Braves register must-win over Cubs

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 2, 2003

ATLANTA - The Atlanta Braves needed this game, and it showed.

Mark DeRosa stood at second base, thumping the side of his leg after the game-winning hit. John Smoltz raised his fist as he watched the final out settle into a teammate's glove.

The Braves, often accused of being too businesslike, showed plenty of emotion while defeating the Chicago Cubs 5-3 Wednesday night to even the NL division series at one game apiece.

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''I hope the Cubs don't take offense,'' said DeRosa, a former college quarterback. ''I've got the football mentality still. We needed this game going to Chicago.''

Game 3 in the best-of-five series is Friday night at Wrigley Field. Greg Maddux will start for the Braves against Mark Prior.

''With Prior on the mound, a hostile environment, it is going to be pretty tough,'' DeRosa said.

At least the Braves have hope, which was in short supply after they lost the opener 4-2 and quickly fell behind 2-0 in Game 2.

But Mike Hampton battled back from a rocky start to pitch six solid innings. Smoltz squandered a lead in the eighth, but DeRosa came through with a two-out, two-run double in the bottom half. Then it was back to Smoltz, who made that lead stand up for the 13th postseason win of his career.

''You play this game with somewhat of a desperate mentality,'' said Smoltz, who went two innings for only the fourth time all season. ''We had to have this win.''

The Braves' vaunted lineup was overshadowed by a guy who doesn't usually start. DeRosa took over at second base for Marcus Giles, who had a deep bruise on his left leg after tumbling over first base in Game 1.

With a runner at second, the Cubs walked Rafael Furcal intentionally to get to DeRosa. He made them pay by lining a 1-2 pitch from Dave Veres to the wall in left-center.

''You understand that they're intentionally walking Furcal to get to you,'' DeRosa said. ''You try to use that anger.''

After the game, Veres sat in front of a video tape player, watching a replay of DeRosa's hit for a full five minutes.

''It's not like it was in the dirt, but it wasn't a hanger by any stretch,'' Veres said. ''If he doesn't hit it, it looked like it might have bounced off the plate. But I guess it wasn't good enough.''

As an added bonus for the Braves, Giles appeared as a pinch-hitter in the sixth and came through with a run-scoring single that put the Braves ahead 3-2.

Anxious to protect the lead, Atlanta called on Smoltz in the eighth - even though the closer missed nearly a month at the end of the season with a sore elbow.

Smoltz didn't have his best stuff. Eric Karros and Randall Simon hit back-to-back singles before Tom Goodwin tied it with a sacrifice fly.

Smoltz had not worked two innings in a game since July 23. But manager Bobby Cox also was mindful that his closer never got a chance for a save in the 2002 postseason, when the Braves lost to the Giants in the opening round.

That was just another postseason failure for Atlanta, which has 12 straight division titles but only World Series title in that span.

Smoltz helped himself in the bottom half of the eighth, getting down a bunt with two strikes after Vinny Castilla walked. It was Smoltz's second at-bat of the season.

''When I went up there, I really wanted to swing,'' he said with a grin.

On Tuesday, the Cubs won a postseason game on the road for the first time since 1945. They had a chance to take a commanding lead when Hampton got off to a miserable start in Game 2.

The first five hitters reached base, giving Chicago a 2-0 lead and leaving the bases loaded. Sammy Sosa barely missed a three-run homer, hitting a drive of the top of the center-field wall for an RBI double.

Will Cunnane began throwing in the bullpen, rushing to get loose on an unseasonably cool Georgia night.

''It's like we were teeing off on him,'' Karros said, referring to Hampton. ''Then he started hitting his spots. There's a reason he was an effective pitcher for them this season.''

Karros struck out swinging. Ramon Martinez took a called third strike. Damian Miller flailed at strike three to end the inning.

Hampton struck out the side again in the second, tying a postseason record with six consecutive Ks.

''I just couldn't get into a rhythm,'' Hampton said. ''I guess I had to get beat up before I woke up.''

After managing only three hits in Game 1, the Braves pounded Carlos Zambrano for 11 hits in 5 2-3 innings - knocking him out of the game with the last one.

Furcal hit a liner off Zambrano's right leg, the ball ricocheting all the way into foul territory along the first-base line for an infield hit.

Zambrano didn't appear seriously hurt, but Cubs manager Dusty Baker decided to call in Kyle Farnsworth.