Teams play nice on eve of opener; Yanks, Braves throw only compliments after antagonistic LCS; 'Team of Decade' at stake; Two Series staples seek win, 'let others decide'; WORLD SERIES


ATLANTA -- In the aftermath of two highly emotional and sometimes antagonistic league championship showdowns, the Atlanta Braves and New York Yankees seemed downright collegial yesterday as they prepared to open the 95th World Series tonight at Turner Field.

Braves manager Bobby Cox spoke wistfully of his years working for Yankees owner George Steinbrenner. Reliever John Rocker spoke respectfully of Yankees fans. Game 1 starter Tom Glavine paid homage to a century of Yankees tradition. Everybody respects everybody. Nobody's angry at anybody.

So, what exactly will be at stake when Glavine takes the mound tonight against Yankees postseason horse Orlando Hernandez, other than the usual hardware?

The distinction, of course. The final World Series of the 1990s brings together the two most successful franchises of the decade, and you can make a solid argument that either one of them is "The Team of the Decade."

The Braves have won eight division titles and five National League pennants, a record of consistency that is unmatched by any club since the Yankees won eight pennants in the 1950s. But detractors correctly point out that they have parlayed that decade of divisional domination into just one world championship.

The Yankees have reached the playoffs five consecutive years and will be making their third appearance in the Fall Classic in the past four seasons. They have won two world titles and last year had one of the greatest single seasons in the history of the sport.

The only knock: that they have been the American League's dominant team for just half the decade.

This will all be settled during the next nine days. The team that takes the trophy will be the team of the '90s.

If the Yankees win, they'll have three championships and the Braves will be tarnished by their fourth defeat in five World Series appearances. If the Braves win, they'll join the Yankees and Toronto Blue Jays (1992-1993) with two titles and earn the distinction based on their unparalleled string of playoff appearances.

Neither team, however, sees it as a major motivational factor.

"Coming in here knowing that if we win the World Series we'll be the team of the decade isn't going to make us work harder at it," Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "It's not that it's not important or that you [the media] are making too much of it, it's just that we know what we have to do to maybe be in the running for that. We still have to think about winning the World Series and then let other people decide on who's the team of the decade."

Glavine agrees. He's more concerned with establishing the Braves as the best team of 1999. The rest will take care of itself.

"Sure, it's great that the 'Team of the '90s' will be determined in this Series," he said, "but I don't think that has any effect on the way you play the game."

The Braves also have a revenge motive, since they were there at the beginning of the budding Yankees dynasty and lost the 1996 World Series in six games.

"The rematch is good," Cox said, "and this will be our fifth trip. We'd like to have a couple [of titles] out of it. I think it's a great Series. The Yankees have completely dominated their league the past few years. We have not completely dominated our league, but we're a pretty good team. The team of the decade stuff I don't think it hurts."

It certainly won't hurt the television ratings, though the networks were drooling over the prospect of a Subway Series when the New York Mets were in contention. Instead of the Bronx vs. Queens, it will be the North vs. the South in what -- so far -- is shaping up as a very civil baseball war.

What a switch from the rancor of the National League Championship Series, or the bitter rivalry that heightened the intensity of the ALCS.

"From a baseball purist's standpoint, these are the two teams that have had the most success in the '90s," said Yankees utility player Jim Leyritz, who has been reinstated to the postseason roster after missing the ALCS. "It should come down to that: the two best teams playing against each other."

Even Rocker, the boisterous closer who feuded openly with Mets fans, was surprisingly conciliatory toward the Yankee faithful.

"Yankee fans are humorous," Rocker said. "They come up with funny kinds of things to say. They can really be entertaining. That isn't going to bother me."

Glavine has to go all the way back to his childhood years in Boston to find a reason to dislike the Yankees, and even then, the reminiscence is tinged with a certain reverence for what they represent.

"It is [special] to me," Glavine said. "I don't know about other guys, but part of it for me is growing up in Boston and being a Yankee hater. This Series has a lot of feeling for me because of my roots as a kid. But also, who would you rather play for the championship than the team that has been the most storied franchise in baseball for all those years?"

Hernandez cannot really identify with that. "El Duque" spent most of the decade in Cuba, where information about major-league baseball was sketchy, at best. His firsthand knowledge of the Braves is limited to a pair of unflattering interleague starts (0-2, 9.72 ERA) against them the past two years.

"I do know that it's one of the great teams, especially in this past decade," Hernandez said through an interpreter. "And over the last 10 years, they're one of the best teams in baseball.

"It's a team that I definitely admire and respect a whole lot. Good luck to them."

World Series

Atlanta vs. New York Yankees

Today--at Atlanta, 8: 05 Game 1

New York (Hernandez 17-9) vs. Atlanta (Glavine 14-11), chs. 11, 4

Tomorrow--at Atlanta, 8: 05

Tuesday--at Yankees, 8: 20

Wed.--at Yankees, 8: 20

*Thurs.--at Yankees, 8: 20

*Oct. 30--at Atlanta, 8: 05

*Oct. 31--at Atlanta, 8: 05

*-If necessary

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