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BASEBALL / ROSS NEWHAN

Bochy, Stewart Don't Regret Going to Brown

October 13, 1998|ROSS NEWHAN

SAN DIEGO — It ended with Greg Maddux, the scheduled starter for the Atlanta Braves in Game 7 of the National League championship series, saving it after Kevin Brown, the scheduled starter for the San Diego Padres in Game 6, failed to save it.

The rarer-than-rare relief appearances by two of baseball's best starting pitchers--"I don't think you'll ever see that again," Padre pitching coach Dave Stewart said--characterized a game that combined the dramatic with the unusual Monday night. It was won by the Braves, 7-6, to stave off elimination again in the best-of-seven series, and possibly wrest that intangible element of momentum from the Padres, who are now forced to return to Atlanta for Game 6 on Wednesday night.

Whether Brown, who came on in the seventh inning and yielded a three-run, game-turning homer to Michael Tucker in the eighth, will still start it for San Diego was unclear after his 41-pitch performance.

Manager Bruce Bochy, at one point, said he and Stewart would discuss it with Brown on the flight to Atlanta today. But at another, he indicated that Sterling Hitchcock would start Wednesday, saving Brown for Game 7 if needed.

That Maddux, in the fifth relief appearance of his career and first since 1987, registered his first-ever save by getting the final three outs after Greg Myers had hit a two-run homer off Kerry Ligtenberg in the ninth, only brought more scrutiny to San Diego's use of Brown three days after he had started Game 2 and two days before he was scheduled to start Game 6.

The Padres led, 4-2, and went for the kill. Bochy has had a hot hand throughout the playoffs, set-up man Dan Miceli was nursing a tired arm and the dominant Brown was scheduled to throw on the side anyway Monday.

A calculated risk, said Bochy, who added that he was willing to take any blame "but I had our best out there and I'll never second guess myself in that regard. What Kevin Brown has done for us is unbelievable."

Said Stewart: "We had talked it over and decided that if there was a chance to nail it down, we'd take it. I don't think it was any more of a bold move than using Maddux in the ninth inning. We just played our card a little earlier."

Said Brown: "I feel particularly bad from the standpoint that people will second guess Boch for using me, but it was nobody's fault but my own. I had the ball and didn't do the job."

This was Brown's third relief appearance and second of the season. He had struck out the side in a one inning stint against the Colorado Rockies on July 4, and he came on in the seventh inning of this one, after Ozzie Guillen had legged out an infield single against Mark Langston, to strike out Greg Colbrunn, retire Chipper Jones on a fly to left and pop up Andres Galarraga.

In the eighth, however, he walked Ryan Klesko, saw Javy Lopez snake a ground single to left that just eluded shortstop Chris Gomez, and then, with one out and a full count, delivered an 89-mph sinker that didn't. Tucker hit it over the right-field fence, turning a 4-2 deficit into a 5-4 lead.

"How can you be in that situation and not be disappointed by the results?" Brown said later. "If you're not disappointed, you don't care about the game. I got through the first inning, but didn't have the same location in the second inning. There's nothing much to say beyond that. My stuff was good, but my location wasn't. The bottom line is that I walked the leadoff hitter in that inning. If you're going to second guess, second guess that."

The Braves disputed Brown's view on his stuff, but the speed gun consistently caught his fastball at 95 mph or better, dominating heat.

Said Stewart: "Kevin throws two long and hard [warmups] between starts, sometimes as many as 100 pitches, so the 40 he threw tonight doesn't even compare. He threw yesterday, but I don't think it was a question of him tiring. It was just a matter of location, which is almost always the case."

The location now shifts to Atlanta. From the bedlam of Qualcomm Stadium to the blase Turner Field.

Can the Padres come back from Monday's numbing setback, from the loss in which they dealt their ace?

"We're still ahead, 3-2," said Stewart. "We're still in the driver's seat, so I don't think we have anything from which to recover. We're going back to Atlanta where we won the first two games, and we're going back with Hitch and Brownie, so if I'm going to bet on anyone, it's going to be us."

Stewart, of course, wouldn't bet any other way. Nor would Bochy, who long after Maddux got the final out Monday night was still coping with the twists and turns of Game 5, still trying to decide if he should have walked Tucker with John Smoltz on deck ("after he hit that homer I felt worse than anybody"), still seeing that ground single by Lopez in the eighth that was so close to being within double play reach.

"It would be easy to let a loss like this affect us," said Bochy, "but we're still up 3-2 and we've been dealing with tough losses all year.

"I have every confidence we'll be fine."

Will Brown? It may depend on when he's next asked to pitch. With a 4-2 lead in the seventh inning Monday, the Padres were banking that it would be in the first game of the World Series.

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