MIAMI - The pitching clinic started at 7:04 EDT and coaches around the country clicked on their VCRs.
Why plunk down $15.95 when Kevin Brown and Greg Maddux could offer their very own instructional video?
The matchup between two of the game's best pitchers lived up to all the hype Friday night. But in the end, it was a reliever with a bat in his hand that determined the outcome.
Out of hitters in the 12th inning, Florida sent pitcher Dennis Cook to the plate and he delivered a one-out RBI single against rookie reliever Mike Cather, sending the Marlins past the Braves 3-2 in front of a sellout crowd of 40,669 fans at Pro Player Stadium.
"Nobody is going to panic in here," Braves third baseman Chipper Jones said, referring to a division lead reduced to 5 1/2 games. "But we've got to execute a little better. We've got to get that killer instinct. When we've got the lead late in the game, we've got to bury them."
After scoring their first runs of the series against Brown, the Braves held a 2-1 lead in the eighth, but couldn't hold it. Rookie reliever Chad Fox got the first two outs in the bottom of the inning, then walked Craig Counsell.
Manager Bobby Cox pulled Fox and brought in Alan Embree to face pinch hitter Kurt Abbott, who sent a soft single just beyond second baseman Tony Graffanino's lunge. With the switch-hitting Devon White next, Cox went to the bullpen again, calling in closer Mark Wohlers, though White is only a .214 hitter from the right side.
Sure enough, swinging left-handed, White sent Wohlers' first pitch into right field to tie the game.
"We got the lead and we should have held it," Cox said.
With the game in extra innings, the Braves' decision to hold onto Paul Byrd and not recall a pitcher from Class AAA Richmond haunted them. Mike Bielecki worked two scoreless innings, then gave way to Cather, who was appearing in his fourth straight game.
Charles Johnson greeted him with a double and after Counsell's bunt, Marlins manager Jim Leyland looked down his bench for a hitter. He was out of position players, so Cook, 3-for-3 this season and a career .280 hitter, grabbed a bat.
He sent Cather's second pitch into right-center field for the win.
"I was just fortunate I was able put the bat on the ball," Cook said. "That was just blind luck."
Said Cox, "We wouldn't have gotten caught short (of relievers) if we had scored some more runs."
By the time Cook's hit landed in the outfield, both starting pitchers were long forgotten. Too bad, because the pair offered dominating performances.
Maddux, who had won his last eight starts, worked seven innings and gave up three hits and one run.
Brown went eight innings and allowed four hits and two runs, while striking out nine.
Maddux made one mistake, a fat fastball to Gary Sheffield in the fourth, and he lost it over the left field wall for his first career homer against the right-hander.
Brown didn't make any mistakes until the eighth, when a pair of errors and a couple of singles helped the Braves score their first runs in 16 innings.
It started with a walk to Mark Lemke, then pinch hitter Keith Lockhart singled and Kenny Lofton beat out a bunt to load the bases.
What followed was bizarre. First, Counsell bobbled Jeff Blauser's grounder, then threw late to try and force Lofton at second as pinch runner Tony Graffanino crossed the plate. Next, Jones' grounder to Counsell turned into a fielder's choice as shortstop Edgar Renteria missed second base, then he wheeled and threw home and Lofton was called out for evading Johnson's tag.
But the play brought in Lockhart with the go-ahead run and suddenly the Braves had a lead.
It didn't last.
"You think you have the game in hand," Jones said. "But we couldn't get to the ninth with a lead."
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