Dykstra drives Braves to brink 10th-inning homer lifts Phils to 4-3 win, within game of title


ATLANTA -- At this point in the baseball season, the glare of the playoff spotlight can do one of two things to a man, either make him shrink from the heat, or move closer to it, like a moth to a flame.

It would be wise to place Philadelphia Phillies center fielder Len Dykstra into the latter category, for he lives for the moment.

Yesterday's moment was the 10th inning of Game 5 of the National League Championship Series, a game in which the Phillies had watched a three-run, ninth-inning lead over the Atlanta Braves evaporate.

But in the 10th, there was Dykstra, stepping to the forefront, slamming a 3-2 pitch from Atlanta reliever Mark Wohlers over the fence in right-center field to give the Phillies a 4-3 win and a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series.

On a day of eerie similarities, one happy constant for the Phillies, who go home with a lead and two chances to win their first pennant in 10 years, was Dykstra's ability to come through in the clutch.

"My success in the postseason is a situation where you throw everything you've got into it," said Dykstra, whose homer was the second of this series and the sixth of his postseason career.

This wasn't the first time Dykstra had gone deep in his last at-bat in a playoff game. Seven years ago, to the day yesterday, a young Dykstra hit Dave Smith's pitch over the right-field fence to power the New York Mets to a 6-5 win over the Houston Astros in Game 3 of the 1986 NLCS.

"The home run I hit in 1986 was comparable, but this was even bigger," said Dykstra. "Back then, I was a kid trying to contribute in any way that I could. I was kind of in La-La Land. I am what Keith Hernandez or Gary Carter was back then. I'm leaned upon by my teammates and my coaches and my manager. If I don't have success, I let them down."

Dykstra, who led the National League in runs scored, hits and walks this season, has done anything but let the Phillies down during what some are calling an MVP season.

"Lenny is a red-light player," said Philadelphia manager Jim Fregosi. "When the red light goes on, he gets the job done. You can't believe the job he's done for us all year. He always finds a way to get it done. He came through in a big way today."

Philadelphia left fielder Pete Incaviglia said: "Dude [Dykstra] is an incredible player. When you're in a big game and you need something big, he's the guy you want up. He enjoys big games. He loves the packed house with everybody staring down at him. You can see it in his eyes."

What you can see in the Phillies' eyes now, as they prepare for Game 6 at Veterans Stadium tomorrow, is a chance to win a series Atlanta's superb starters were supposed to dominate.

Indeed, the Phillies have been outscored 30-17 in the five games, but have posted three one-run wins. They have scored as many as two runs in an inning only twice.

But the Phillies have stayed in the series by the grace of their own starters, and in particular the skill of former Orioles reliever Curt Schilling.

Schilling, who held the Braves to two runs in eight innings in Game 1, only to see defensive replacement Kim Batiste throw a potential double-play grounder into right and closer Mitch Williams give up the tying run in the ninth, saw precisely the same scenario unfold yesterday and came away with another no-decision.

"Why would I be frustrated?" said Schilling. "The bottom line is we won the two games I started."

Atlanta starter Steve Avery, who lost Game 1 to Schilling, pitched well, giving up two runs and four hits in seven innings, though throwing a whopping 134 pitches.

But Schilling was better. He got help from single runs in the first, fourth and ninth and had again shut down the Atlanta hitters, but a leadoff ninth-inning walk to Jeff Blauser and an error by Batiste, who botched another potential double-play grounder, marked the end of his day.

Fregosi then turned to Williams to face the Braves' left-handed duo of Fred McGriff and David Justice. McGriff lashed an RBI single to center and Justice flied to left, driving in Gant to make it 3-2. Terry Pendleton and pinch hitter Francisco Cabrera hit singles to center, the first driving in McGriff and the second moving Pendleton, the winning run, to third with one out.

"There were so many things going through my mind," said Schilling. "I knew Mitch was going to get out of it."

Schilling's thinking was validated when Williams struck out Mark Lemke and got pinch hitter Bill Pecota to fly out to Dykstra.

Phillies reliever Larry Andersen set down the Braves in the 10th without incident to record the save.

At this point, the Phillies are happy, but understandably wary. After all, the Braves will send Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, the two favorites for NL Cy Young Award honors, out for Games 6 and 7.

And Atlanta has been in this situation before, down 3-2 in an NLCS and heading on the road for the final two games. That year was 1991, the site was Pittsburgh and all the Braves did was toss two straight shutouts at the Pirates to win the pennant.

"This isn't over by a long shot. That is a very good offensive team over there with no holes," said Dykstra. "They have Glavine and Maddux, and we still have one more game to win. It's no good to win three if you don't win the fourth."

But the Phillies have a guy named "Dude" who likes to play this time of the year, and that could be enough.



) Phillies lead series, 3-2

Gm. ... Result

1 ..... Phillies 4, Braves 3 (10 inn.)

..... Braves 14, Phillies 3

3 ..... Braves 9, Phillies 4

4 ..... Phillies 2, Braves 1

5 ..... Phillies 4, Braves 3 (10 inn.)

Gm. ... Date ..... Site ...... Time

6 ... Tomorrow ... Phil. ..... 3:07

..... ........ ... ..... ..... or 8:12

7* .. Thursday ... Phil. ..... 8:12

*-If necessary

TV: All games on chs. 11, 9

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