McGriff's bat awakens to help send Atlanta on another title chase Braves rout Rockies, 10-4, even without ace Maddux at peak


&TC; 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 measly 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 the first two games, 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 before 50,079 at Fulton County Stadium.

"McGriff was the difference tonight, as well as Marquis Grissom," Braves manager Bobby Cox said of the pair that contributed eight hits -- including 5-for-5 from Grissom -- to his team's 15-hit attack. "We were waiting for somebody to do that."

The victory came on a night when Atlanta ace Greg Maddux was not at the top of his Cy Young form for the second straight time against the Rockies. Still, it propelled the Braves into this year's NL Championship Series beginning Tuesday night in Cincinnati against the Reds.

The defeat ended a Cinderella season for the Rockies, who in their third year became the fastest expansion franchise ever 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.

"He didn't have his good stuff," Rockies manager Don Baylor said of Maddux, who gave up four runs and 10 hits, including a pair of homers, but struck out seven and walked none in seven innings. "But when you give him a lead, he can pitch without his best stuff."

"I felt good," Maddux said. "You've got to give the Rockies a lot of credit. Those guys swung early in the count and they know I like to get ahead. They didn't let me get ahead tonight."

After falling behind for the fourth straight game -- this time on Dante Bichette's three-run opposite-field home run in the third -- the Braves gave Maddux the lead with a four-run burst in the bottom of the inning.

It was sparked by McGriff's two-run home run off Rockies starter Bret Saberhagen. After 11 lead changes or ties in the first four games, this lead wouldn't be lost. The Braves increased it to 6-3 in the fourth and to 7-3 on McGriff's second homer of the game in the fifth.

After Vinny Castilla's third home run of the series cut Colorado's deficit to 7-4 in the sixth, Maddux's two-out single in the bottom of the inning started a three-run splurge that broke the game open for the Braves.

"It has been a struggle for the last month and a half," said Saberhagen, who was pitching in his first postseason game since helping the Kansas City Royals win the 1985 World Series. "I wish things were different. If I am out there healthy [he will undergo shoulder surgery in the off-season], I think we probably win that game tonight. To have me come in and let them down is tough to swallow."

Asked if he made any changes coming into last night, McGriff said, "I've been playing this game a long time. You've got to constantly make adjustments. I made some adjustments tonight and they worked."

What McGriff did was stay patient and go to the opposite field. Both of his home runs came when he was ahead in the count, and both were hit to the opposite field. McGriff's last two RBIs came on a bases-loaded single to right in a three-run sixth after Baylor intentionally walked Chipper Jones.

"It's a lot easier hitting when the count is 2-0 or 3-0," said McGriff. "I laid off some bad pitches and I got some good pitches to hit."

So did Grissom. The Braves' leadoff hitter, who had been something of a disappointment during the regular season after coming over as a free agent from Montreal, had four singles and a double. He finished the series with 11 hits in 21 at-bats.

"We knew we had a good ballplayer when we got hit," Cox said of Grissom. "He hit only .258 [during the regular season] but he hit into a lot of bad luck. He hit the ball hard all year."

Sort of the way the Rockies did in their first postseason venture. Colorado jumped to leads in every game, but a starting rotation depleted by injury and a worn-out bullpen couldn't sustain it. Instead of blaming themselves, the Rockies chose to praise the Braves.

"We got beat by a better team," said Bichette.

It was a team with its best pitcher -- Maddux -- not at top form and one of its best hitters -- McGriff -- in a funk. At least, until last night. As they say, better let sleeping Crime Dogs lie.

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