Braves hope Avery can chill Pirates again Atlanta facing elimination tonight


PITTSBURGH -- The burden now rests with Steve Avery.

Avery, master of the Pittsburgh Pirates in Game 2, has another assignment tonight in the National League Championship Series: Save the Atlanta Braves from elimination.

Two days after a tense 1-0 victory, Avery, 21, must keep the Braves alive in chilly Pittsburgh, where there will be no tomahawk choppers, no partisan crowd and no comfortable Atlanta weather.

He did it the first time with an overpowering fastball and the poise of a veteran. If he can't do it again, the Pirates may be headed for their first World Series since 1979.

But Avery is not fretting about the assignment or the elements.

"I'm not going to treat this start any differently than the last time," said Avery. "I know what is on the line. We can still win this thing."

The forecast is for possible rain and temperatures dipping into the 40s tonight. The game originally was scheduled for 3:05 p.m., but Major League Baseball had an agreement with CBS that it would be played at night if the American League playoffs had ended.

A Michigan native, Avery said he is "kind of used to" dreary conditions. "I pitched in snow back home a couple of times. If it's really cold, it's not going to bother me."

What will bother him if it happens will be the absence of the blistering fastball he had when he struck out nine and allowed only three Pirates to reach third base in 8 1/3 innings before being rescued by Alejandro Pena.

"That was a big ballgame for us, because we didn't want to get swept there," he said of Game 2. "I don't think this one is going to be all that much more important. But it is tougher to come back against a team you just pitched against.

"I'll just have to use whatever's working for me. The last game, I had as good a fastball as I've ever had. I don't know if I'll have that again. I may have to pitch a little different style."

This time, he will be facing Pittsburgh's Doug Drabek instead of Zane Smith, and that is no bargain if Drabek is sound.

Drabek strained his left hamstring in Game 1 while running the bases and has been treating and nursing the injury since. He will have a week between starts.

But fortune has smiled on the Pirates of late, producing two victories in Atlanta, where they hadn't won all season, while the Braves have bumbled and bobbled and failed to hit in the clutch.

Drabek, a 5-1 winner in Game 1, said the hamstring is "feeling a lot better. Hopefully, everything is going to be all right, and I'll be ready to pitch."

He has thrown for several days and is most concerned about the quick movement required by fielding. The Pirates avoided such moves, so as not to take any unnecessary chances with him.

"I'd say he's 95 percent right now," said manager Jim Leyland, not one to risk pitching anyone who is not up to par.

Drabek said he is not overly concerned about pitching after the injury, adding he will try to "stay within myself. You don't want to go out there and do something that's going to hurt it again, but, at the same time, you can't go out there and favor it so that you might hurt something else. You might not be effective."

He joined the crowd in being impressed by Avery, who "showed a lot of composure at our place. Throughout the season, he's shown with some guys it doesn't matter if they have experience. He was really able to concentrate being in that situation at that young an age."

The weather will be a factor for the Pirates starter as well, perhaps even more so than for Avery. Drabek may have to lengthen his warm-up to be sure the hamstring is stretched and loose.

NOTES: Pirates OF Andy Van Slyke said the chant of Braves fans reminds him of a James Brown tune. "Everybody knows James Brown never wrote a song with more than 5 words," said Van Slyke. . . . The Pirates are offering refunds to fans who bought tickets and now can't attend the game because of the time change. . . . . The Braves have not scored in 18 innings. Their last 2 runs were in the first inning of Game 4, which they lost in the 10th, 3-2. . . . With Van Slyke, Bobby Bonilla and Barry Bonds a combined 13-for-55, the Pirates' MVP is Jay Bell, who is hitting .476 and alertly called for the ball on appeal to make the out on David Justice, who missed third base in Game 5. . . . Braves 3B Terry Pendleton will undergo arthroscopic surgery on his right knee after the season. It locks, preventing him from taking pre-game infield practice.

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