Maddux pounded grandly

The Cincinnati Enquirer

ATLANTA - Contrary to conventional wisdom, Greg Maddux is not magical. You cut him, he bleeds. You hit him, he backs up the bases.

Baseball's most accomplished pitcher had his aura of invincibility punctured Thursday night. Punctured? Make that pounded. The St. Louis Cardinals took batting practice against Atlanta's four-time Cy Young Award winner, and emerged with an 8-3 victory in the second game of the National League Championship Series.

So much for sweeps. So much for statistics.

Much as Maddux has dominated the National League during the 1990s, he has been that much more suffocating against St. Louis. He had won six straight decisions against the Cardinals since 1994, and had compiled an 0.79 earned-run average against them over a span of 68 innings.

Thursday, the Cardinals did more damage to Maddux in seven innings than they had over his last eight starts against them. Only three of their eight runs were earned, but Maddux allowed nine hits and two walks in his 6ö innings. The Cardinals hurt him first with broken bats, and then with a bomb - Gary Gaetti's seventh-inning grand slam - and they return to St. Louis mighty satisfied with a split.

''I thought he threw the ball real well,'' Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said of Maddux. ''I'm not saying that graciously or anything. I thought he made some great pitches. I thought he was outstanding, and then all of a sudden he was trying to get ahead of Gaetti and Gaetti hit it. That turned the ballgame around.''

This game departed from the standard script with the very first batter. Royce Clayton led off the game with a single against Maddux, moved to third base on a textbook hit-and-run single by Ron Gant, and scored when the Braves' Marquis Grissom bobbled the ball in center field.

The rally would yield only one run, but it also had its psychic benefits. It helped convince the Cardinals of Maddux' humanity.

''Anything,'' La Russa said, ''to give our club a feel that we could get something done against a great pitcher.''

St. Louis stretched its lead to 3-0 in the third, thanks to successive broken-bat doubles by Gant and Brian Jordan, but couldn't hold it. Grissom's two-run homer in the bottom of the third sliced the St. Louis lead to one run. Ryan Klesko singled in the tying run in the sixth.

Earlier that inning, Atlanta had defended Gaetti with a shift that suggested Ted Williams - three infielders on the third base side. To defend Gaetti in the seventh, the Braves could have used a bleachers intervention by Jeff (Kid Glove) Maier.

The Cardinals had taken a 4-3 lead earlier in the inning on a sacrifice fly by Ray Lankford, and Maddux nearly escaped without additional damage.

He struck out Gant with runners at second and third for the inning's second out, then walked Brian Jordan intentionally to get to Gaetti.

Strategically, this made perfect sense. Jordan is the Cardinals' best and hottest hitter. Walking him set up a force play at every base. But the move didn't look quite so smart when Maddux tried to sneak a first-pitch slider past Gaetti and turned around to watch it sail into the left-field stands.

''I had to make one more pitch, and I didn't get it done,'' Maddux said. ''You've got to give him credit, too. I made a terrible pitch, and he took advantage.''

It was bound to happen eventually. Great as he is, Greg Maddux is still flesh and blood, flawed and beatable.

''I think that's the first time he hasn't wiggled out of something like that,'' said Braves pitching coach Leo Mazzone. ''Nine hundred innings; one mistake. I think we'll take that.''

Tim Sullivan is an Enquirer columnist.

Published Oct. 11, 1996.