Originally created 09/22/96

Braves creep closer



ATLANTA - It's so tantalizingly close the Atlanta Braves can smell the paint drying on another championship placard.

Another win against the Montreal Expos this afternoon will put them in the National League record books with a fifth division championship.

The Braves moved one step closer Saturday evening with more trademark pitching.

Denny Neagle worked into the eighth inning and Fred McGriff and Eddie Perez drove in two runs each as the Braves took a second straight victory from the Expos, 5-4, before a sellout crowd of 49,265 fans at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium.

With eight games remaining, the win dropped the Braves' magic number for clinching the N.L. East to two.

Taking his second win since coming over in a trade with the Pirates Aug. 28, Neagle became the league's winningest left-hander with his 16th win. Taking a third straight win against the Expos, he went 7‰ innings and gave up eight hits and three runs.

Greg McMichael, making his first appearance since Sept. 14, got the final two outs in the eighth. Mark Wohlers worked the ninth, and despite giving up Vladimir Guerrero's first major league home run, he picked up his 38th save.

Left-hander Omar Daal spent most of the season in the bullpen before being shifted to the rotation, one of 10 different starters used by Expos this season. He fell behind right away when Marquis Grissom led the first inning with his 22nd home run, the seventh time he's led a game with a homer this season and the 12th time in his career.

Trailing 2-1 in the third, the Braves rallied to reclaim the lead when Mark Lemke singled with two outs, Chipper Jones walked and McGriff slammed a double into the right field corner. The two-base hit was McGriff's career-high 36th and the two RBI boosted his season total to 106, matching his career-high set in 1991 with the Padres.

Daal, who had made eight appearances against the Braves in his career without making a start, did impressive work. He went six innings and yielded five hits and departed trailing 3-2.

Neagle, who won his first game as a Brave in his last start against the Mets, got into trouble in the second inning and almost escaped by getting a double play grounder from Guerrero. But he made a mistake to Shane Andrews, leaving a 3-2 pitch up in the strike zone, and the Expos' third baseman launched a two-run homer, his 19th, over the left field wall.

Neagle was in more hot water in the sixth with two runners on and one out. Again, he escaped, forcing a grounder from Moises Alou, then a pop fly from Rondell White to end the threat.

Like Tom Glavine Friday night, Neagle didn't have his best stuff, but did his best work with men on base. He also got some nice defense from Grissom, who twice raced to the wall to take away extra-base hits from the Expos.

Neagle also received a boost from Perez, who slammed a two-run homer in the seventh inning against reliever Barry Manuel, giving the Braves some breathing room.