Smoltz is relieved to be back starting; Bullpen stint against Mets in NLCS was one to forget; Jordan can't catch break; World Series Notebook


NEW YORK -- As a starter in the National League Championship Series, Atlanta's John Smoltz plowed through the New York Mets' batting order. As a reliever, he was buried under a pile of runs.

Smoltz will return to his more familiar role tonight, taking the ball for Game 4 of the World Series against the New York Yankees. The only time he'll be in the bullpen is to warm up.

The Braves -- down 3-0 in the Series -- need Smoltz to be as effective as his Oct. 16 outing at Shea Stadium, when he held the Mets to one run through seven innings before two more scored in the eighth once he had been removed. They can't afford a repeat of his Oct. 19 collapse, when Smoltz allowed four runs in the seventh after being summoned to protect a 7-3 lead.

Atlanta rallied to win Game 6 in the 11th inning and advance to the Fall Classic. They can't rely on the same good fortune if Smoltz is ambushed again.

"The biggest thing is I won't have to worry about just pitching one inning. At least I hope not," he said.

"I don't think I could go out and throw BP and create that situation again," added Smoltz, who served up a game-tying two-run homer to Mike Piazza. "A lot of credit goes to those Mets hitters.

" I'm going to approach Game 4 as if it's absolutely my last game to pitch because that's the way you have to approach it at this time of the year."

The Yankees were no problem for Smoltz in the 1996 Series, when he gave up just one earned run in 14 innings.

"I just don't want to create too many hitter's counts where I'm going to give in and let those guys who handle the bat as well as they do control the outfield or control the zone," Smoltz said.

"I'll have to pitch them like I did in '96 and take my chances."

Jordan's rough night

Brian Jordan dropped the first ball that came his way last night, and he couldn't quite hang onto the last one, either.

If the right fielder had made either catch, the Braves might have survived in Game 3 of the World Series. Instead, they lost, 6-5, in 10 innings to the Yankees and are on the verge of being swept.

Jordan also made a spectacular catch on a drive by Joe Girardi in the third inning, crashing against the wall to prevent a sure double. But it's the two balls hit by Chuck Knoblauch that will remain etched in the outfielder's memory.

In the first, the Yankees' leadoff hitter sliced a liner to Jordan's right. Running at full speed, he caught up to the ball but watched it deflect off his glove for an error.

In the eighth, Knoblauch lofted a fly ball down the right-field line. Jordan cruised toward the wall but ran out of room at the 314-foot sign, leaping high and stretching his glove over the top of the blue-padded wall.

The ball struck the outer webbing of Jordan's glove and fell into the crowd while the outfielder crashed back to the ground. He looked hopefully toward his left hand, but nothing was inside.

"I didn't think it was going to get out," Jordan said. "My glove went over and it hit the top of my glove. I was hoping it was in there. Believe me, I wish I could have leaped another inch higher. We felt like we had the game wrapped up."

Good news, bad news

Bret Boone was a living microcosm of the Braves' fate in Game 3 -- he got one vital part of his game going, but made one mistake that would wind up hurting Atlanta.

Boone was 4-for-5 and ripped doubles on each of his first three at-bats. He had doubles in four straight Series at-bats after a pinch-hit double in Sunday's Game 2. Boone is the 50th player to get four hits in a Series game. He knocked in a run and scored one and his performance helped jump-start the staggering Atlanta attack.

But with Atlanta ahead 5-1, Boone was thrown out trying to steal third with one out in the fourth inning and the Braves' best hitter, Chipper Jones, at the plate. To make matters worse, Jones then lined a single that would have given the Braves an extra run.

"The dirt kind of slowed me down," Boone said. "I don't know if he [Scott Brosius] tagged me, but the ball beat me. It's like I hit the dirt and stuck. I didn't think I had a good jump and Joe [Girardi] throws really well. You're always upset when you get thrown out, but at that stage it's tough. It was a tough loss."

Greatness of Jeter

The two qualities that Yankees manager Joe Torre said enable shortstop Derek Jeter to excel during the season and through October are "ability and stability." Guess that explains how he has hit safely in 16 straight postseason games and has crafted a near-.400 playoff average this year.

Torre remembers an error Jeter made in Game 1 of the Division Series in 1996 that set up a Texas win. Reporters asked him if he would speak with Jeter later that night.

"I didn't know the answer at that time," Torre said. "Then, on the way out of the ballpark, he peeked in and said, 'Mr. Torre, get some sleep, tomorrow's an important game.' I realized I didn't have to talk to him. Everything was OK."

"This kid is special," Torre added. "I go out to the mound, change pitchers, and he comes over and hits me on the chest with his glove. 'Who's coming in?' He wants all the information.

"But if you look in his eyes, he's ready to wrestle alligators, lions, anything you want."

R ipken aids 'tomorrow fund'

Major League Baseball and the players association have found something they can agree on, and they've got a large sum of money to prove it.

The two sides have made a joint commitment to support youth baseball programs by establishing a $10 million grant called the Baseball Tomorrow Fund. Among its intentions is to fund new fields and renovate old ones, provide equipment and uniforms, train new coaches, develop youth baseball and softball skills programs, and provide opportunities for youths to attend major-league games.

"We're thrilled that baseball and its players have joined together to provide support and encouragement for boys and girls of diverse backgrounds to enjoy the great game of baseball," said commissioner Bud Selig.

Orioles third baseman Cal Ripken is serving as a spokesman for the fund. He flew to New York for Game 3 after being in Atlanta as part of the All-Century Team.

"It's really encouraging that we can pool our resources, from the players and MLB, and make double the impact. That's what appeals to me," Ripken said.

Ripken chose to get involved in this project because "it goes along with what I believe in. I looked at it as an investment in baseball."

Ripken also said he's about to embark on a rehabilitation program that will gradually include baseball and is optimistic he'll be ready for spring training after surgery last month to relieve pressure on a nerve in his lower back.

He usually has an active winter of playing basketball and working out in preparation for the season.

"It's been four weeks since the surgery and two more weeks before I can even do anything physical," he said. "It feels strange not to be active, but absolutely I'll be ready."

Gwynn gets Clemente honor

San Diego right fielder Tony Gwynn received the Roberto Clemente Award, given each year to the player who combines outstanding skills with generous contributions off the field.

"My wife and I just try to do what we feel are the right things to do, not to get any fanfare," he said. "To be recognized for it is quite a thrill."

Wire services contributed to this article.

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