Braves top Mets again, 4-3

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 14, 1999

The Associated Press

In a game all about timing, the Mets manager waited too long Wednesday while Braves counterpart Bobby Cox seized the moment.

Thursday, October 14, 1999

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In a game all about timing, the Mets manager waited too long Wednesday while Braves counterpart Bobby Cox seized the moment. The result: Atlanta beat New York 4-3 and now leads the NL championship series 2-0.

Unlikely hero Eddie Perez homered for the second straight day, breaking a sixth-inning tie with a two-run shot off struggling Kenny Rogers.

”I had no reason to keep him in,” Valentine admitted. ”I left him in and it was absolutely the wrong move.”

Said Rogers: ”I thought they might take me out. I wish he would have.”

Cox then called on Game 4 starter John Smoltz to protect a one-run lead in the ninth. The former Cy Young winner made his first relief appearance in a major league career that began in 1988, pitching a perfect inning.

”We may not do that again the rest of the playoffs,” he said. ”But I think when you have the opportunity to win, you better grab a hold of it.”

The Mets lost for the 11th time in 14 meetings with the Braves this year, and fell for the 15th time in 16 games at Turner Field.

In fact, after Brian Jordan and Perez homered in the sixth, Mets second baseman Edgardo Alfonzo made his first error of the season on a grounder, letting Walt Weiss’ bouncer get through his legs.

”You feel like you can’t do anything here,” Alfonzo said.

The Mets’ big hitters might agree. Mike Piazza, John Olerud and Robin Ventura combined to go 0-for-10, leaving them 1-for-21 in the series.

A crowd of 44,624 – about 6,000 short of capacity – saw Kevin Millwood earn his second victory of the postseason, with relief help from John Rocker and Smoltz.

Now, the best-of-7 series shifts to sold-out Shea Stadium for Game 3 Friday night. Al Leiter, a savior all year for the Mets in tight spots, starts against Tom Glavine.

”To hell with New York fans,” Rocker said. ”They’re a tired act.”

No one, though, had ever seen Smoltz relieve in the majors. He volunteered to do it in the past, but was turned down by Cox.

Smoltz ended the game by striking out pinch-hitter Bobby Bonilla.

”I just wanted to throw strikes,” Smoltz said. ”Today I felt pretty good, so I said I’d be good for one inning.”

Cox tried a similar strategy in Game 3 of the division series against Houston, using starters Greg Maddux and Millwood in relief.

Valentine, meanwhile, made an uncharacteristic move by not going to his bullpen in a critical spot. The Mets set a major league record this year by not pitching a complete game in their first 137 games.

Rogers pitched in and out of trouble, helping himself with two pickoffs, until the sixth. He walked Chipper Jones with one out, and Jordan sliced a drive off the right-field foul screen to tie it 2-2.

Andruw Jones followed with a single as the smoke from the fireworks set off after Jordan’s shot still drifted across the field. With Turk Wendell warmed up and ready, Perez hit the first pitch into the left-field seats off Rogers.

”That’s what surprised me, that he was there still pitching,” Perez said.

Perez, who took over full time after All-Star catcher Javy Lopez was lost for the year to a knee problem in late July, had not homered at Turner Field this season until connecting Tuesday night in a 4-2 victory in the opener.

Lopez got a big cheer when he threw out the ceremonial first ball before Game 2. Perez had the crowd chanting ”Ed-die! Ed-die!” after he delivered again.

”That’s the easiest name for them to say,” Perez said. ”Next year they’re going to forget about me because Javy will be playing every day.”

Alfonzo finished Millwood with an RBI double in the eighth. Rocker struck out Olerud and, after intentionally walking Piazza, fanned Ventura.

That was it for Rocker, who got four outs for a save in Game 1, and Smoltz came on.

Millwood, who pitched a one-hitter in the first round against Houston, gave up an RBI single in the second to Roger Cedeno. In the fifth, Melvin Mora hit his first major league home run for a 2-0 lead.

Mora entered in left field in the bottom half of the second when Henderson was forced to leave because of nausea and a light head. In an unusual sight, Mora was throwing in the dugout to get loose before getting the call.