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Close losses run through their minds


TORONTO -- By one man's watch, the door to the clubhouse remained closed for 17 minutes. Outside, two small flower arrangements sat on a chair. Pick-me-up bouquets, perhaps. And Wednesday night, they were wilting in the Braves' Canadian dungeon.

For 17 minutes, the Braves were alone with their thoughts. For 17 minutes, the reality of their sixth consecutive one-run loss in the World Series was allowed to sink in. Wednesday night it was by 2-1 to the Toronto Blue Jays. This year's Series now stands at 3-1, Toronto. In other words, the Braves are one loss away from a repeat of the bitterness of last October, when it was the Minnesota Twins who beat them in the World Series, beat them under another dome.

And so, they thought.

Seventeen minutes.

"We're on the verge of it now," said Tom Glavine, who pitched well enough to win Wednesday night. "It'll be tough to swallow it. Two years in a row, we could have nothing to show for it."

And so, they wonder.

Seventeen minutes.

"We just went back and got our lobster and steak," first baseman Sid Bream said. "Nothing was said in here. We just went about our business."

If they are indeed condemned men, the Braves ate hearty. But Glavine got it right: how tough it must be to swallow. They are hitting .185 as a team. They are squandering a succession of excellent starting pitching performances. The Braves are close every night, but they are killing themselves, and they know they're killing themselves.

As shortstop Jeff Blauser said, "There's no explanation for it. I guess it's baseball. But we've made some mistakes and they've cost us. We have nobody to blame but ourselves. The games were there for us to win."

At World Series times, the magnifying glasses are everywhere. At World Series time, when you've just lost your sixth straight one-run ballgame, the magnifying glasses are so powerful that they can burn like the most sophisticated laser.

Every move is analyzed, every situation scrutinized, every decision picked apart by people resembling sadists at work on a helpless butterfly.

And so, Damon Berryhill, what exactly were you thinking when you tried to lay down a bunt with runners on first and third with nobody out and the Braves trailing by 2-0?

"If I get it down, it's a good play," Berryhill said. Alas, he popped it up foul to the catcher.

And so, Otis Nixon, how exactly did you get yourself picked off first base by Toronto starter Jimmy Key in the first inning, disabling an Atlanta rally before it started?

"Jimmy has a good pickoff move," said Bobby Cox, the Braves' manager. "We discussed it in our meetings. Otis just got picked off. It doesn't happen too often. We still have to stay aggressive."

And so, Atlanta Braves, how could you have swung at so many of Key's first pitches? How could you let him throw a total of only 22 pitches in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings?

"Any time you see hitters going after first pitches, it's because he's throwing a lot of strikes, first-pitch strikes," Blauser said.

Yeah, well, fine. But this thing is gathering an awful momentum now. The longer it goes, the harder it will be to shake.

Which is why Glavine was screaming.

Three times, four times, he would come in off the mound after wriggling out of another predicament. He pitched the whole game, allowing only two runs. But he had trouble in the first, third, fourth, sixth and seventh innings and escaped with a quality start. And more than once, as he got back to the dugout, he would start spewing.

"Three or four times during the game, I came in there and started hollering," Glavine said. "I was just trying to get something going, just trying to break the tension. I don't know . . .

"I don't think we were flat. It was just that nothing was happening for us. We've been on a pretty even keel all season, and I think that's helped us. [Emotion] isn't a concern. I wasn't yelling and screaming because I thought the guys were flat and not into the game. It was just a situation where I was trying to do anything I can.

"If there's a team that can come back, this is the team," Glavine said. "But it remains to be seen if we can do it."

Other teams have come back from 3-1 down to win the World Series -- but not often. The last time was in 1985, when the Royals came back to beat the Cardinals. And that only happened because of what might have been the worst big-stage call in the history of the Series, by umpire Don Denkinger at first base in Game 6.

If having their hitting slump wasn't bad enough, and having history against them wasn't bad enough, the Braves also have to deal with the dome factor. Fact: A team that plays under a roof has never lost the Series (Minnesota in 1987 and 1991). The Blue Jays look like they're about ready to make it three straight for the roofers.

"We don't care where we play," Jeff Blauser said. "We could play in the Sahara Desert and we'd be fired up."

The Sahara Desert.

Big place. Big drought.

There, unlike here, the Braves would be right at home.

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