CHICAGO - The formula has remained constant for six years.
Pitching and defense win championships. It's a plan the Atlanta Braves have used to reach four of the last five World Series.
But while the starting pitchers have covered up many of the club's shortcomings this year, they can't hide the cracks in the defense.
That was demonstrated Tuesday afternoon in front of 31,804 fans at Wrigley Field when the Braves split a doubleheader with the Chicago Cubs, winning the first game 4-1 behind Greg Maddux and dropping the second game 5-4 when three errors led to a pair of unearned runs.
"They were routine plays and 99 percent of the time they get made," said third baseman Chipper Jones, whose eighth-inning error on Ryne Sandberg's grounder followed Jeff Blauser's error and allowed the go-ahead run to score. "Two in a row is shocking. We gave it to them. It's a little depressing."
In the first game, Maddux became the National League's first 14-game winner and remained perfect against his former team, doing it with astonishing efficiency. He upped his record to 6-0 against the Cubs with a 78-pitch masterpiece, accomplished in a speedy two hours and seven minutes for his staff-leading fifth complete game, matching last year's total.
"I got some first-pitch outs and they didn't hit a lot of foul balls," Maddux said. "I got outs with some mistakes. Something out of the ordinary has to happen to only make 78 pitches."
Andruw Jones, who would have hit two home runs in the first game if not for a stiff wind blowing in off Lake Michigan, got his pair in the second game. His ninth homer against Cubs starter Terry Mulholland tied the game in the sixth inning and his 10th home run tied it again in the eighth.
"Bad luck," Jones said of his two drives caught at the ivy in the first game. "You've got to hit it a little lower when the wind is like that. If the ball gets in the air, you can't do anything about it."
Working on three days rest and looking for his 14th win, Denny Neagle started to tire in the seventh and the Cubs scored twice to take a 4-3 lead. Then, with rookie Mike Cather on in the eighth, the league's second-worst defense booted two grounders and Shawon Dunston scored the winning run.
"It's a tough way to lose," Blauser said. "We're going to make those plays more times than not."
The loss almost made the Braves forget about Maddux's performance. Almost.
So efficient was the right-hander he missed the strike zone only 15 times, averaging less than two balls per inning, and faced only four hitters over the minimum. It was the lowest pitch total of his career for a nine-inning complete game and the lowest in the majors since St. Louis' Bob Tewksbury had a 76-pitch complete game on Aug. 29, 1990 against the Reds.
With the center field flags curling toward home plate, the Cubs managed only five hits against Maddux and their only run came in the fourth when Dunston led with a single, stole second and scored on Sammy Sosa's chopper over the mound.
That was all for Chicago. Maddux didn't issue a walk and struck out six, improving his record to 3-0 at Wrigley since joining the Braves.
With a 14-3 record in 21 starts, Maddux is off to the second-best start of his career. In 1988, when he finished with an 18-8 record for the Cubs, he was 15-4 after 21 starts. He is also well ahead of the pace he set during his two 20-win seasons. In 1992, when he was 20-11, he was 12-8 in 21 starts. In '93, when he posted a 20-10 record in his first year with the Braves, he was only 9-8.
"Sure, I'd like to win 20," Maddux said. "Who wouldn't?"
© 2016. All Rights Reserved. | Contact Us