Originally created 04/10/98

Braves win on homers by Klesko



PITTSBURGH -- As dark clouds piled up over Three Rivers Stadium Thursday afternoon, Ryan Klesko turned to Kevin Millwood and promised him a steak dinner if he pitched a perfect fifth inning.

Hello? Ruth Chris'? How's your porterhouse tonight?

Millwood did his part with his only 1-2-3 inning and Klesko became the third straight Brave to homer twice as Atlanta won the series from the Pittsburgh Pirates 4-3 before a crowd of 9,560 fans.

"With the rain coming, I wanted to make the game official," Klesko said. "Kevin did his job, so I'm buying."

The Pirates refused to go quietly. They stormed back from a 4-0 deficit, scoring three times in the seventh, then made the ninth inning another Maalox moment for closer Mark Wohlers.

It began ominously when Turner Ward walked. Tony Womack beat out a bunt. Jason Kendall bunted the runners along. One out, two men in scoring position and what was Wohlers thinking?

"I just told myself that we were winning this ballgame. I just didn't know how," he said. "Ryan had a heck of a game, and Millwood pitched a great game and I didn't want to see it go to waste."

Al Martin, 3-for-6 against Wohlers in his career, was next. Mixing 97 mph fastballs, sliders and one split-finger, Wohlers struck him out. Kevin Young, who had tightened the game with a two-out RBI single in the seventh, ended it with a ground ball to shortstop Walt Weiss.

"This is the way I started last year," said Wohlers, who picked up his second save. "I saved a few in a row and they were pretty interesting, like this one."

In the series opener, Chipper Jones homered twice. It was Andres Galarraga's turn Wednesday, then Klesko's. His first home run of the season was a bases-empty shot against Pirates starter Jon Lieber (0-1) in the second inning, then he delivered a two-run blast over the left-field wall in the fourth.

Klesko's three RBI, plus Galarraga's two-out, run-scoring single in the first inning was just enough offense for Millwood and the bullpen.

"I've been making contact, but I haven't been stinging the ball," said Klesko, now 8-for-13 against Lieber. "I hadn't really driven a pitch hard. I haven't been embarrassing myself, but I haven't been good with pitch selection. A lot of this game is mental, so I just sat down and told myself I wanted to get good pitches to hit."

After opening the series with 14 hits and 11 runs, Atlanta's offense produced 13 hits and seven runs in the past two games. Fortunately for the Braves, four of the hits were home runs.

"Klesko had two homers, Galarraga had two, Chipper had two and Lopez hit one," manager Bobby Cox said. "I thought we hit the ball pretty good."

Each time Millwood (1-0) got into trouble, he used a strikeout to escape. With Womack perched on third base, he ended the first inning by striking out Young, finished the fourth with a strikeout of Doug Strange, then stranded two runners in the sixth by throwing a third strike past Jose Guillen.

Millwood worked into the seventh before tiring and departed with two walks and seven strikeouts.

"It seemed today was easier to strike guys out with the fastball," he said. "I wasn't going after strikeouts, but they were just missing balls and it made it kind of convenient."

Kerry Ligtenberg took over for Millwood in the seventh and allowed two inherited runners to score. He worked a perfect eighth, then gave way to Wohlers in the ninth.

By that time the clouds had drifted past and the rain was gone, leaving Klesko to ponder this question: How do you like your steak, Kevin?