BY TIM SULLIVAN
The Cincinnati Enquirer
ATLANTA -- Chipper Jones moved toward first base with a spring in his step and a knot in his stomach. He did not run toward the bag, but hopped along in a path parallel to the first-base line, his whole being focused on the left-field corner.
Fair or foul? Win or wait? The Atlanta slugger pondered these crucial questions as he followed the path of his ball in flight. And then he saw it fall, and he leaped again, only this time from joy.
A playoff game of intense intrigue ended Thursday night as a game of inches, with Jones' 10th-inning line drive single landing no more than a few centimeters from the foul line and providing the Atlanta Braves a 2-1 victory over the Chicago Cubs.
The Braves lead the best-of-five Division Series, two games to none, and the Cubs go home to nurse a new heartbreak.
"I think tonight was a great indication of the character of our ballclub," said Cubs manager Jim Riggleman. "People are talking about our guys being happy to be here. Well, our guys are agonizing right now."
The Cubs' dream season is still alive, but its eventual end can be no more excruciating than Thursday's defeat.
Two outs from a series-tying victory in the bottom of the ninth inning, Cubs starter Kevin Tapani allowed a game-tying home run to Atlanta catcher Javy Lopez.
With Glenallen Hill 90 feet from a go-ahead run in the top of the 10th inning, the Cubs squandered their last scoring opportunity when pinch-hitter Jeff Blauser struck out and Mickey Morandini was caught stealing.
With a chance to get the second out of the Braves' 10th, Cubs reliever Terry Mulholland failed to step on first base on a bunt play. Had he managed to get the out, Mulholland might have been able to walk Jones intentionally. With runners on first and second, he had no choice but to deal with him directly.
"I hit a cutter inside," Jones said. "Terry Mulholland is a guy whose bread-and-butter is to try to saw you off inside and get a ground ball. In that situation, I'm a prime candidate for a double play."
Jones was ready for Mulholland's cut fastball, but so far out in front that he nearly hooked it into foul territory.
"I saw the ball going into the outfield and I knew the left fielder wasn't going to catch it," Jones said. "It was just a matter of whether it was going to be fair or foul. I don't know how it stayed fair, but after the night I had tonight, it was a little bit of justice."
Jones struck out three times against Tapani, who for 8 1/3 innings shut out Atlanta on four singles.
"I've never had a guy -- a right-hander -- pitch me like that," Jones said. "I've struck out three times in a game before, but that was against Randy Johnson. You've got to tip your cap to Kevin Tapani. He dealt."
Tapani's performance was extraordinary, but it had to be if the Cubs were to compete. Brilliant though he was, Tapani was only marginally better than Atlanta starter Tom Glavine, who took a no-hitter to the sixth inning.
Morandini broke up Glavine's bid to add to the list of postseason no-hitters (a list still comprised entirely of Don Larsen), with a sharp single to right field. When the Cubs' Scott Servais followed with a bloop single to right, Glavine was suddenly dealing with danger.
Though Tapani had hit a grand slam earlier this season in Atlanta, his job in the sixth was to sacrifice. He dropped a bunt down the third-base line, a bunt so good Glavine had to throw a fastball to first base to retire the plodding pitcher.
Lance Johnson, the Cubs' leadoff man, got one run home with a sharp hopper to second base. But Glavine stranded Servais at third base by striking out Manny Alexander.
The score remained at 1-0 into the ninth inning, then Lopez struck.
"He hit the ball out of the ballpark," said Servais, the Chicago catcher. "That's probably the only thing that was going to save them, and that's what he did."
If there's anything capable of saving the Cubs, the time is now.
Enquirer columnist Tim Sullivan welcomes your E-mail. Message him at firstname.lastname@example.org