Saturday, October 23, 1999

'Pens could write Series story

Braves, Yanks each have strong set of relievers

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        ATLANTA — Expect games to be shortened on account of urgency in the 95th World Series.

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        Not literally shortened, mind you. Nine innings still will constitute a complete game when the New York Yankees defend their world title against the National League champion Atlanta Braves starting tonight at Turner Field.

        But the excellence of the bullpens makes getting a lead by the middle innings doubly essential for the Yankees and Braves.

        “We have to have the lead after six or seven. There's no doubt about that,” Braves starter John Smoltz said Friday. “I don't think anyone here thinks we're going to score a bunch of runs off (New York relief ace Mariano) Rivera because nobody has. Same thing could be said for them. I think they have to play a shorter game.”

        Thus, the team of the '90s, as the Series winner is destined to be dubbed, will be determined by men who throw in the 90s, as in miles per hour. With the possible exception of Atlanta left-hander Terry Mulholland, a former starter who relies on guile as much as velocity, most of these relievers can be expected to combat hitters with direct, challenging fastballs.

Set-up men key
        High drama won't necessarily have to wait until the ninth inning as the Yankees seek their third Series triumph in four years and the Braves chase their second world title in five Fall Classics since 1991.

        Start with the Yankees. When manager Joe Torre needs a formidable opposing right-handed hitter retired after the fifth inning, he'll likely call upon righties Ramiro Mendoza or Jeff Nelson, who have combined to allow one hit in 4 postseason innings.

        Mendoza twice left the bases loaded in the American League Championship Series against Boston.

        “We brought him in with no room to breathe,” said Torre, who noted that Mendoza is the first player other teams mention when they propose a trade with the Yankees. “He basically did the job we asked, and probably a little more.”

        Torre summons left-hander Mike Stanton, a former Brave, to retire fellow lefties and consume innings.

        “He maybe has a little more durability than Nelson,” Torre said. “I like to think in terms of (using) Nelson for a key at-bat while Stanton can probably give us an inning or two and do it again tomorrow.”

Rivera near perfect
        Then there's closer Mariano Rivera, who has four postseason saves after leading the majors with 45 in the regular season. Rivera, who posted a 1.83 ERA and a .176 opponents' batting average as the Yankees won the AL East with a 98-64 record, has followed that by not allowing a run so far in five postseason appearances.

        “He "cuts' the ball (making it slice across the strike zone) more now than I think he did before,” Atlanta manager Bobby Cox said of Rivera. “He can ride it up and away from a right-hander into a lefty.”

        Atlanta's contingent is just as formidable. Despite his unraveling in Game 5 of the NLCS, right-hander Kevin McGlinchy established himself as a Rookie of the Year candidate in the regular season (7-3, 2.82 ERA). Fellow right-hander Russ Springer is unscored upon in three postseason outings.

Braves lefties strong
        While most teams struggle to find one decent left-handed reliever, the Braves have three: Mulholland, who joined the team from the Chicago Cubs in a July 31 trading-deadline deal; ex-Red Mike Remlinger, 10-1 with a 2.37 ERA in the regular season; and John Rocker, the sprinting, snorting, screaming Southerner who hasn't allowed an earned run in 10 postseason innings after notching 38 regular-season saves.

        Bolstered by their bullpen, the Braves relied less on their starting rotation, widely considered to be the best in the majors. Greg Maddux pitched fewer innings (219) than he had in any full 162-game season. Tom Glavine and Kevin Millwood notched only two complete games apiece, representing decreases from 1998.

        “You can go to any one of us in any situation to eat up innings,” Remlinger said.

        Nobody foresees either team feasting on the other's pitching.


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