ATLANTA -- A large portion of the upper deck in right field remained empty last night, costing some fans the chance to witness a professional wrestler singing the national anthem. This was postseason baseball, Atlanta-style, for better or worse.
Greg Maddux provided the better half.
Putting all of his skills on display, Maddux subdued the New York Mets and gave the Braves the early advantage in the National League Championship Series with a 4-2 victory in Game 1 before 44,172 at Turner Field.
The Braves, who will send 18-game winner Kevin Millwood to the mound this afternoon, continued their dominance of the Mets. They took nine of 12 during the regular season, including a three-game sweep here in late September that nearly cost New York the wild card and perhaps manager Bobby Valentine his job.
They were treading on some familiar ground last night, and not just because the game was being played on their home field. With the crowd about 6,000 below capacity, Atlanta was competing in the NLCS for the eighth straight season, and a league-record 10th time overall. And the series had come full circle, with the same two teams that participated in the inaugural one 30 years ago meeting again last night.
The Miracle Mets pulled off a sweep in 1969, when only three wins were needed, on their way to an improbable world championship. But they didn't have to face Maddux.
As great a pitcher as Maddux has been, he's looked pretty ordinary in the NLCS. He was 3-6 before last night, though a 3.96 ERA suggested he had thrown better than the numbers indicated. Still, more is expected of a four-time Cy Young Award winner.
Maddux gave the Braves plenty last night. He held the Mets to five hits over seven innings, walking only one before left-hander Mike Remlinger was brought in to open the eighth with Matt Franco announced as the pinch hitter. He laid down a bunt that set up an important run. And he flashed enough leather to cushion every seat in the house, making two spectacular plays among his five chances.
The Mets turned to a less heralded starter, but one who was every bit Maddux's equal through four innings. Masato Yoshii, who won his last five decisions in the regular season, rebounded from a rocky first inning to retire nine straight until Walt Weiss led off the fifth with a double to right. With the score tied, 1-1, Weiss moved to third on Maddux's bunt and Gerald Williams drove in the go-ahead run with a single to left.
Yoshii, who turned his left ankle while retiring Maddux, was aided by a diving catch from Roger Cedeno in right field on a liner by Bret Boone. Valentine ordered an intentional walk to Chipper Jones before bringing in Pat Mahomes, who escaped by getting Brian Jordan on a drive to deep center.
Maddux's personal catcher, Eddie Perez, gave him more breathing room in the sixth with a two-out homer to left off Mahomes. With the score 3-1 and Maddux still holding the ball, the Braves were in business.
Atlanta wasted no time giving him the lead. And the Mets wasted no time getting their bullpen active.
Williams grounded a single into center field on the first pitch from Yoshii. Williams stole second and scored without a throw when Boone sent a sharp bouncer up the middle. Orel Hershiser began warming when Yoshii walked Jones, but the next three Braves went down quietly.
The Mets had a chance to tie the score in the third when Cedeno slapped a leadoff double into left-center field and took third on a wild throw from Williams. But the Mets ran themselves out of the inning after first getting caught standing still.
Rey Ordonez hit a tapper a few feet up the third-base line. Assuming the ball would go foul, he didn't budge as Perez pounced on it while it still was kicking up some chalk and threw to first. With Cedeno still at third, the Mets put on a squeeze play after Maddux fell behind Yoshii, 2-0. Yoshii missed the bunt, leaving Cedeno more than halfway down the line, where Perez applied the tag. After nearly slamming his bat in disgust, Yoshii bounced to the mound to end the inning.
The Mets wouldn't squander their next opportunity. Edgar Alfonzo doubled with one out in the fourth, advanced on a single by John Olerud and scored on a bouncer to third by Mike Piazza. Jones lost a shot at a double play when he bobbled the ball as part of Piazza's shattered bat spiraled past him.
Three of the first four hits off Maddux were doubles, including one by Alfonzo in the sixth inning. Representing the tying run, he never got further than second base. Piazza, who returned to the Mets' lineup after missing the last two games of the Division Series with a thumb injury, grounded to short to end the inning. He had been 11-for-36 (.306) with two homers lifetime off Maddux before last night.
The Mets again sent the tying run to the plate in the seventh after Cedeno singled with two outs. Ordonez ripped a line drive up the middle that Maddux speared as he turned his body away from the ball.
Again, he had made the difficult seem routine. The Mets should have been used to it by now.
NL Championship Series
N.Y. Mets (Rogers 5-2) at Atlanta (Millwood 19-7), 4: 09 p.m., chs. 11, 4
AL Championship Series
Boston (Mercker 2-0) at N.Y. Yankees (Hernandez 18-9), 8: 17 p.m., chs. 45, 5