brown, to make his third straight start on three days' rest.

"I told them that I'd be available if that's what they felt would be best for the team," Brown said Wednesday night. "It's their decision, that's their job."

He referred to Manager Bruce Bochy and pitching coach Dave Stewart and General Manager Kevin Towers, who ultimately decided to go with Brown in Game 2 Thursday while employing Andy Ashby in the opener against the Atlanta Braves--although Ashby struggled in the stretch and started the only game the Padres lost in the division series with the Houston Astros.

As it was, by the time Game 1 began, Brown could have worked it on almost four days' rest--3 1/2 for sure.

Rain delayed the start for two hours and one minute.

David Letterman was preparing his monologue when John Smoltz went to work here at 10:16 p.m.

Ashby?

He pitched well enough to justify the decision. He pitched well enough to win. He recaptured his all-star form of the first half in a seven-inning stint in which he gave up only one run and five hits to provide the foundation for a 3-2, 10-inning victory that extended San Diego's postseason pitching dominance.

Brown put the Florida Marlins in the World Series last season, earning victories over Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux in the championship series.

In an era when TV dictates starting times, schedules and travel days, when baseball can't make a decision in the postseason that doesn't involve the rights holders, they would have floated arks if necessary to get Game 1 played.

It was obvious that several thousand fans concluded that arks would be necessary, since they opted to eat their $45 tickets in favor of staying dry at home.

An announced crowd of 42,117 seemed inflated. The upper deck at Turner Field was half empty. The rain undoubtedly kept many away, but there were tickets available at game time, which is customary here for the NLCS. This is the Braves' seventh straight appearance in the championship series, and some locals may be spoiled, bored or simply tired of hearing the infernal tomahawk chop.

"Whatever seats are available, I'm sure they're not the best," Glavine said. "It's hard to say if people are spoiled just because they don't want to spend the money they have to spend on tickets. Who are we to say they should be spending that money on baseball tickets?

"I do think there is an expectation here for us to go to the World Series based on the success we've had. We've created that expectation, the feeling that our season isn't a success unless we go to the World Series and win it, but our fans have been great.

"You don't draw over three million without a lot of support, and we were able to do that this year."

For the die-hards who remained at 1:44 here Thursday morning, Game 1 ended bitterly.

The Braves had tied it at 2-2 against Trevor Hoffman in the ninth only to lose it on Ken Caminiti's homer against Kerry Ligtenberg in the 10th.

Hoffman, who converted 53 of 54 save opportunities during the regular season and was making his 59th appearance overall, ultimately pitched two full innings to help extend to 178-0 San Diego's record in games they have led after eight innings since midseason of 1996.

Hoffman and that record teetered on the high wire in the ninth before Donne Wall came in to get the final out in the 10th.

How much Hoffman has left in that valuable arm after having appeared in all five postseason games and delivered 42 pitches in his longest stint of the season in Game 1 remains to be seen.

What seems certain is that the Padres, as Stewart predicted, are capable of going pitch to pitch with the renowned Braves. Ashby, who won 17 games but was 1-3 with a 7.75 earned-run average over his last seven starts, kept pace with Smoltz, baseball's premier postseason pitcher. The Padres didn't beat Smoltz, but didn't lose to him either.

In their four postseason victories, the Padres have restricted the prolific offenses of the Astros and Braves to a total of five runs.

San Diego beat the Astros batting .216 and won Game 1 with seven hits. Greg Vaughn went out with a strained quadriceps, but replacement Ruben Rivera doubled and scored the second run.

Vaughn, who hit 50 home runs during the regular season, will be a big loss if he's out for an extended period, as seems likely, but a 3-2 victory left the Padres seeing only rainbows on a very long and wet night.

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