Low profile too tough for Rocker; Off-day car accident keeps spotlight on Braves closer; NLCS notebook


ATLANTA -- Atlanta's hyper closer, left-hander John Rocker, can't seem to fade into the background in the National League Championship Series. Even when the Braves are off, he's making headlines.

Rocker, who has drawn the ire of New York Mets fans and made his own club uneasy with his blunt comments, was involved in a traffic accident on Monday morning that led to some conflicting reports about its severity.

According to a club spokesman, Rocker was driving his white Corvette south on Georgia Highway 400 when he apparently swerved to avoid a truck.

"Nobody was hurt and neither driver was charged, so they must have been going the speed limit," said a club official.

"Initially," said manager Bobby Cox, "it didn't sound too good, that he was going 140 miles an hour and totaled his car. I still don't know. I just saw John and didn't ask him. I just asked how he was and he said 100 percent. I didn't even ask him about the accident. I think it tore off his right front fender.

"He's not even sore. I've been in car wrecks before and feeling so sore you can't move for weeks."

Rocker, who stood in the outfield during batting practice before Game 6, told Bloomberg News he was cut off by another car and lost control, sliding into the truck.

"The back end of my Corvette got away from me and started fish-tailing," Rocker said. "I'm completely fine. I've got one slight little bruise on my head. I've had a lot worse injuries just wrestling around."

Bloomberg News said Robert Thames, a truck driver from Hampton, Ga., was driving the other vehicle, an 18-wheel truck with a flatbed trailer attached. Thames, who also was unhurt, said Rocker's car was seriously damaged.

Thames said that, at one point, the hood of Rocker's Corvette went completely under the rear of the flatbed trailer, although there was only minimal damage to the trailer.

"By the time I pulled off to the side, he was left in the middle lane," Thames said. "He was all right, but it totaled the car. I was in a little daze. I'd never been in a serious accident like that before."

The Braves gave a different account.

"He had a fender-bender," general manager John Schuerholz said. "There was a lot of misinformation initially that was perpetuated. It was just a fender-bender and he walked away. He wasn't even hurt. No tickets were written. The right front fender of his car was damaged."

Starters as fill-ins?

Cox said starters John Smoltz and Greg Maddux most likely would be available last night, in a limited capacity, if needed.

Smoltz picked up a save in Game 2, retiring the side in the ninth to preserve a 4-3 win.

"Maybe Maddux could go a hitter or so. I'm not sure about that," Cox said.

Valentine had doubts

How confident was Mets manager Bobby Valentine of returning to Atlanta after his club headed to New York down 2-0?

Apparently, not as confident as some people might think.

Valentine said he was going to withhold writing a check to Atlanta's clubhouse attendant after the second game, intending to pay him when the Mets returned.

It would have been a bold statement, an indisputable sign that he believed his club would take at least two games at home and bring the series back to Turner Field. But Valentine couldn't go through with it.

Happier without reports

Cox has a foolproof method for shielding himself from media criticism: He refuses to read the newspapers or listen to the radio.

"I haven't for a number of years and I feel good every single day," he said.

"It can get to you. It got to some of our players when they first started having talk radio in this town."

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