Sniping fills day off as tensions rise Braves, Cardinals testy on celebrations, excuses; NLCS notebook

THE BALTIMORE SUN

ATLANTA -- There was the question of respect that simmered before this National League Championship Series began. Now there's a matter of post-game celebrations and excuses that nearly brought things to a boil on the day off Tuesday.

The celebrations, deemed in excess by Atlanta Braves general manager John Schuerholz, belonged to the St. Louis Cardinals after they took two of the three at Busch Stadium last week.

The excuses, thought to be inappropriate by Cardinals manager Tony La Russa, belonged to the Braves after the defending World Series champions were pushed to the brink of elimination in this best-of-seven series.

"They got pretty excited when they won three games," Schuerholz said 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 to Cardinals closer 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 Brian 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 reliever, 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?"

The Cardinals' manager also said that, after seeing his team's lead cut to 3-2 with Monday night's 14-0 demolition, he wasn't going to make excuses about cheap hits. Without mentioning names, it was a shot at Braves manager Bobby Cox and pitching coach Leo Mazzone.

(Smart move: Atlanta got an LCS-record 22 of them, including home runs by Javy Lopez and Fred McGriff.)

"I'm not going to say we had bad breaks and make a [ridiculous] statement about bloop hits like I've been hearing the past couple of days," said La Russa.

As for his team's celebration, La Russa said: "I watched their celebration [Monday]. They shook hands quietly, patted each other on the back. They want to be what they want to be? Fine, we'll be the way we want to be. We're not getting on them for being real cool and I don't want to hear this about us being too emotional."

Your turn, Mr. Schuerholz.

"Then tell them not to listen," he said.

With the media that was assembled here for Game 6 last night expecting to fuel the controversy, both sides were trying to defuse it a bit.

"Somebody says something and somebody says something else. It happens every year," said La Russa. "It's no big deal."

Said Schuerholz: "That's me, Mr. Controversy. If it wasn't an off-day, there wouldn't be any controversy. Asked if the comments were going to fire up his team, Cox said: "I'm not going to post that stuff on the bulletin board. If you need something somebody said to fire you up, you're in deep stuff."

Pluses for Alan Benes

La Russa's decision to start rookie right-hander Alan Benes instead of Game 3 starter Donovan Osborne was based on a number of factors. Among them was that Benes, 24, is considered one of the most competitive players on the Cardinals, along with older brother Andy.

Also, La Russa didn't like what he saw from either Andy Benes or Todd Stottlemyre in games 4 and 5. Both pitched on three days' rest and neither was overly effective. As for Osborne, La Russa said: "He was the guy we really didn't want to put out there [on three days' rest]."

Jordan goes to center

The Cardinals made one other 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.

"Jordan's a natural center fielder," said La Russa. "Ray's been in center because he has seniority. It also takes a little responsibility off Willie."

Said Jordan, who starred at Milford Mill High: "I'll go out and play hard wherever I play. It's [center field] my favorite position."

Top of his game

Lopez, the Braves' top hitter in the LCS with a .550 average (11-for-20), had two hits last night in Atlanta's 3-1 victory. He also called a nearly perfect game for Greg Maddux.

Lopez, the regular catcher, had not caught Maddux since early in the season; Cox switched to backup Eddie Perez on days when the right-hander pitched.

Maddux was 5-6 with a 3.52 ERA with Lopez catching before the switch. With Perez behind the plate, Maddux, was 10-5 with a 1.88 ERA.

Miscellaneous

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

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