MIAMI -- The Florida Marlins were unbeaten at home in the postseason. Then they ran into Denny Neagle.
The Maryland native was as exceptional as fellow left-hander Tom Glavine had been in Game 2 as Atlanta ensured that the National League Championship Series will return to Georgia.
Neagle (Arundel High) pitched a four-hit complete game as the ** Braves tied the series at 2-2 with a 4-0 victory at Pro Player Stadium before another Marlins record crowd, 54,890.
"I didn't think I'd be rusty much," said Neagle, who had not started in 13 days. " I felt right from the get-go that I had my best stuff."
He said that he and his wife went to a movie before the game and that he told her: "I think I'm going to go nine tonight." Then, I attacked and went after these guys. I went after them early and often and that kept my pitch count down."
The first complete game in the NLCS since Game 6 of the 1992 playoffs (Pittsburgh's Tim Wakefield against the Braves) was just what Ted Turner might have ordered for his team, which had not resembled the league champions most of the series.
Neagle threw 107 pitches and was never in serious difficulty as the Marlins managed to get only one runner in scoring position.
"The three innings he threw in Game 1 really helped him" said Atlanta manager Bobby Cox. "I've seen Denny throw a lot of games like this throughout the season and this was one of his best."
"He's a little more polished now," said Florida manager Jim Leyland, who managed Neagle in Pittsburgh. "I don't thik he's quite as hyper as he was then. They've done a good job with him.
"What you saw tonight was the depth of their pitching staff. Now all we've got are Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz ahead of us."
Atlanta's victory was a record 20th in the NLCS and 52nd on the road this season, best in the league.
Neagle pitched four shutouts during the regular season to lead the Braves' mighty starting staff.
He struck out only seven batters last night, but had the Marlins' hitters (with the power predominant from the right side) off balance all night. The Nos. 3 through 7 batters for Florida went 0-for-17 with a walk.
The victory means the Braves will not have to repeat last year's feat of bouncing back from a 3-1 deficit (to St. Louis) to reach the World Series.
Meanwhile, the heart of the Braves' order inflicted most of the damage suffered by Al Leiter, with Chipper Jones contributing three hits and two runs scored, Fred McGriff knocking in two runs and Jeff Blauser homering.
"I think Al did OK," said Leyland. "He did a good enough job to stay in the game. We had a shot."
The Braves pounced on Leiter quickly and rolled to their 4-0 lead after six innings.
One of the most successful Marlins pitchers at home (6-2, 2.28 ERA), Leiter allowed 10 hits over that span and was in constant difficulty.
In the first, he gave up a one-out walk to Blauser, and singles by Chipper Jones and McGriff brought Blauser home. Only another base-running gaffe by Jones -- he was tagged out between second and third on McGriff's hit -- prevented a bigger inning.
Atlanta had two runners on via singles in the second, but Leiter escaped that jam before a third-inning double by Chipper Jones and a single by Andruw Jones made it 2-0.
With Leyland's pitching staff depleted by injuries, he permitted Leiter to remain on the mound through a big fifth inning.
Blauser homered to start that uprising, then McGriff doubled home Chipper Jones, who had singled for his third hit.
A great play by Marlins shortstop Edgar Renteria, who threw out Javy Lopez from his knees after making a diving stop, defused the rally, leaving the score 4-0.
Meanwhile, Neagle was breezing through the Marlins' lineup.
Florida did not have a hit until Kurt Abbott bunted safely to start the fourth inning.
In Florida's sixth, singles by pinch hitter Alex Arias and Renteria sent the first Marlin into scoring position, but Neagle retired Gary Sheffield on a hard ground-ball forceout to maintain the shutout.
Neagle was making his first start in 13 days, but he had tuned up with three scoreless innings in the Game 1 defeat in Atlanta.
He was the National League's only 20-game winner this season and was 1-0 with a 1.38 ERA in two starts against Florida.
It was Leiter's second NLCS appearance as well. He threw 2 1/3 innings in relief in Game 2.
Pub Date: 10/12/97