Originally created 06/18/97

Braves stay undefeated in Canada



TORONTO - Take the Atlanta Braves north of the border and they rekindle old magic.

It's winning below the provinces they've had trouble with recently.

While the Braves remained perfect in Canada this year, their 8-7 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays in front of 31,356 fans at the SkyDome Tuesday night came with a price.

Leadoff hitter Kenny Lofton left the game with a sore left groin in the seventh inning, forcing the Braves to scramble for another outfielder. With Ryan Klesko already replacing the injured Fred McGriff at first base, Chipper Jones was forced to play left field, only his second game in the outfield since 1995.

To make matters worse, outfielder Michael Tucker suffered a strained muscle in his right side while running out a grounder in the ninth inning and he departed, forcing McGriff into the game.

Summing up the exodus of outfielders, John Smoltz, tonight's scheduled starter, said, "I'm not pitching tomorrow, they need a position player."

Lofton and Tucker will be reevaluated today and the Braves will make a decision whether to place either one on the disabled list and recall an outfielder from Class AAA Richmond. Among the candidates are Tommy Gregg and Danny Bautista, but Gregg was hit by a pitch Tuesday and Bautista has a pulled groin, so Damon Hollins might receive the call.

"We'll see who can play tomorrow," manager Bobby Cox said. "We won't know how bad everyone is until they get here."

A second straight win against the Blue Jays pushed the Braves' record to 4-0 in Canada and gave Greg Maddux his eighth win. Mark Wohlers survived the ninth inning for his 14th save, though it wasn't secure until third baseman Mike Mordecai gloved Joe Carter's hard smash on a short hop and started a double play to end the game.

"If my arms were longer I would have caught that in the air," Mordecai said, "but then we wouldn't have gotten a double play."

Maddux (8-3), working on three days rest for the third time this season, gave up seven hits and three runs. He turned a five-run lead over to Mike Bielecki in the seventh inning and watched almost all of it disappear.

Otis Nixon's RBI single in the seventh closed the gap to four runs, then Carlos Delgado homered in the eighth inning and Shawn Green launched his second homer of the game, a two-run shot that sent nervous tremors through the Braves dugout.

"It's nice to still be breathing after what went on tonight," Maddux said. "You just keep your fingers crossed and hope everyone is okay."

Ryan Klesko gave the Braves a 3-0 lead in the first inning with his 12th home run against Blue Jays starter Luis Andujar (0-3), his seventh home run in his last 18 hits. After Toronto tied the game, the Braves regained the lead in the fourth when Andruw Jones and Jeff Blauser singled with one out and Eddie Perez lifted a sacrifice fly into left field to score Jones.

That was enough for Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston. He pulled Andujar after four innings and brought in left-hander Paul Spoljaric, who worked two perfect innings before creating trouble for himself in the seventh.

Spoljaric issued consecutive walks to Blauser and Perez to open the inning, Mark Lemke bunted them along and Lofton singled through a drawn-in infield for a 5-3 lead. Tucker singled for another run, then Keith Lockhart sent a two-run double up the right-center field gap and the lead was five runs.

As it turned out, it was barely enough.

Toronto put runners on the corners with one out in the ninth, bringing Carter, one of the game's best clutch performers, to the plate. Mixing fastballs, split-fingers and sliders, Wohlers worked the count to 2-and-2, then threw his worst slider of the inning.

"I got lucky, I hung it just enough," Wohlers said. "The worst one I threw all night and it got the best result."

Now all the Braves need is a couple of healthy outfielders.