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Baseball Playoffs

Braves Hand Keys to Someone They Trust

National League: Atlanta, which is used to coming back from postseason deficits, turns to Glavine today to try and force Game 7 against San Diego.

October 14, 1998|JASON REID | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ATLANTA — Things have suddenly become interesting in the National League championship series, featuring the team of the decade in a familiar role.

The Atlanta Braves are on the wrong side of a 3-2 deficit in the best-of-seven series against the San Diego Padres, and history is stacked against them. Of course, the Braves are accustomed to postseason pressure, and they've overcome trouble before.

Tom Glavine has been among the keys to their previous turnarounds, and guess who's scheduled to pitch today?

The former Cy Young Award winner takes the mound in Game 6 at Turner Field, hoping to help force a decisive Game 7 on Thursday. No team has won a pennant after losing the first three games of a championship series, and the Braves are the first team to even force a Game 6.

Glavine welcomes the high-pressure assignment--and the Braves are comforted by the left-hander's presence.

"Everybody knows about our big three starters--Glavine, Greg Maddux and John Smoltz--and what they've accomplished in this game," third baseman Chipper Jones said. "Whenever those guys are out there, they just give you a feeling of confidence, a feeling like everything is going to be OK.

"No matter what the situation is, you feel like you've got more than a good chance [to win]. We're still trailing in this thing, and we've got our work cut out for us, but I'll take my chances against anybody, and anywhere, with the guy we've got going."

Glavine, 32, was the NL's only 20-game winner this season, going 20-7 with a 2.47 earned-run average. He was 12-2 with a 1.78 ERA in 17 road starts.

The 1991 Cy Young Award winner, Glavine is considered among the leading candidates for this season's trophy. And an authority on the award said Glavine deserves his second.

"I think he's better now than the first year I came over here," said Greg Maddux, a four-time Cy Young Award winner. "I've seen improvement in the six years I've been here, I've seen a little bit every year from him.

"I think he deserves it [the Cy Young Award] for a lot of reasons. But the main thing is that you've got to go with the wins, and we all know who won the most games. You play the game to win, you don't play the game to strike guys out. And Glavine won more games that anybody."

Glavine believes this season was the best of his 11-year career, especially considering he went 11-2 after Atlanta losses.

"I think it was a tremendously consistent season for me," the four-time 20-game winner said. "For me, everybody points to the '91 season where I won the Cy Young, and I think everything is measured by that.

"I'm a much better pitcher than I was back then. So all those things combined made it a better year for me. And I think in large part, that's due to staying healthy and feeling good all year long, and having great support. That made my job a lot easier all year long."

Glavine hasn't won as frequently in the playoffs--but he has proven himself under that spotlight.

In 22 postseason starts, Glavine has a 2.90 ERA. The Braves haven't supported him enough, though, explaining his 9-10 record during that span.

But he keeps them in games, which is his job.

In 1996, the Braves overcame a 3-1 deficit against the St. Louis Cardinals in the championship series. Glavine pitched seven scoreless in a 15-0 victory in Game 7.

"Tommy is a guy who has been in these situations time and time again," Atlanta Manager Bobby Cox said. "We've got to keep winning to keep playing, it's as simple as that, and any manager would be real comfortable to give the ball to Tommy right now.

"He knows what we're facing, and he knows what he has to do. I expect him to go out there and give us what he always does."

Glavine had a no-decision in the Braves' 2-1 victory in 10 innings in Game 2 of the division series against the Chicago Cubs, giving up three hits and one run in seven innings.

He took the loss in Game 2 of the championship series, giving up one run in six innings. But he walked six, and the Padres twice left the bases loaded against Glavine.

"I was hoping for another chance, and hopefully I'll be a little sharper than I was in the first game I pitched," Glavine said. "They [the Padres] wanted to wrap it up [in San Diego], and we wanted to prolong things and get back to Atlanta, and that's what we did.

"But they are still one win away from clinching, and we have to win both games. Obviously, this is not the position we wanted to be in. But we feel we have a chance because of our pitching, and how we're starting to swing the bats. We feel if anyone can come back from 3-0, we can."

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