Braves swinging has fans singing

The Cincinnati Enquirer

ATLANTA - It began spontaneously. A couple of voices. An appropriate tune. A break in the action. A burst into song.

''Start spreading the news,'' a few fans warbled Thursday night at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. ''I'm leaving today.''

And then there was more. ''I want to be a part of it: New York, New York.''

Soon, it had spread throughout the stadium. Fifty thousand Sinatra wanna-bes, testing the top of their lungs, serenading the Atlanta Braves on their way to the World Series. Fifty thousand people wanting to wake up in the city that never sleeps.

It was still the eighth inning of the seventh game of the National League Championship Series, but the outcome had been obvious for hours.

This was baseball as an artillery barrage: Atlanta 15, St. Louis 0. New York, New York should consider itself forewarned. If you're a Yankee fan, your first thought should be, ''Yikes.''

Atlanta's defending world champions completed their comeback from a 3-to-1 series deficit with a performance that resounded long before the singing started. Facing elimination in each of the last three games, they outscored the Cardinals by the cumulative count of 32-1.

''They overwhelmed us,'' St. Louis manager Tony La Russa said, in summation.

''This was not the way to go out,'' said Cardinals outfielder Brian Jordan.

The Braves had 17 hits Thursday, and ended the series with a team batting average of .309. The Cardinals, by contrast, slumped to .204 with their four-single finish. St. Louis collapsed much as the special effects White House did in Independence Day. Suddenly. Swiftly. Completely.

Unexpectedly dominant

''I don't think we expected to win as dominantly as we did because we never do anything easy,'' said Braves starter Tom Glavine. ''Two of these three games were very uncharacteristic for us. We're used to nail-biters.''

If the Braves encountered any anxious moments Thursday, they had ended by the bottom of the first. Cardinals starter Donovan Osborne, given an extra day of rest to steel himself for Game Seven, was unable to survive the inning.

Marquis Grissom hit Osborne's first pitch for a single, Mark Lemke crushed his second pitch for a double, and the rout was on. Osborne gave up six runs before La Russa turned to his bullpen - three of them on a bases-clearing triple by Glavine - and was left to watch the remainder of the rout from the relative safety of the clubhouse.

This was one of those games that screamed to be stopped, like a heavyweight fight when one guy has been blinded by his own blood. The Cardinals couldn't connect at the plate, and they couldn't prevent the Braves from pouring it on. When Ozzie Smith went to the plate as a pinch hitter in the top of the sixth inning - his last at bat as an active player - the Braves were sitting on a 10-0 lead.

Did the Cardinals choke? Depends on how you look at it. A team that needs to win only one game out of three ought to be able to get that done. Yet the Cardinals never found a flattering matchup on the pitcher's mound, and that disparity became more pronounced as the series progressed. Over the last three games, Atlanta starters John Smoltz, Greg Maddux and Glavine were about as good as it gets.

''Their pitching is everything,'' Jordan said. ''They have a dominating staff and it gives them all the confidence in the world. I think that improves everybody's game over there.''

St. Louis tried to counter by pitching its starters on short rest, and then long rest, but the Braves ultimately gave them no rest.

'No doubt'

''Once we got three games behind, everybody said we can win because we've been in this position before,'' said Atlanta catcher Javy Lopez, the series Most Valuable Player. ''Once we won that last game in St. Louis, I had no doubt that we were going to get it.''

Thursday, the Braves appeared nearly unstoppable. Only one obstacle remains between them and a second straight World Championship.

It's up to you: New York, New York.

Tim Sullivan is an Enquirer columnist.

Published Oct. 18, 1996.