Originally created 07/11/97

Braves bullpen ravaged



ATLANTA - From his luxury box in the second deck at Turner Field, Braves general manager John Schuerholz watched a disturbing scene unfold Thursday night.

A shaky bullpen reminded him that the ghastly days of the late 1980s are only a bad reliever or two away.

Despite a record-setting grand slam by Chipper Jones, the Braves opened the second half in disappointing fashion as the bullpen blew a late lead and the New York Mets took a 10-7 victory in front of an eighth straight sellout crowd of 47,685 at Turner Field.

"We didn't hold them and that's the whole story," manager Bobby Cox said.

If the Braves hope to return to another World Series, Schuerholz will have to add a pitcher or two to the bullpen. That point was driven home when another reliever failed in the setup role, forcing closer Mark Wohlers into the game before the ninth inning.

Left-hander Alan Embree issued a pair of two-out walks in the eighth, then Todd Hundley drilled a 3-2 pitch from Wohlers just over the right field wall to give the Mets a 7-5 lead.

"The way you've got to look at it is, `Thank God, it's over,' and realize it's only one game," Wohlers said. "(The bullpen) was given a job and we failed. It's frustrating."

Having given away one lead, the bullpen couldn't hold it together after the Braves tied the game in the eighth. Mike Bielecki (3-5) and Brad Clontz combined to give up three runs in the ninth, ending a disastrous evening with this sad line for the bullpen: Two innings, four hits, four walks and six earned runs.

"I just stink right now," Bielecki said. "If I had an answer, I'd change everything. I've got to figure it out because this is no fun."

The unraveling actually began in the sixth when John Smoltz couldn't hang onto a 5-1 lead. He let the Mets back into the game by giving up a pair of runs on pinch hitter Luis Lopez's double. The right-hander, who entered the game with a streak of 14 shutout innings, started the eighth, but gave up a leadoff homer to Manny Alexander and departed.

Smoltz, a 3-2 loser to the Mets June 23 at Shea Stadium, was charged with 11 hits, the most he's allowed since he gave up a career-high 14 to the Rockies April 20, four runs and struck out six.

"For me to have a 5-1 lead, I'm going to win those nine out of 10 times," Smoltz said.

Said Mets' manager Bobby Valentine, "We kept coming back against a great team, a great pitcher. We kept making plays. We don't let the scoreboard tell us anything about the game until it's over."

Former Brave Greg McMichael (5-6) picked up his second win against his former teammates by getting the last out in the eighth, then John Franco struck out all three hitters he faced in the ninth for his 21st save.

It was another grand night for Jones, who set an Atlanta record with his third grand slam in the last 13 games -- his second in 10 at-bats -- and matched his career-high with five RBI.

Jones connected against Mets starter Dave Mlicki in the fifth inning and had to hold his breath as the ball glanced off the glove of a leaping Carl Everett at the right field wall. That boosted his RBI total to 74, moving him past Tony Gwynn and into third place among league leaders.

Jones' five RBI weren't nearly enough, so Eddie Perez pulled the Braves closer with his fourth homer in the eighth. Then, pinch hitter Keith Lockhart continued to prove his value by doubling home Mark Lemke with the tying run.

That only set the stage for the bullpen to spoil a grand evening.

"We're fortunate we don't do that too many times," Cox said.