Originally created 09/30/97

Lofton run fuels Braves' win



ATLANTA (AP) - Greg Maddux gave the Braves the kind of pitching they take for granted. But it was Kenny Lofton who finally showed Atlanta what a little speed can do.

Lofton, hampered most of the season by a pulled groin muscle, created a first-inning run with his daring on the basepaths, and Maddux limited Houston to seven singles as Atlanta defeated the Astros 2-1 in the first game of NL division series Tuesday afternoon.

Darryl Kile and two relievers held the Braves to only two hits - none after the first pitch in the second inning - but Atlanta scored a run off each one, showing the experience of making an unprecedented sixth straight postseason appearance.

Houston, making its first postseason appearance since 1986, has played the Braves close all year. The 11 regular-season games each were decided by one or two runs, with Atlanta winning seven.

Atlanta, a one-base-at-a-time team during most of its run as the team of the '90s, acquired Lofton in a blockbuster trade with Cleveland during training camp. But the injury and unfamiliarity with NL pitchers held him to 27 stolen bases, the lowest output of his major league career in a full season.

Lofton, insisting he was healthy heading into the postseason, demonstrated that in the very first inning. He blooped a hit just inside the left-field line and turned on the speed to stretch it to a double.

Lofton tagged and sprinted for third on a fly to medium right, sliding in just ahead of the throw from Derek Bell. Chipper Jones brought home the run with another fly to left.

Ryan Klesko led off the second with a homer to right, giving the Braves a 2-0 lead. That would be their final hit of the day, but that was all they needed with Maddux on the mound - especially in a day game. He was 10-0 with a 1.94 ERA in daytime starts during the season.

Working on eight days' rest, the four-time Cy Young Award winner allowed more than one hit in only one inning and shut down the top three hitters in Houston's order. Craig Biggio, Bell and Jeff Bagwell were a combined 0-for-12 with three strikeouts.

Bagwell, who had 43 homers and 135 RBIs, struck out swinging in the eighth with a runner at second. Maddux's 114-pitch complete game ensured the Braves didn't have to go to their shaky bullpen.

The Astros scored a most unlikely run in the fifth. With one out, Tony Eusebio singled and stunned the Braves with the first stolen base of his major league career. The slow-running catcher has gone 296 regular-season games without swiping a base.

Eusebio moved to third on a groundout and scored on Kile's single up the middle. Kile, who hit .124 with 38 strikeouts in 89 at-bats this season, was 2-for-2 against Maddux.

Fans in Atlanta have apparently grown so accustomed to postseason baseball that the Braves failed to sell out a division playoff game for the second year in a row. Attendance at Turner Field was 46,467 - about 3,000 short of capacity. Notes: The Braves are now 7-1 in three NL division series. ... Game 1 marked the earliest start to postseason play since Sept. 28, 1955, when the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Yankees met in the first game of the World Series. ... Bobby Cox of the Braves is the winningest manager in postseason history with 39 victories. ... The Astros have the worst record among the eight playoff teams, but they've been consistent winners over the past six years. The last time Houston had a losing record in the regular season was 1991 (65-97). ... Houston's Larry Dierker was the first rookie manager to take his team to the playoffs since Hal Lanier, also of the Astros, in 1986. ... The starters for Game 2 are Tom Glavine (14-7) for Atlanta and Mike Hampton (15-10) for Houston.