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GIANT-BRAVE REPORT

Lopez, Castilla Hit When It Counts

October 04, 2002|Jason Reid

ATLANTA — Catcher Javy Lopez and third baseman Vinny Castilla were chiefly responsible for the Atlanta Braves' failure to produce as expected on offense this year despite the off-season acquisition of slugger Gary Sheffield.

But the Braves won't care as long as the Nos. 6 and 7 batters continue their hot hitting in the playoffs.

Lopez and Castilla hit consecutive home runs Thursday night in a 7-3 victory over the San Francisco Giants in Game 2 of the National League division series, helping the Braves even the best-of-five series.

Lopez batted .233 with 11 homers and 52 runs batted in this season but is hitting .375 with two homers and three RBIs in the division series.

"I feel like things start happening to me in the postseason," said Lopez, selected the most valuable player of the 1996 NL championship series. "My approach, my stance, everything is pretty much the same, but things just start falling into place in the postseason."

Castilla, bothered by a wrist injury, hit .232 with 12 homers and 61 RBIs. He went homerless in 177 at-bats in July and August, but hit three homers in September after taking cortisone shots and is three for six against the Giants.

"The season is over and it's the playoffs now," Castilla said. "I'm concentrating and I'm feeling good. I know I didn't hit the way I wanted to hit, the way I know how to hit, during the season, but I know I can now."

*

Barry Bonds homered down the right-field line leading off the ninth inning against John Smoltz, hitting a 97-mph fastball and even impressing Atlanta's All-Star closer.

"Fastball up that did not get in," Smoltz said. "There's not very many guys who could have kept that ball fair, and he did."

Smoltz won't back down against Bonds--unless that's the right move.

"As I've said before, I'm going to attack him if it doesn't mean anything," said Smoltz, who was working with a five-run lead when Bonds homered. "But I'm going to pitch totally different regarding the situation. That does affect the way you pitch him."

*

Greg Maddux, bumped to Game 3 on Saturday because of a blister, is ready to go, Atlanta Manager Bobby Cox said.

"Yeah, absolutely ... and he could go into the late innings with it," Cox said. "It's a lot better."

Jason Schmidt, scheduled to face Maddux at Pacific Bell Park, had a 2.37 earned-run average at home this season--and a 5.02 ERA on the road.

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