Originally created 08/17/97

Braves bats come alive to bang Cardinals by two



ST. LOUIS -- On the 20-year anniversary of Elvis' death, Greg Maddux was rocked, then he rolled Saturday afternoon.

And the Crime Dog, whose power appears as frequently as sightings of the King, paid tribute to the Hound Dog with a long ball.

It was a day when the Atlanta Braves, who were all shook up following Friday night's 12-inning loss, maintained their composure and emerged with a much-needed victory.

On a blistering hot afternoon at Busch Stadium, Maddux took a ninth straight win and Mark Wohlers capped off some perfect work by the bullpen with his 100th career save as the Braves ended a three-game skid with a 5-3 victory against the St. Louis Cardinals before a sweltering sellout crowd of 47,229 fans.

"It would have been very easy to hang our heads ... after (Ray) Lankford hit the home run," shortstop Jeff Blauser said. "I don't think we've ever given up on ourselves and I think we proved it today."

Lankford's 24th homer was a three-run shot off Maddux, who had yielded only four runs in the first inning in 25 starts and had not given up three runs in the first since July 25, 1996. It gave the Cardinals some momentum and left Maddux feeling he needed to make an adjustment.

"I got ambushed," he said. "They moved up on the plate and were hacking. They made up their minds they weren't going to let me throw a strike without hacking at it."

Maddux (16-3) adjusted by throwing fewer strikes, but the Cardinals didn't recognize his shift in strategy. They continued to hack away and collected only four more hits the rest of the afternoon. Feeling the heat after making 66 pitches in six innings, Maddux gave way to a trio of relievers - Mike Bielecki, Mike Cather and Wohlers - who didn't allow a hit over the final three innings.

"When you're down three runs like that, you can't give up any more, so it's like you don't get a breather," Maddux said. "Your intensity picks up and you burn out quicker. Every inning turns into the ninth. Mentally, I was done."

Atlanta's offense, which had not produced double-digit hits since July 30, collected 10, including Fred McGriff's first homer in 62 at-bats since July 28. His 16th, a two-run shot to left-center in the sixth inning against Cards starter Matt Morris (8-8), gave the Braves a 4-3 lead.

"Sixty-two at-bats," McGriff said. "That's a lot of at-bats. "If I'm staying on the ball, I'm taking it the other way. Trying to pull the ball gets you in trouble."

The Braves played sound fundamental ball and received contributions from several bats. Chipper Jones picked up his 95th RBI with a fourth-inning grounder, then Eddie Perez's sacrifice fly in the fifth trimmed the Cards' lead to one.

Following McGriff's homer, Blauser sent a two-out RBI single into right field in the eighth for an insurance run.

"We finally got a ball to cross the fence and Blauser got a huge hit," manager Bobby Cox said. "A lot of good things. I was glad to see that. Maybe it will give the guys a little confidence. That stuff steamrolls."

Even with a lead, the Braves weren't safe. But the relief corps was outstanding, retiring eight of the nine hitters it faced. Bielecki, who had not retired any of the last seven hitters he had faced, pitched a perfect seventh, then Cather, who yielded Delino DeShields' game-wining homer Friday night, escaped the eighth after a leadoff walk to DeShields.

Then came Wohlers, who struck out two of the three hitters he faced and now needs 42 saves to surpass Gene Garber's Atlanta record.

"The way we're playing right now it's tough to talk about personal accomplishments," Wohlers said. "There's been a lot said about our offense lately. Maybe it's the start of something good."