ST. LOUIS -- Denny Neagle was the ultimate team player Sunday night, pitching the Atlanta Braves to the brink of victory and then defending manager Bobby Cox's decision to pull him after giving up only two hits in 6 2/3 innings of what turned out to be an excruciating, 4-3 defeat.
"Obviously you want to be able to finish it, but you don't want to be selfish and hurt the team," said Neagle, a 28-year-old left-hander from Gambrills. "When you haven't pitched for that many days, you feel fresh at the beginning but you tire out more easily."
Neagle, who was acquired by the Braves from the Pittsburgh Pirates in late August, threw 100 pitches before being yanked by Cox. That came when Neagle walked Tom Pagnozzi on a 3-2 pitch after the St. Louis Cardinals catcher had fouled off three straight. It left runners on first and second.
In came reliever Greg McMichael, who gave up a two-run triple to pinch-hitter Dmitri Young, scoring two runs. McMichael then surrendered an infield single to Royce Clayton to tie it at 3. After Ron Gant flied to the warning track for the first out, Brian Jordan jacked McMichael's next pitch for a game-winning homer.
Neagle said later that he was tired, but that he could have continued had Cox allowed him to go on. But the manager seemed confident in his decision, though many in the ballpark seemed to be second-guessing him. "He was done," Cox said. "He had to come out."
Fickleness of fate
Funny how things work out. Had McMichael gotten Young out, Cox would have looked like a genius and Cardinals manager Tony La Russa might have been second-guessed for using a 23-year-old rookie with only 30 previous major-league at-bats.
Instead, he looked like, well, Tony La Russa.
"You don't know how those situations are going to work," said La Russa. "But we know he swings the bat really well and he's a switch-hitter."
Young had been something of a prodigy growing up in Birmingham, Ala. The story going around Sunday night was that when he was 12, he was already playing with a high school team. Actually, he wasn't merely playing, he was the star.
Asked what his batting average was, Young smiled sheepishly before replying: ".564."
That's about what he's averaged as a Cardinals pinch hitter, going 5-for-9 with six RBIs.
Young was the last player added to the postseason roster. St. Louis dropped journeyman pitcher Mike Morgan. Asked whether that was one of his more difficult decisions this season, La Russa said, "Actually it was pretty easy. We didn't need 11 pitchers."
Young was asked whether he was nervous out there in his second postseason at-bat.
"Anybody in that situation would be nervous unless they're a zombie," he said.
Cox and La Russa went into last night tied with Sparky Anderson for most victories (18) in League Championship Series play. Rene Lachemann, fired as the Florida Marlins' manager in July, will become the Cardinals' bench coach next season. Lachemann, who worked on La Russa's staff in Oakland, will take over Ron Hassey's spot. Hassey is expected to join the expansion Arizona Diamondbacks.
Pub Date: 10/15/96