ATLANTA -- The National League Championship Series didn't live up to the hype, but you won't hear anybody complaining about that on Peachtree Street. The Atlanta Braves are going to the World Series, and nobody around here really cares that the Cincinnati Reds didn't do much to stand in their way.
The Braves scored five runs in the seventh inning to break open a tight game and score a 6-0 victory that left the 52,067 fans at Fulton County Stadium with a happy dilemma -- whether to wave tomahawks or brooms as they celebrated the club's third trip to the World Series in five years.
Surplus starter Steve Avery pitched his best game of the year to tighten a series-long stranglehold on the struggling Reds offense and former Oriole Mike Devereaux provided the crushing blow as the Braves completed a rare four-game sweep in what was supposed to be a far more competitive playoff matchup.
Devereaux's three-run homer off reliever Mike Jackson in the seventh generated more runs than the Reds scored in any single game. He also had the game-winning hit in Game 1 and drove in as many runs in the series (5) as the entire Reds batting order to earn MVP honors in his first postseason.
Even though the first two games in Cincinnati went into extra innings, what started out as a showdown between the two winningest clubs in the National League quickly deteriorated into a mismatch.
Avery gave up three hits over six innings on the way to his fourth postseason victory. Mark Lemke gave him a slim lead with an RBI single in the third and the Braves batted around in the seventh to assure that the World Series will open in Atlanta on Saturday.
Braves manager Bobby Cox figured he was in a no-lose situation. If he pitched the left-handed Avery in Game 4 and won, then his struggling young left-hander would be able to put a very positive punctuation mark on a disappointing season. If Avery lost, the Braves would have their top three starters rested and ready to take turns going for the pennant clincher.
Avery didn't have a lot of fun during the regular season. He finished 7-13 with a 4.67 ERA, his worst record and highest ERA since he went 3-11 with a 5.64 ERA in a half-season rookie debut. He was a victim of non-support early in the year and never really put his season back together.
But Cox wasn't exactly throwing Bob Wolcott out there. Avery may be only 25 years old, but he came into the game with 11 career postseason starts. He was the pitching phenom of the 1991 NLCS against the Pittsburgh Pirates, throwing 16 1/3 scoreless innings on the way to two playoff victories. He also won a game in the 1992 playoffs and pitched well in -- though without earning a decision -- in two starts against the Philadelphia Phillies in 1993.
That experience was apparent last night. Avery struck out six and got three double play balls before turning the game over to the Atlanta bullpen in the seventh.
This is not what Reds manager Davey Johnson envisioned after his team made short work of the Los Angeles Dodgers in the divisional series. The Reds were one of the better hitting teams in the National League this year, but they were unable to generate any kind of consistent offensive attack against the Braves' much heralded starting rotation.
"I'm surprised, shocked and disappointed," Johnson said during the pre-game news yesterday. "But Atlanta has a great ballclub. It's one of the strongest clubs they've had here. They have a great bench and the best bullpen they've had. Everybody knows about their starting pitching. They've held an explosive team to less than two runs a game."
The Reds had scored a total of five runs in the first three games and the heart of the Reds order -- Ron Gant, Reggie Sanders and Hal Morris -- was batting a combined .195, so Johnson made several lineup changes last night.
He moved Jerome Walton into the leadoff spot in place of Thomas Howard and put Mariano Duncan into the fifth spot instead of Hal Morris. Mark Lewis also was at third, but that was a straight left-right platoon decision.
"Guys are pressing . . . guys are nervous," Johnson said, "but you have to give credit to the other side. They have held us down."
Reds starter Pete Schourek did a good job of keeping the Braves from putting anything together in the early innings, though it was difficult to tell where the good pitching started and the bad hitting left off. The Braves had runners on base all night, but couldn't get that one big hit.
Atlanta Braves vs. Cincinnati Reds
( (Braves win series, 4-0)
Game .. .. .. .. .Result
Game 1 .. .. ..Braves, 2-1, 11 inn.
Game 2 .. .. ..Braves, 6-2, 10 inn.
Game 3 .. .. ..Braves, 5-2
Game 4 .. .. ..Braves, 6-0
(Series best of seven)
Last night: Late game
Series: Mariners lead, 2-1
Game 5: Tonight, 7:20, Jacobs Field, Cleveland, chs. 11, 4
Starters: Mariners' Chris Bosio (10-8, 5.17) vs. Indians' Orel Hershiser (18-6, 3.60)
Note: Pitchers' records include playoffs
NL: Braves vs. Reds
Last night: Braves, 6-0
Series: Braves win, 4-0
Braves vs. ALCS winner
Game 1: Saturday night, 7:27, Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium