Braves finish off Mets; Base-loaded walk in 11th ends dramatic game, 10-9, wins NL; Mets' chances run out; Rogers off the plate, Williams crosses it


ATLANTA -- In the end, it was the Atlanta Braves who came up with the miracle.

Andruw Jones drew a bases-loaded walk from Kenny Rogers with one out in the 11th inning and the Braves somehow survived a final string of Mets comebacks, beating New York, 10-9, last night to win the National League Championship Series. 4-2.

On a night that had even more drama than the Mets' 4-3, 15-inning victory Sunday at Shea Stadium, the teams gave a roaring, raucous crowd of 52,335 all it could handle.

The Braves wrecked the Mets' hopes of a Subway Series and advanced to the World Series to face the New York Yankees. Game 1 in the rematch of the 1996 Series will be Saturday night at Turner Field.

Braves catcher Eddie Perez was named the series MVP.

The Mets were down by five runs in the first inning. They were down by four going into the seventh. But they were never out.

Mike Piazza slammed a two-run homer in the seventh off John Smoltz to tie the score. Benny Agbayani then opened the eighth by singling off Mike Remlinger, was sacrificed to second and scored on a pinch-single by Melvin Mora. It was the third hit to come from New York bench players batting in the pitcher's slot.

It also was the latest indignity suffered by the Braves, who still were smarting from a 4-3, 15-inning loss at rainy Shea Stadium on Sunday. They blew a lead in that game, as well, having gone ahead 3-2 in the top half of the decisive inning, only to watch the Mets again rise from the dead.

Not willing to concede anything, Atlanta pulled even in the eighth against John Franco. Eddie Perez singled with one out. Pinch-runner Otis Nixon stole second and went to third when Piazza's throw skipped into center field. Nixon scored when Brian Hunter lined a single into center field.

The Braves had scored twice in the sixth to build a 7-3 lead. In came John Smoltz, who saved Game 2. Back came the Mets.

Pinch-hitter Matt Franco and Rickey Henderson doubled to open the seventh. One out later, John Olerud singled to right to score Henderson. Piazza then launched a 2-1 pitch over the fence in right-center field, giving the Mets 15 total bases in 1 1/3 innings and tying the score at 7.

Piazza has taken a beating in this series, getting nailed by backswings, foul tips and angry baserunners, and going 3-for-22 with no homers before connecting off Smoltz.

The Braves had taken advantage of Al Leiter's wildness to jump all over the Mets in the first inning and give the false appearance of seizing control.

Leiter, who had a 1.47 ERA over his last four starts, established an LCS record by hitting two batters in the same inning. He also failed to record an out, with all six batters reaching before Pat Mahomes was summoned from the bullpen. Mix in a throwing error by Piazza and a brain cramp by Leiter, and it added up to a 5-0 lead.

Leiter also tied an NLCS record for shortest outing by a starter, equaling the futile effort by Pittsburgh's Bob Moose in Game 2 of the 1972 series against Cincinnati. At least Leiter, who packed a lot of adventure into 25 pitches, can say he lasted one more batter than Moose.

Working on three days' rest for only the second time in his career, Leiter nailed Gerald Williams leading off the first inning. He walked Bret Boone, and the Braves pulled off a double steal that resulted in a run when Piazza's throw sailed past third baseman Robin Ventura.

Leiter then hit Chipper Jones, and Brian Jordan upped the lead to 2-0 with a single to left.

Leiter might have been able to keep the damage at a minimum, but he inexplicably tried for the force at second on a tapper by Andruw Jones. His throw was late, loading the bases for Perez.

Bad idea. Perez was batting .471 with two homers in the series. Once known only as Greg Maddux's personal catcher before replacing the injured Javy Lopez this season, Perez stroked a two-run single to center for a 4-0 lead. And Leiter, who hadn't allowed an earned run over seven innings in Game 3, was history.

The Braves were trying to avoid that tag. The Mets began applying pressure by winning the last two games in New York.

Suddenly, the team still holding most of the cards was being treated as though ready to fold. Reporters questioned Cox's bullpen strategy and marveled at the Mets' refusal to succumb.

For five innings, it appeared certain they wouldn't live to see another day, but they scored three times in the sixth to chase Kevin Millwood. The last hit off him was a two-run single by Darryl Hamilton that kicked off Boone's glove as he dived to his right.

Left-hander Terry Mulholland added more suspense by walking Agbayani. Rey Ordonez followed with a soft liner to shortstop Walt Weiss, who flipped to second to double up Hamilton. Ordonez was 1-for-23 in the series after that at-bat.

The uprising against Millwood was an abberation in this series. Atlanta's rotation had allowed seven earned runs in 35 2/3 innings. Overall, its pitchers had given up 10 earned runs in 49 1/3 innings and left New York with a .188 average.

In Game 2, Millwood limited the Mets to two earned runs over 7 1/2 innings, and that wasn't even the best he had to offer during the postseason. Remember the one-hitter he threw against Houston in Game 2 of the Division Series? Millwood also contributed a save in Game 2 of the NLCS.

He wasn't in top form last night, but the Braves didn't look as though they were going to let that stop them. They loaded the bases with one out in the sixth against reliever Turk Wendell, who opened the inning by hitting Jordan on the same right hand that's bothered him for much of the season.

That gave the Mets the dubious NLCS record for hitting the most batters in one game. It also led Jordan to exchange words with Wendell on his slow walk to first base, and later wipe out Piazza from behind with a hard slide while being forced at home for the second out.

Left-hander Dennis Cook entered the game when Keith Lockhart was announced as a pinch-hitter. Cox countered with Jose Hernandez, an exchange that seemed to favor the Mets. Instead, Hernandez lined a two-run single to left for a 7-3 lead.

Against any other team, that probably would have been enough. But the Mets never learned how to roll over.

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