Gant's brain catches up with his braun

The Cincinnati Enquirer

ST. LOUIS - The secret of Ron Gant's success is that he has let his hard feelings soften. He stopped trying to get even with the Atlanta Braves, and consequently got ahead of them.

''I think my problem in the past, especially last year, was I tried to hurt them too much,'' the St. Louis slugger said of his old team. ''I did have hard feelings and I think it hurt me more than it helped me. Those feelings were so deep that I was trying to do too much against these guys. I've tried to put that in the past and tried to become a much better and much smarter hitter against these guys.''

Whatever wounds time had not healed should have been salved Saturday. Gant struck two homers against the team that released him three years ago, and accounted for all the St. Louis scoring in a 3-2 victory. He gave the Cardinals a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven National League Championship Series, and gave himself the victory that is vindication.

''This series means more to Ronnie Gant than to anybody,'' said Cardinals right fielder Brian Jordan. ''From what happened to him when the Braves released him, this guy probably wants to beat up the Braves more than anybody in the clubhouse. It's just exciting to watch.''

Braves had no choice

Frankly, the Braves had little choice but to release Gant after his offseason motorbike mishap following the 1993 season. He would miss the entire 1994 season to rehabilitation, and it would have been both costly and silly to keep him around out of sentiment. Gant eventually signed with the Reds, and publicly rationalized leaving Atlanta as a business decision.

Privately, however, he was deeply hurt. Bitter. Angry.

In allowing the parting to become personal, Gant made himself easy prey to the Atlanta pitchers. Intent on mayhem, Gant hit just .188 in last year's League Championship Series. He has improved by lowering his aim, closing his stance, and trying to go with the pitch instead of trying to pull it.

''I think I've calmed down and tried to get my base hits here and there,'' he said. ''You have to become a student. You have to study your tapes and go to school against these guys. I've become more patient and more confident on the outside part of the plate and that's helped me tremendously. I didn't try to do too much with that pitch out there, just tried to hit the ball hard for line drives. I'm strong enough, if the ball gets in the air, it's going to go out of the park.''

Strength prevails

Ron Gant is so strong that he could probably reach the bleachers by hitting the ball off his biceps. His first-inning home run Saturday landed in the Cardinals bullpen in left-center field. His sixth-inning leadoff shot found the foliage in straightaway center field. Both blows came against Tom Glavine, who had allowed only one home run in his previous nine starts.

''We knew exactly what we're supposed to do,'' said Braves manager Bobby Cox. ''But when we leave balls in the center of the plate, I don't care if Ronnie Gant's hitting or Brian Jordan or anybody else, the ball is going to be hit. . . . We made two horrible changeups right down the (middle).''

Just for the record, Glavine said Gant's second home run was actually on a fat fastball, and not a changeup. He could not say he was surprised.

''Ronnie is a winner,'' Glavine had said earlier in the week. ''Everybody that played with him knows that. We keep running into him and you've got to wonder when you're going to get burned.''

Some of Gant's teammates sensed the time had come as they discussed their approaches to Glavine before the game. Gant has known the Atlanta left-hander since they were teammates in Single-A Sumter in 1985.

''I knew he was going to stay on the outside part of the plate,'' Gant said. ''I came in with a game plan that I was going to stay out there also and make him adjust to me.''

The home runs were the product of his plan, not the purpose.

''When you're trying to hit home runs,'' Ron Gant said, ''it don't happen.''

Tim Sullivan is an Enquirer columnist.

Published Oct. 13, 1996.