CINCINNATI -- Mike Devereaux watched the Atlanta Braves via superstation TBS in the early months of this season, as a
member of the Chicago White Sox, and the Braves' resiliency would make him shake his head in wonder. Those guys found a way to win in the late innings.
Devereaux, the ex-Oriole, became one of those guys on Aug. 25, when the White Sox traded him to the Braves, and last night he showed he acquired their taste for the dramatic.
Devereaux singled home Fred McGriff with two outs in the 11th inning to beat Cincinnati, 2-1, in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series at Riverfront Stadium.
The Braves survived a jam in the bottom of the 11th by turning a double play, Atlanta's fifth of the game, a record. The silence that followed was deafening, but not only because of disappointment; the paid attendance was 40,382, more than 12,000 below Riverfront Stadium capacity. Only 36,752 actually attended.
When Reds manager Davey Johnson was asked what his strategy would be for tonight's Game 2, he replied, "We'll try not to hit into any double plays."
And they must avoid letting the Braves stay close in the late innings. Atlanta, trailing 1-0, tied Cincinnati with a run in the ninth. Devereaux entered the game on defense in the bottom of the inning, and both teams failed to score in the 10th.
Reds reliever Mike Jackson, who took the mound to start the 11th inning, didn't issue a walk in three relief appearances against the Los Angeles Dodgers last week. But he pitched carefully to Fred McGriff leading off the 11th, and walked the Braves slugger. Luis Polonia sacrificed McGriff to second. Atlanta catcher Javy Lopez grounded to third for the second out, bringing Devereaux to the plate.
The Braves acquired Devereaux so that he could play a role he had never liked, something he never really had done with any success. Pinch hitter, occasional starter, bench player. But Devereaux had never played in the postseason before, and he figured if this was going to be his only chance, he was going to try to make the best of it.
"Most of all," he said, "I decided I was just going to try to stay ready."
He walked to the plate in the 11th inning last night mentally prepared. Devereaux had faced Jackson in the past, and each time, Jackson had tried to throw him sliders on the outside part of the plate. Sometimes Devereaux had chased them. He couldn't afford to now.
The count advanced to 2-1 and Jackson tried to throw a sinker outside. "But," as Jackson explained later, "it came back to the middle of the plate."
Devereaux whacked it to center field, and McGriff scored. "This is like a second life for me," he said later. "I'm just glad I had the opportunity."
Before Devereaux would be hailed by his teammates, though, the Braves had to get through the bottom of the 11th. Closer Mark Wohlers had pitched the ninth and 10th innings, and there was no way, in the middle of the playoffs, that Braves manager Bobby Cox would let him throw three innings.
Rookie Brad Clontz came out to pitch the bottom of the 11th. The first batter, Thomas Howard, hit a ground-rule double. He advanced to third when Barry Larkin grounded to the right side, and Cox and Johnson swapped pawns. Johnson pinch-hit left-handed-hitting Lenny Harris for Darren Lewis, and Cox then replaced Clontz with Steve Avery, who is pitching out of the bullpen in the postseason.
Johnson answered by subbing the right-handed-hitting Mariano Duncan for Harris. Duncan admits proudly that he never walks, but Avery walked him. First and third and one out.
Cox yanked Avery and called on Greg McMichael, whose specialty is ground balls. He wanted a double play, and why not -- the Braves already had four. Starter Tom Glavine got out of jams with the double play in the second, third, fifth and sixth innings, allowing only one run in the fourth inning on former Brave Ron Gant's run-scoring infield single.
McMichael pitched to Reggie Sanders looking to keep the ball down in the strike zone, hoping for a double play that seemed unlikely; Sanders, after all, is one of the fastest players in the NL.
McMichael delivered a ball on the outside corner. Voila. Sanders, attempting to punch the ball to the right side, hit a bouncer to shortstop. "It went past me," McMichael said, "and I turned around and saw [Rafael Belliard] there, and thought 'Wow, he hit it right at him.' "
Belliard stepped on second and threw to first, easily retiring Sanders.
"We put pressure on them all night long," said Reds manager Johnson, "and we had situations when one hit would've broken the game open. But we couldn't get it done. That killed us."
Cox said proudly, "We can turn two with anyone."
An extraordinary pitching performance by Reds starter Pete Schourek went to waste. He went from a waiver claim in 1994 to one of the best left-handers in the NL this year, and he took a 1-0 lead into the ninth inning against the Braves, who hadn't so much as advanced a runner to second base.
But Chipper Jones opened the ninth for Atlanta with a single to left. Reds first baseman Hal Morris held Jones at first, and as Schourek delivered a pitch to McGriff, Morris stayed at the bag, protecting against any ball hit down the line.
His positioning cost the Reds. McGriff chopped a ball into the first-base hole, and Morris couldn't reach the ball as he fell to his right. Jones hustled into third.
First and third and nobody out, and rather than run the risk of a big inning, Johnson ordered his middle infielders to position themselves for the double play. David Justice grounded to second baseman Bret Boone, who threw to Barry Larkin to get McGriff. However, Boone couldn't turn the double play and Jones scored the tying run.
Jeff Brantley relieved, and after filling the bases with a couple of walks, he escaped the ninth without more damage. The Reds and Braves went into the 10th tied 1-1.
Extra innings. As Mike Devereaux knew even before he joined DTC Atlanta, that's when the Braves are at their best.
Atlanta Braves vs. Cincinnati Reds
) (Braves lead series, 1-0)
Day .. .. .. .. .. .. Site/Result .. .. .. .. .. Time
Yesterday .. .. .. .. Braves, 2-1 (11 inn.)
Tonight .. ... ... .. at Cincinnati .. .. .. ... 8:07
Friday .. .. .. .. .. at Atlanta .. .. .. .. ... 8:07
Saturday .. .. .. ... at Atlanta .. .. .. .. ... 7:07
Sunday* .. .. ... ... at Atlanta .. .. .. .. ... 7:07
Tuesday* .. ... .. .. at Cincinnati .. .. .. ... 8:07
Oct. 18* .. ... .. .. at Cincinnati .. .. .. ... 8:07
* -- If necessary
AL: Indians vs. Mariners
Last night: Mariners, 3-2
Series: Mariners lead, 1-0
Game 2: Tonight, 8:07, Kingdome, Seattle, chs. 2, 7
Starters: Indians' Orel Hershiser (17-6, 3.71) vs. Mariners' Tim Belcher (10-13, 4.56)
NL: Braves vs. Reds
Last night: Braves, 2-1, 11 inn.
Series: Braves lead, 1-0
Game 2: Tonight, 8:07, Riverfront Stadium, Cincinnati
Starters: Braves' John Smoltz (12-7, 3.31) vs. Reds' John Smiley