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Aced Out

In Rare Relief Roles, Maddux Gets Job Done After Brown Doesn't and Tucker-Powered Braves Rally, 7-6, to Return Series to Atlanta


SAN DIEGO — Give the San Diego Padres credit for going for a knockout while they had the opportunity.

They understood that tomorrow isn't guaranteed because the Atlanta Braves are often dangerous when they're seemingly overmatched in the National League championship series. But the Padres didn't complete their mission--so guess who's under pressure now.

Prolonging their season in an attempt to make history, Atlanta defeated San Diego ace Kevin Brown--pitching in relief--in a stirring 7-6 victory in Game 5 at Qualcomm Stadium on Monday night.

Michael Tucker hit a three-run home run against Brown--making his second relief appearance in 1998 and the third of his career--while the Braves took command in a five-run eighth inning, stunning a crowd of 58,988.

The Braves summoned four-time Cy Young award winner Greg Maddux--making his fifth career relief appearance--to nail down the victory in the ninth after struggling rookie closer Kerry Ligtenberg gave up a two-run, pinch-hit homer to Greg Myers, cutting the lead to one run.

Maddux got two outs, then walked the potential tying run, but he got Tony Gwynn to ground out to end the game, earning him his first career save, and preserving the victory for rookie reliever John Rocker, who pitched a scoreless inning.

After losing the first three games, the Braves cut their deficit in the best-of-seven series to 3-2.

"There were so many huge plays in this game, it really was incredible," said Atlanta starter John Smoltz, who gave up four runs and nine hits in 6 2/3 innings. "We still have a lot of baseball ahead of us, and we aren't close to being done yet.

"But we got another win, which is what we need to do. We need another one to get to Game 7, and that's what we'll work on next. But the thing about this team is that we never stop believing in ourselves, and this is just going to pick us up even more."

No team has won a pennant after losing the first three games in a championship series, but the Braves have made it further than others in similar situations. The series returns to Turner Field for Game 6 on Wednesday night, and the Braves suddenly have many reasons to feel good.

And the Padres don't.

"It's a tough loss, no question about that," San Diego Manager Bruce Bochy said. "When you have a two-run lead and they come back on you . . . that's not easy.

"But we're still up, 3-2. We'll go to Atlanta, and we'll put this game behind us, and be set to go."

They Padres thought they were done visiting Turner Field this season--but Tucker did a lot to make the trip occur. He homered to right field against Brown in the eighth, giving the Braves a 5-4 lead.

"It was a little sinker," said Tucker, who went three for five with five runs batted in, one fewer than the NL championship series record. "Kevin Brown is a great pitcher, and with him out there, you know you have to make him get the ball up.

"You know you have to have a chance. I got a pitch I could drive, and I didn't miss it. You know that's not going to happen too much against him."

Brown pitched a three-hit shutout in the Padres' 3-0 victory in Game 2. On Monday, Brown told Bochy he would be available to pitch in relief on three days of rest.

He entered the game with none out in the seventh and the Padres ahead, 4-2. In addition to Myers' two-run, pinch-hit homer in the ninth, John Vander Wal and Ken Caminiti also contributed two-run blasts.

Vander Wal gave the Padres a 4-2 lead with a two-out homer in the sixth. Caminiti staked San Diego starter Andy Ashby to a 2-0 lead in the first.

Brown retired the three batters he faced in the seventh--but he struggled. After striking out Greg Colbrunn, pinch-hitting for second baseman Keith Lockhart, he went to full counts against Chipper Jones and Andres Galarraga.

Jones flied out to left and Galarraga popped up to second to end the inning. But that work took its toll in the eighth.

Brown walked Ryan Klesko on another 3-and-2 count, and Javy Lopez singled to short, putting the tying runs on first and second. And the Padres and their fans had reason to be concerned.

"Kevin Brown is a human being," said shortstop Ozzie Guillen, who singled three times in five at-bats while batting in the leadoff spot. "He is a great pitcher, he is a hero for them, but we believe in ourselves.

"I knew that when [Tucker] went to home plate, something good was going to happen. We all believed that."

On his Brown's 41st pitch, Tucker homered to right, giving the Braves their first lead. That ended Brown's troubling relief appearance. He gave up two hits and three runs, striking out one with a walk in 1 1/3 innings.

"I feel like I had my best guy out there, who was rested, with a chance to win the ballgame, and I'll take my chances there," Bochy said. "Sure, it didn't work out, and I take responsibility for that. But with Kevin out there, I have all the confidence in the world."

And now the Braves are gaining confidence.

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