Phillies might have the beef, but Braves are lean, hungry


PHILADELPHIA -- Almost anyone this side of an NFL locker room would look puny next to the Philadelphia Phillies, but Atlanta Braves left-hander Steve Avery looks especially out of place.

The Phillies, what with the hardscrabble Len Dykstra, the brawny Darren Daulton and the beefy John Kruk, look like barroom brawlers.

Avery, a precocious 23-year-old, looks barely old enough to have a driver's license, which would keep him from getting carded in a bar.

But behind Avery's baby face is a wealthof big game and postseason experience, which is something that most of the rough-and-tumble Phillies can't imagine going into tonight's first game of the National League Championship Series at Veterans Stadium.

"I love this time of the year," said Avery, who will start for the Braves tonight against former Oriole Curt Schilling. "It's cooler than Atlanta and this is the time that everyone is waiting for."

The Braves have waited for this time, for there's nothing like winning two straight National League pennants, only to then drop consecutive World Series.

"We want to win the thing as much as anyone," said Atlanta manager Bobby Cox. "If there's one good thing about losing, it's that it's a good motivational tool for next spring to get your club to the World Series and finally win the thing."

How can they not? After all, they possess the best pitching in the National League, fortified by the offseason acquisition of free agent pitcher Greg Maddux.

Maddux, who will start Game 2 tomorrow night, is flanked by Avery, who was 18-6, Tom Glavine, who won the Cy Young in 1991 and might win it again this year with a 22-6 record, and John Smoltz, , who stumbled to 15-11 but struck out 208 batters in 243 innings.

"We don't look at them as a group," said Phillies manager Jim Fregosi. "We take them pitcher by pitcher. It's not going to be easy, I can promise you that."

Even if there wasn't the formidable Braves starting rotation to cope with, there would be the heart of their batting order.

In left fielder Ron Gant, right fielder David Justice and first baseman Fred McGriff -- acquired in midseason from the San Diego Padres -- Atlanta has three hitters who each hit 35 or more homers and each drove in more than 100 runs.

But the Phillies do present their problems, too.

They are, after all, the National League's top run-producing team, thanks in large part to the fact that they led the league in walks.

Dykstra, who could challenge the Giants' Barry Bonds and the Braves' trio for league Most Valuable Player honors, has been brilliant in the leadoff spot and has shown himself capable of taking control of a game.

The Braves won a franchise record 104 games, but could have lost the war if the challenge of catching, passing, then holding off the Giants left them too fatigued mentally and physically to beat the Phillies.

"I think the day and a half we've had off has really rejuvenated us," said Justice. "If we had to play a playoff game on Monday, it might have really hurt us. But with the rest, we'll be OK."

Ultimately, the Braves may be OK, because of their experience at this time of the year. Only Maddux and McGriff have not been with this group of Braves that already have played in 26 postseason games in the last two years.

By contrast, only Daulton, who was a rookie on the 1983 Phillies team that lost to the Orioles in the World Series; Dykstra, who was a member of the 1986 and 1988 New York Mets teams that won a World Series and a division title; and second baseman Mariano Duncan, who was with the 1990 Cincinnati Reds, have played in the chill of October.

"I've told them [teammates], if you remember each Friday night in high school football running through the banners, that's what it's like," said Dykstra. "That's the kind of feeling, but at a level you can't explain. You'll find out when you get there. Every pitch is magnified and every hit is magnified."


Braves ..... ..... Pos. ... Phillies

Damon Berryhill ... C ..... Darren Daulton

Fred McGriff ..... 1B ..... John Kruk

Mark Lemke ....... 2B ..... Mickey Morandini

Terry Pendleton .. 3B ..... Dave Hollins

Jeff Blauser ..... SS ..... Kevin Stocker

Ron Gant ......... LF ..... Wes Chamberlain

Otis Nixon ....... CF ..... Len Dykstra

David Justice .... RF ..... Pete Incaviglia

Steve Avery ...... P ...... Curt Schilling

Time: 8:12. TV: Chs. 11, 9. Radio: WBAL (1090 AM)

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