ST. LOUIS -- Atlanta Braves manager Bobby Cox might have tipped off the emotions his slumbering team took into Game 5 of the National League Championship Series last night at Busch Stadium. It came Sunday night, when the Braves teetered on the brink of elimination after losing to the St. Louis Cardinals to fall behind, three games to one.
"It's not deflating," Cox said after the defending World Series champions blew a three-run lead with two out in the seventh inning and lost on a home run by Brian Jordan in the eighth.
"It's frustrating and it ticks you off when you give them the ballgame. We feel very confident we can win three in a row. And it just ticks you off that we couldn't get tonight's game."
The Braves played like a ticked-off team last night.
And three in a row doesn't seem like much of a stretch.
After scoring only eight runs in losing three straight games to the Cardinals, Atlanta had that many in less than four innings of what turned out to be a record-setting 14-0 victory that quickly silenced a sellout crowd of 56,782 and just as quickly turned the momentum of the best-of-seven series back in favor of the Braves.
The series moves back to Atlanta for Game 6 tomorrow, with four-time Cy Young winner Greg Maddux going for the Braves against Donovan Osborne. If the Braves can push it to Game 7 Thursday, they will have last year's World Series MVP, Tom Glavine, available. Atlanta is trying to become the ninth team in postseason history -- the first in NLCS history -- to come back from a three-games-to-one deficit and make it to the World Series.
Starting with Todd Stottlemyre, who gave up seven runs and nine hits in a little more than an inning, Atlanta pummeled five St. Louis pitchers as if they were throwing batting practice, finishing with 22 hits, breaking the record for a league-championship series game. The tone was set from the beginning, when the first four Braves smacked line-drive hits against Stottlemyre.
The 31-year-old righthander, who had a history of postseason problems before winning Game 2, was pitching for the first time this season on three days' rest. Cy Young favorite John Smoltz, who had pitched Atlanta's only previous victory in this series in winning Game 1, scattered seven hits over seven innings while striking out six and walking one.
The 29-year-old right-hander also took part in his team's offensive awakening, getting two hits for the second time in a league-championship series game. If the major leagues had a 10-run mercy rule like in Little League, everyone could have gone home after four innings.
Instead, the Braves went on to the largest margin of victory in a league-championship series, eclipsing the 13-0 Chicago Cubs shutout of the San Diego Padres in Game 1 in 1984. Atlanta's total number of runs also equalled the record the Braves set in beating the Philadelphia Phillies, 14-3, in Game 2 in the 1993 league-championship series.
What was amazing was the number of hits Atlanta put together in a row in several different stretches. Aside from the four to lead off, including doubles by Mark Lemke and Chipper Jones, there were the three straight singles to lead off the second inning and three straight singles with two out in the fourth.
After the two first-inning doubles, the Braves didn't get their next extra-base hit until Javy Lopez's solo home run in the fifth.
Already trailing 5-0 before their first at-bat, the Cardinals loaded the bases with three straight singles of their own. But John Mabry flew out to center field. The threat was over, and so, it seemed, was the game.
By its second at-bat, St. Louis was behind 7-0. By the fifth inning, with his team down 11-0, Cardinals manager Tony La Russa had pulled starting catcher Tom Pagnozzi and right-fielder Brian Jordan. Cox started to pull his regulars by the sixth.
The closest the Cardinals got to scoring came in the eighth. After relief pitcher Mike Bielecki of Crownsville, Md., walked Gant with one out, Game 4 hero Dmitri Young sent a shot to the warning track in left center that Braves center fielder Marquis Grissom chased down with a neat catch.
Those who stayed to the bitter end got to boo Cox for taking out Terrell Wade after he made the first out in the ninth and putting in Brad Clontz, who retired the next two hitters to finish a game that had ended more than two hours before. Now the fans will have wait and watch.
Maybe their own team will get a little ticked off, too.
Pub Date: 10/15/96
Atlanta vs. St. Louis
(Cardinals lead series 3-2)
(Best of seven; games on Ch. 45)
Game 1: Atlanta 4, St. Louis 2
Game 2: St. Louis 8, Atlanta 3
Game 3: St. Louis 3, Atlanta 2
Game 4: St. Louis 4, Atlanta 3
Yesterday: Atl. 14, St. Louis 0
Tomorrow: at Atlanta, 4: 15
Thursday: at Atlanta, 8: 11*
Note: all times are p.m.
! * -- if necessary