ATLANTA -- The Philadelphia Phillies' outfield defense has been likened by many to the punch line of a joke about Michael Jackson.
Namely, that guys such as left fielder Pete Incaviglia and right fielder Wes Chamberlain wear a glove on their left hand for no apparent reason.
Yet, in yesterday's 4-3 Phillies win over the Atlanta Braves in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series, Incaviglia and Chamberlain each contributed mightily with their gloves and arms, rather than their bats.
In the first, with two out and Atlanta's Jeff Blauser trying to score from first on a Fred McGriff hit into the right-field corner, Chamberlain threw a strike to rookie shortstop Kevin Stocker, who threw to the plate in time to nail Blauser and end the inning.
"I was just hitting the cutoff man, in a double cutoff situation," said Chamberlain. "We go over that play tons of times in spring training. Kevin was in the right position. [Second baseman] Mariano Duncan wasn't there, but Kevin was. If you miss the first guy, the second guy is there."
Incaviglia, who badly misplayed several hits in Game 1, made a backhanded sliding catch of Terry Pendleton's drive in the second, which became important one batter later when Damon Berryhill singled to right. He was thrown out by Chamberlain trying to stretch the hit.
"All year this has been how it's been," said center fielder Len Dykstra, who hit the game-winning homer in the 10th. "It's been a complete team effort. Chamberlain made two great throws and Inky, who's been buried in the press, makes a great play in left field. That's what it takes to win. They'll remember my home run, but it's the little things."
Toward the end of spring training, Philadelphia manager Jim Fregosi called Stocker into his office and told him he would be starting the season with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
"When I told him, he told me, 'You will see me again soon.' He's a very confident young man," said Fregosi.
Stocker's words proved prophetic. The 23-year-old native of Spokane, Wash., joined the Phillies just before the All-Star break.
Although he hit just .233 in 83 games at Triple-A, Stocker has picked up his game since becoming the Phillies' regular shortstop, hitting .324 in 70 games and contributing solid defense.
So, why the big improvement?
"I really don't know," he said. "I don't consider myself a .340 hitter, but I don't consider myself a .230 hitter, either."
There are some answers, of course. For one thing, Stocker, who batted leadoff at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, is hitting eighth, a slot that carries less pressure. He also is seeing better pitches.
And then, there's the Larry Bowa factor. Bowa, the team's third-base coach, was one of the best shortstops in the National League in the 1970s.
"Larry's been a big help to me," said Stocker. "It started in spring training. He kind of took me under his wing. When I came up, I knew what to expect from him. He's a real intense guy. It didn't take long for me to figure that out."
Keeping the nightwatch
The starting time of tomorrow's sixth game is contingent on the outcome of tonight's American League Championship Series game.
Fregosi said he will be certain to check out the AL playoff game, but "It's not going to affect my sleep habits at all. It looks like November, December and January will be my sleep months.
Assisting the cause
Chamberlain tied a playoff record with two outfield assists, a mark that has been achieved by three other outfielders. The last time was by Philadelphia's Bake McBride in Game 4 of the 1980 NLCS.
Seen on the concourse
In keeping with Atlanta's obsession with some of the Phillies players' seeming unkempt appearance, a Braves fan held this sign out at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium: "We'll lose if the Phillies look human."
Another sign was displayed by a fan wearing an Indian headdress between the sixth and seventh inning, and was aimed at umpire Jerry Crawford, who made a highly questionable call at first base Sunday night.
The sign read: "Crawford School of Umpiring: Call 1-800-CAN'T SEE."