Originally created 09/16/97

McGriff homer tops ninth-inning comeback



ATLANTA - For eight innings, the beep-beep-beep heard at Turner Field was the Atlanta Braves backing into the National League East title.

In the ninth inning, the clang heard was the Braves throwing a wrench into the N.L. West race.

In search of an offensive spark, the Braves may have found one Monday night. A lineup given up for dead came to life and a cleanup hitter found his home run swing, a combination that injected enthusiasm into a moribund club.

Fred McGriff capped a ninth-inning comeback against one of the game's best closers, launching a two-out, two-run homer against Rod Beck to lift the Braves to an improbable 5-4 victory over the San Francisco Giants before a crowd of 38,641 fans.

"He's a great closer," said McGriff, who beat Beck with a three-run homer in the ninth inning July 9, 1995. "He's got me a few times. I was just trying to make good hard contact. It was a huge win."

The victory, coupled with the Marlins' 7-1 loss to the Rockies, dropped the Braves' magic number to clinch the division to nine.

"Regardless of where you are in the standings, these games are always a spark, a shot in the arm for any team," shortstop Jeff Blauser said. "The fashion that we did it was pretty dramatic. It's going to be a boost."

Lost in the wild ninth was Tom Glavine's solid seven-inning performance and two perfect innings by relievers Alan Embree and Kerry Ligtenberg. The win, his first in the majors, went to the rookie Ligtenberg, who worked the ninth.

Glavine went seven innings, but was undone by Jeff Kent's two-run homer in the first inning and left fielder Danny Bautista's two-run error in the sixth. The left-hander gave up just two earned runs, the 24th time in 31 starts he's given up three earned runs or less, but came away empty-handed, taking his 11th no-decision.

Beck, the league's save leader, blew Shawn Estes' 19th win. His seventh blown save arrived in a hurry, starting with Michael Tucker's one-out single in the ninth. Kenny Lofton followed with another single, then Blauser lined an RBI hit into left field and the score was 4-2.

Chipper Jones was next and he chopped a grounder at second baseman Jeff Kent, whose throw forced Blauser at second. But shortstop Rich Aurilia's relay was a split-second too late to double up Jones and end the game, bringing McGriff to the plate with the Braves still down a run.

Beck's first two pitches were fastballs and the count was 1-1 when he decided on a split-finger. It hung over the plate and McGriff blasted it into the first row of the left-center field grandstand for his 22nd home run.

"You'd think I'd learn, but I felt it was the right pitch," Beck said. "The worst part about it is I let down a whole bunch of teammates who battled their butts off for eight innings."

For eight innings, the Braves couldn't muster more than Tony Graffanino's RBI double in the seventh. Atlanta's lineup extended its shutout streak to 15 innings before scoring against Estes, who entered the game with a 2-0 career mark against the Braves.

San Francisco's left-hander went 7 1/3 innings and gave up four hits and six walks, but the Braves failed to take advantage of his wildness. Then came the ninth and suddenly a lineup that couldn't produce a meaningful hit had several.

"We snatched a victory from the jaws of defeat and anytime you do that it tends to rejuvenate a ballclub," Jones said. "It's high time we got some confidence at home."