Pirates win in 10th, 3-2, to tie series, 2-2 LaValliere's single ends skid in Atlanta


ATLANTA -- The Pittsburgh Pirates finally broke the Atlanta curse.

Winless all season at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, the favored Pirates faced the verge of elimination from the National League Championship Series last night.

But pinch hitter Mike LaValliere lined a single to center on an 0-2 count from Atlanta's Mark Wohlers in the 10th inning to beat the Braves, 3-2, and tie the series at two victories apiece.

The outcome ensures that the series will return to Pittsburgh on Wednesday night for Game 6.

"It wasn't a total disaster if we didn't win this game," said Pirates manager Jim Leyland. "But it's nice to be back even. Now it boils down to a two-out-of-three series."

Andy Van Slyke walked against Kent Mercker to start the 10th and stole second on a close play. Two outs later, Mercker walked Steve Buechele, who had had five straight hits before sacrificing in his previous at-bat.

"Mercker wasn't throwing the ball well," said Braves manager Bobby Cox. "I thought a fresh arm would be a good idea."

Enter Wohlers, who kept throwing strikes to LaValliere, who kept staying alive. "I was just surviving with an 0-2 count," said LaValliere. "I wasn't looking for any particular pitch, just the ball."

He then singled home the game-winner on a low fastball, but Buechele was out trying to score from first behind Van Slyke.

Stan Belinda weathered a fly ball to the right-field wall by Lonnie Smith in the bottom half to earn the victory, the Pirates' first in eight games here.

The pinch hit was the first all season for LaValliere, as Leyland decided to gamble, using up both his catchers.

"We weren't in the best of situations," said Leyland. "Sometimes you've got to roll the dice."

A gritty effort in escaping the first inning kept Randy Tomlin in the game and the Pirates out of deep early trouble. That changed the complexion of the game, as the Pirates fought back with two runs against veteran Charlie Leibrandt, the only Atlanta starter with postseason experience.

Smith's automatic double, an advancing fly ball by Terry Pendleton, a run-scoring grounder by Ron Gant and consecutive singles by David Justice, Brian Hunter and Greg Olson had Tomlin gasping for air.

"I stayed with him, hoping he'd settle in, and he did," said Leyland of his starter.

The Pirates countered with a run-scoring hit by Don Slaught in the second and a second run on two hits and a throwing error by Justice in the fifth.

Both teams started going deep into their bullpens in the seventh, both wasting numerous scoring chances.

"We hit a lot of balls good in the eighth and ninth. We were swinging the bats good," said Cox. "They just didn't drop."

Good defensive plays by Barry Bonds and Buechele held the Braves at bay, and Jay Bell was picked off first in the ninth by Mike Stanton to help blunt the Pirates.

"You just can't get them in all the time," said Cox.

Bob Walk replaced Tomlin after six innings, getting through the seventh when Smith was out at second trying to stretch a single.

Van Slyke made a diving try for the drive, but missed the catch and Jose Lind picked up the ball and threw out Smith.

The Pirates had Bonds on via an infield single to lead off the eighth after Bonds had gone 0-for-3 with runners on base earlier in the game.

This time, he was safe by beating reliever Stanton to the bag after first baseman Hunter had ranged far to the right to field his chopper.

Despite a sacrifice by Buechele, the Pirates couldn't score, the inning ending when Stanton struck out Lind.

In the bottom of the ninth, Buechele made a leaping stab of Olson's liner to prevent the leadoff man from reaching, but Mark Lemke walked and was sacrificed to second by Rafael Belliard.

Pinch hitter Jerry Willard popped out, ending it.

A covey of Pirates fans behind home plate mocked the Braves' droning war chant on their way out of the park from the first extra-inning NLCS game since Oct. 9, 1988, in New York.

Their glee was understandable. It had been nearly 14 months since the Pirates had won at Atlanta (Aug. 29, 1990).

NL playoffs

(Series tied, 2-2)

Game 1 -- Pittsburgh 5, Atlanta 1

Game 2 -- Atlanta 1, Pittsburgh 0

Game 3 -- Atlanta 10, Pittsburgh 3

Yesterday -- Pittsburgh 3, Atlanta 2

Today -- Pittsburgh (Smith 16-14) at Atlanta (Glavine 20-12), 3:07 p.m.

Wednesday -- Atlanta (Avery 19-8) at Pittsburgh (Smith 16-11), 3:07 p.m. or 8:37 p.m.*

Thursday -- at Pittsburgh, 8:37 p.m.*

* -- if necessary

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