ATLANTA -- Fred McGriff's bat had been surprisingly silent during the first three games of the postseason. Three hits in 13 at-bats against the Colorado Rockies, all singles, only one RBI.
Not that it had hurt the Atlanta Braves in their quest for a fourth straight trip to the National League Championship Series. But the Rockies should have been happy to let this sleeping Crime Dog lie.
McGriff, a solid but not spectacular hitter in his first two postseason appearances, emerged from his personal funk last night. McGriff had three hits and five RBIs, including a pair of home runs, to lead the Braves to a series-clinching 10-4 victory at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium.
The victory came on a night when Atlanta ace Greg Maddux was not at the top of his Cy Young form, and propelled the Braves to their fourth National League Championship Series in five years.
Atlanta will open the NLCS Tuesday night on the road against the Cincinnati Reds. The Braves clinched the divisional series three games to one.
The defeat ended a Cinderella season for the Rockies, who in their third year became the fastest expansion franchise to make the postseason. In the end, the Rockies didn't have enough pitching to match the Braves. Even with Maddux not at his best.
Coming back on three days' rest for the first time this year, Maddux wasn't close to the dominating and often demoralizing pitcher he had been all season. His performance was closer to what he had been in Game 1, when the Rockies scuffed him around for three runs and nine hits over seven innings.
Maddux didn't throw bullets -- he never does -- but he dodged them in each of the first two innings. In the first, he stranded Eric Young at third by striking out Dante Bichette and Larry Walker. He gave up back-to-back singles to start the second, but Andres Galarraga was picked off second by Braves catcher Charlie O'Brien.
Things caught up with Maddux in the third. With one out, Young and Mike Kingery singled and Bichette, who had been fooled badly in the first inning, lined an opposite-field home run. The ball barely cleared the 330-foot sign in right field, but it gave the Rockies a 3-0 lead. Like most leads in this wacky series, it didn't last very long.
After breezing through the first two innings, then getting the first two batters to ground out in the third, Rockies starter Bret Saberhagen gave up a broken-bat single to Marquis Grissom, a single to Mark Lemke off Galarraga's glove and a soft run-scoring double down the line to Chipper Jones. There was nothing soft about McGriff's home run, a laser shot into the left-field stands.
It gave the Braves a 4-3 lead, the 11th time a lead was erased in the series.
This one lasted, as the Braves added two runs in the fourth with the help of a throwing error by Young. They chased Saberhagen, who was making his first postseason start since helping the Kansas City Royals to a World Series championship in 1985.
Saberhagen was replaced by Kevin Ritz, who was supposed to be the Rockies starter had they forced a fifth game. Ritz ensured there would be no Game 5, giving up a one-out home run on a count to McGriff in the fifth that pushed the Braves ahead 7-3.
With the Braves ahead 7-4 after Vinny Castilla's third home run of the series, Maddux helped break the game open in the sixth. With two out, he singled.
It started a three-run burst that included McGriff's being intentionally walked with the bases loaded. Trying for his third straight home run, McGriff wound up driving in two more runs with a single to right.
It ended shortly after the benches cleared. The incident, which ended quickly and quietly, was precipitated by Rockies reliever Mike Munoz's brushing back Ryan Klesko on two straight pitches after the Braves left fielder had swung from his heels on Munoz's first pitch. The Rockies, down 10-4, were clearly a frustrated team.