ATLANTA -- Mark Lemke was standing by his locker last night when someone noticed the letters MV stitched into the front of his cap.
"Are you going to add a P to that," the Atlanta Braves' shortstop was asked.
"It stands for Mohawk Valley," said Lemke, who is from Utica, N.Y.
Lemke was the team's MVP when the Braves lost to the Minnesota Twins in seven games in the 1991 World Series. With a single that drove in the winning run in last night's 3-1 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Championship Series, Lemke is the only Atlanta player to hit safely in all six games.
But while Lemke's aggressive base-running helped him reach third after relief pitcher Mark Petkovsek's throwing error, the same approach cost the Braves a potentially important run in the seventh ining.
With Atlanta ahead 2-0, Chipper Jones lofted a fly ball to Brian Jordan in center field. Though Lemke easily beat Jordan's throw home, it was ruled -- after the Cardinals appealed -- that he had left third before Jordan caught the ball. St. Louis then cut its deficit to 2-1 in the eighth.
"I knew it was going to be close," said Lemke. "I did the best I could to get a jump on the throw."
Did he leave early? Though the crowd at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium booed a replay lustily, Lemke said, "I haven't seen the videotape yet."
Said third base umpire Bob Davidson: "Clearly in my opining, it was 100 percent. In a call like that, you're not going to call the guy out unless you're sure. The Atlanta coach [Jimy Williams] agreed with me."
Lemke can be forgiven for his base running faux pas.
He is, after all, hitting .435 in the series.
It's sniping time
There's more than a little gamesmanship going on between the Braves and Cardinals going into Game 7.
It has to do with the way the teams celebrate their victories.
"They got pretty excited when they won three games," Braves general manager John Schuerholz had said on Tuesday. "And maybe winning three games is exciting, but they still make you win four. All we heard all day long is about how they were going to celebrate. Well, they made a big mistake if they thought we were going to curl up and go away."
Schuerholz was directing his comments at Cardinals relief pitcher Dennis Eckersley, who punched at the air with both fists after striking out Marquis Grissom to end Game 4, a game St. Louis won by erasing a 3-0 deficit with a three-run, two-out rally in the seventh and a home run by Jordan in the eighth.
To which Eckersley said, "Who's Schuerholz? So what? I could care less what Schuerholz says."
La Russa defended the exuberance of his 42-year-old relief pitcher, saying, "We win that game, he's got it all on his shoulders. There's a leadoff double, and he pitches out of it. What are you going to do?"
Though both sides tried to defuse the brewing controversy prior to Game 6 last night, things started bubbling again when a comment La Russa made about Atlanta relief ace Mark Wohlers was misconstrued.
Someone told Wohlers that La Russa said that he had figured out how to beat him.
"Hopefully I'll have the same opportunity again tomorrow," said Wohlers, who is a perfect six-for-six in postseason save chances. "They're not going to get anything out of me."
Osborne ready to go
La Russa said that his reason for going with rookie Alan Benes over Game 3 starter Donovan Osborne was to give the left-hander an extra day of rest. It will also give him an extra day to think about the magnitude of the moment.
"It's going to be the most exciting game of my career," said Osborne. "I haven't been there, it's our first year here and we're not even supposed to be here. We're going to give it all we can for nine innings."
Contrast that with Braves starter Tom Glavine, whose one-hit shutout in Game 6 of last year's World Series is one of the legendary postseason pitching performances.
Asked what significance tonight has, Glavine said: "Last year, that game won the World Series and that's what we're trying to do. Regardless of what we do tomorrow night, we're not going to be world champions. We're just going to get a chance to get there. The bottom line is that it's just a ballgame. It's not life and death out there."
Jordan, McGee switch
The Cardinals made one other lineup change, switching Jordan to center field and Willie McGee to right. With regular starting center fielder Ray Lankford still bothered by a bad shoulder, La Russa made the adjustment to get younger legs and a stronger arm in center.
When the Braves take the field tomorrow night, manager Bobby Cox will pass Casey Stengel for most games managed in postseason history. Cox's breakdown is 38 LCS games, 19 World Series games and seven Division Series games. Shortstop Jeff Blauser played in his 22nd LCS game, breaking the record of 21 set by Bill Russell, Larry Bowa and Mark Belanger. The Cardinals are the only team in history to lose two series after leading three games to one -- the 1968 World Series to the Detroit Tigers and the 1985 World Series to the Kansas City Royals.
Pub Date: 10/17/96