Smoltz is relieved to be back starting; Bullpen stint against Mets was one to forget; Ripken aids league-wide youth fund; 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 are no stranger to Smoltz. They were no problem for him 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."

Ripken 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.

"We are committed to giving every child the opportunity to be a part of the baseball family and make a lifelong connection with the sport," said Donald Fehr, the executive director of the players association.

Orioles third baseman Cal Ripken is serving as a spokesman for the Baseball Tomorrow 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. "It's a great big sum of money, and now we have an opportunity to do something with it. I guess the key is how wisely you spend it."

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," he said.

Inactive winter

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," Ripken said. "It feels strange not to be active, but absolutely I'll be ready."

Lightweight Glavine

Tom Glavine, who started Game 3 for the Braves last night, estimated that he lost 5 to 7 pounds because of a stomach virus that prevented him from pitching in the Series opener.

"I've been trying to eat and drink as much as I can the last couple days," he said. "I don't know how much weight you can gain back eating soup and crackers, but I feel OK."

Glavine said he felt the sickness coming on about 8 p.m. on Friday when he began experiencing a bad headache. Then came the queasy stomach. By 11 p.m., Glavine knew he was in no condition to start the following night.

He was reduced to watching the first two games on television. "They weren't a whole lot of fun," he said, "but I don't think they could have made me feel any worse than the flu did."

Cox no stranger to N.Y.

Braves manager Bobby Cox decided not to have a team meeting before the game, instead offering some pats on the back and a few words of encouragement, hoping that would suffice.

"They're professionals," Cox said. "There's nothing we can do about the past, but we have to be positive about each game. We're still going to play them one at a time. We can't try to win four tonight."

Despite his team's predicament, Cox said he got a decent night's sleep and took about a two-hour walk through the city yesterday morning.

"We've been in New York so many times this year that some of the people I'm starting to recognize," he said. "You'd be surprised how many people, because we're on WTBS and now national network television, people do recognize you and they're very nice. I haven't had one person this year in New York say anything bad about the Braves."

Greatness of Jeter

The two qualities that Yankees manager Joe Torre said enable shortstop Derek Jeter to excel during the regular season and through October are "ability and stability." Guess that explains how he had hit safely in 15 straight postseason games going into last night and had crafted a .400 average in the playoffs 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 can't find another world to use. Extraordinary. 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. He just loves the competition and he's never afraid to make a mistake. You put those qualities together and you've got a Derek Jeter."

Wanted: one caddie

When Jim Leyritz was doing his first tour of duty with the Yankees, he served as Andy Pettitte's personal catcher. Once Leyritz departed as a free agent, Joe Girardi became Pettitte's target of choice.

What happens if Girardi leaves once the Series is over, especially with no guarantees that Leyritz will return after being reacquired in a midseason trade?

"As professionals, you have to do what you do. If Joe happens to leave, [Pettitte's] going to have to do the best he can," Torre said.

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."

Bloomberg News Service contributed to this article.

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