Walk enjoys finishing a start for a change Complete game is 15th in 12 years


PITTSBURGH -- When Bob Walk gets the ball for a start, he never figures to be around when the game ends.

So, when the Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher was around at the end of last night's fifth game of the National League Championship Series, taking NL playoffs notebook

the bows for a 7-1 complete-game win over the Atlanta Braves, the moment was just a little more special.

"It was very important for me to be out there in the ninth inning when the game was over," said Walk. "I'm not out there very often in the ninth inning, and tonight really meant a lot to me."

Walk's nine-inning effort, in which he allowed one run and three hits to the Braves, meant a lot to the Pirates, who forced the best-of-seven series back to Atlanta, trailing 3-2.

"They [the fans] keep talking about getting rid of him, but they keep bringing him back and he keeps doing good things," said Pittsburgh manager Jim Leyland.

Walk, who had completed 14 other games in his 12-year big-league career, is not a great starter or reliever but good enough at either role to help a club like the Pirates.

"Even when I go down to the bullpen, he [Leyland] has called to bring me into a ballgame in the eighth inning with a one-run lead. He's not ever afraid to put me in there. If he feels that I'm the man that should be out there on the mound, then I start thinking that maybe I am good enough to be out there," said Walk.

There could be more

Atlanta manager Bobby Cox said the Braves should remain as solid as they've been the past two years, in which they've won the West Division twice and a pennant.

"It should stay good. I don't know if it will be better," Cox said of the Braves, who have won 192 games over the past two seasons.

The Braves have an embarrassment of riches from the top of their organization to the bottom, but next month's expansion draft will mean Atlanta will lose some of that talent.

Each club can protect as many as 15 players in the first round of the draft, but Cox said the Braves are in the "middle or high 20s" of players they would like to protect.

"We're going to lose three guys we don't want to lose. There's no way around it," said Cox.

Don't plan on Pena

Reliever Alejandro Pena is the 26th man on the Braves' 25-man postseason roster, having been on the disabled list with tendinitis in his right elbow when the rosters were set on Aug. 31.

Atlanta pitching coach Leo Mazzone said Pena has thrown in a late-season game as well as some batting practice and simulated games, but is not ready to be activated.

Mazzone said Pena had been throwing around 89 mph consistently in the middle of the season, when he was particularly effective.

But since the tendinitis, Pena has topped out around 83 or 84 mph, and has felt "uncomfortable at times," said Mazzone.

You're not so smart

Not everybody believes that Leyland's managing credentials are so top notch, especially when it comes to using rookie knuckleballer Tim Wakefield sparingly.

Take, for instance, a few fans who cornered Leyland as he was getting out of his car to enter Three Rivers Stadium for last night's game.

"They asked me to sign an autograph for them. The second after I sign it, one of them said: 'You dumb SOB. Why don't you pitch Wakefield?' " said Leyland.

There had been speculation that Leyland would bring back Wakefield, who won Friday night in Game 3, on one day's rest to try to keep the Pirates in the series, but Leyland said that never crossed his mind.

"I was not going to pitch him on one day's rest. If the Pittsburgh Pirates have only one pitcher that can win a game, then we've got a problem," said Leyland.

Eerie feeling

The Pirates are trying to become the first National League team to win a best-of-seven playoff after trailing 3-1.

Baltimore fans know that Pittsburgh was the first team to erase a 3-1 deficit in World Series play, when they beat the Orioles in 1979.

In that year, the Pirates won Game 5, by beating the Orioles, 7-1, the same score they won by in Game 5 of the NLCS last night over the Braves.

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