Originally created 09/17/97

Braves in grand-slam form



ATLANTA - Here a grand slam, there a grand slam, everywhere a grand slam.

It's a blooming epidemic, bases-loaded home runs jumping out of ballparks across America. So many, in fact, the Atlanta Braves have created a new page in the National League record book.

Add backup catcher Eddie Perez's name to the tally. His first career grand slam sank another dagger into San Francisco's pennant hopes Tuesday afternoon and tied a major league record as the Braves completed a two-game sweep of the Giants with a 6-4 victory in front of 37,661 fans at Turner Field.

"We got the broom out today finally," manager Bobby Cox said.

Perez's grand slam was the Braves' 11th this season, which set a National League record and tied the major league mark set last year by the Orioles and Mariners. More importantly, it was the Braves' major league-leading 93rd win and lowered their magic number to eight, pending the outcome of Tuesday night's Marlins-Rockies game.

"Tomorrow it's going to be a big deal back home in Venezuela," said Perez, who launched his 402-foot homer against fellow Venezuelan Wilson Alvarez. "The fans follow him and I'm from there too, so I don't know what they're going to do."

The win went to rookie Kevin Millwood (4-3), who pitched six strong innings, allowing three hits and one earned run. It took the Giants six innings to score and when they did, one of the runs was unearned. Perez's throwing error allowed a run to score and J.T. Snow's sacrifice fly tied the game in the sixth, a tie that lasted until Perez reached the plate in the bottom of the inning.

"I don't know if I surprised them, but they didn't know me," Millwood said. "I had a little bit of an advantage there."

From there, the bullpen pitched well until the ninth. Alan Embree struck out the side in the seventh, and Mike Cather pitched a perfect eighth, setting the stage for a disappointing performance by Mark Wohlers.

Wohlers, who blew Greg Maddux's 19th win last Friday night, gave the Giants hope they could turn the tables and produce a memorable ninth inning, like the Braves did less than 24 hours before. He yielded three hits and a pair of runs, allowing Bill Mueller to reach the plate as the potential tying run with two out.

Mueller struck out swinging and the Braves exhaled a giant sigh of relief.

"I'm struggling, not the bullpen," said Wohlers, whose ERA has jumped from 2.77 to 3.41 in his last two appearances. "I made good pitches today, they just got hit. It's frustrating."

Facing Alvarez (3-3) for the first time, the Braves took a 2-0 lead in the fourth inning when Jeff Blauser singled, Chipper Jones set an Atlanta record with his 40th double and Fred McGriff reached 1,000 career RBI with a two-run single.

Alvarez, acquired from the White Sox on July 31, should never have faced Perez in the sixth inning. Second baseman Jeff Kent's error on McGriff's double-play grounder opened the door and the Braves stepped through, loading the bases with one out. Perez, starting because of Javy Lopez's sore right forearm and with only four hits in his last 34 at-bats, drove a 2-2 fastball over the left-center field wall for his sixth homer.

"I was ready for the fastball and that was the only thing I was looking for," he said. "I never thought the ball would go out, but it kept going and going and then I saw the people reaching for it. I was very excited."

So excited, in fact, that when a fan who dropped the ball on the fly but retrieved it from behind the wall brought it to the clubhouse following the game, Perez was delighted to swap an autographed bat for it.

"It was a big hit," he said. "I'll always remember this one."