They can look back at the 1996 World Series and see themselves in the same position as the New York Yankees are today -- two games up and sitting on a heavy home-field advantage. The Yankees rallied to win three straight at Atlanta/Fulton County Stadium and take the series in six games, so it could happen again, right?
"We've never been lacking for confidence," said Braves manager Bobby Cox. "We've always felt with our pitching that we can win a ballgame, even with only a few hits. We don't want to be two down. I would feel a lot better if we were two up. The odds are not good, but we've run the table before.
"Any team that has good pitching like we do can always reel off three in a row. We've always been able to do something like that. But we've got to hit the ball a little bit better, too."
Now, for a dose of reality.
The Yankees already have dispatched the two most effective pitchers from the Braves' regular-season starting rotation -- Greg Maddux and Kevin Millwood -- and have to be licking their lips at the prospect of facing Tom Glavine just three days after the veteran left-hander was forced out of the Game 1 start with a severe stomach virus.
That isn't all. The Yankees get their designated hitter back for the middle three games of the best-of-seven series, which can only increase the pressure both on the Braves' pitching staff and on the slumping offensive lineup.
Cox insists that Glavine will be healthy enough to pitch seven innings when he faces left-hander Andy Pettitte tonight, but the Braves can't really know what they are going to get.
"He's pitched some big games," Cox said. "They've all pitched some big ones. They step forward, and Tommy's one of the guys capable of doing that."
Glavine certainly has the postseason credentials. His 4-3 record and 1.75 ERA in seven career World Series appearances provide testament to his ability to pitch under the most pressure-packed conditions, and he has been just as effective in two postseason starts this year (1-0, 1.38 ERA). He'll have a built-in excuse if he doesn't pitch well this time, but the Braves aren't in a position to weather another rocky start after the way Millwood fell apart in the early innings of Game 2.
"I feel OK," Glavine said yesterday. "I don't know how my stamina is going to be, to be honest with you. If it were a summertime game and it were 100 degrees, that would be a lot worse than tomorrow night when it's going to be cool. I don't anticipate too, too many problems, but we'll have to wait and see."
The Braves can't exactly curse the fates. Maddux replaced Glavine in Game 1 and pitched seven very strong innings before the Yankees scratched out four runs in the eighth inning to win, but that doesn't make it any easier for Glavine to stomach -- virus or not.
"That was disappointing for me," Glavine said. "I haven't missed a start in my career. To be pitching Game 1 of the World Series the way I have been throwing recently, I wanted to go out and pitch, but there are some things you don't have control over. Sometimes, Mother Nature is stronger than you, and she got the best of me.
"As it turns out, tomorrow is a pretty pivotal game for us, so I'm Pettitte looking forward to the challenge."
Though he said yesterday that he has felt progressively better every day since the illness peaked over the weekend, he is unlikely to be 100 percent when he takes the mound tonight. He was still weak during a workout on Sunday.
"The way I felt, there was no way I could have gone out and pitched Friday or even [Monday] for that matter," Glavine said. "The 15 minutes I threw on the side to get ready yesterday pretty much wiped me out."
Glavine has another obstacle to overcome. He hasn't pitched since throwing seven scoreless innings against the New York Mets in Game 3 of the National League Championship Series (Oct. 15), so sharpness could be a bigger problem than fatigue.
"I'm more concerned about location and control on 12 days' rest than how my body feels," he said. "If my arm feels good and I can throw the pitches I need to throw, I don't think it will be a problem. If I can pitch the way I did against the Mets, hopefully, fatigue won't be a big factor."
Cox is more worried about the Braves' offense, and with good reason. His club scored just one run in Game 1 -- on a home run by Chipper Jones -- and did not score again until the ninth inning of Game 2.
"For about 17 innings, we only had two hits, so offensively, we weren't doing too well," Cox said, "and we still had an opportunity to win one of them, believe it or not."
Small consolation, indeed. The Braves scored three runs in the first two games and will be at an even greater disadvantage when Yankees manager Joe Torre inserts either Chili Davis or Darryl Strawberry into the lineup. The Braves will counter with Jose Hernandez against Pettitte tonight and utility player Keith Lockhart against the Yankees' right-handers.
"It's something we're more used to having," Torre said of the DH. "Bobby will be able to add that extra player that he wouldn't normally get in the game, so I think it's a little bit of a benefit to him, but probably more so for us only because we sign people to be designated hitters in our league, so it's a regular position."
Of course, he's just being polite. The Yankees appear to be at a clear advantage everywhere you look. Davis and Strawberry have 685 career home runs between them. Hernandez and Lockhart have 104. Pettitte is coming off two strong performances, and Glavine is coming off a case of the flu. Then, of course, there's that 2-0 series lead.
Since no major-league team ever has rebounded from a 3-0 deficit to win a best-of-seven playoff series, the Braves' world title hopes clearly are riding on tonight's game.
But so far, everything's coming up pinstripes.
Atlanta vs. New York Yankees (Yankees lead series 2-0)
Tonight --at New York, 8: 20; Braves (Glavine, 15-11) vs. Yankees (Pettitte 16-11), chs. 11, 4 Pub Date: 10/26/99