Originally created 07/21/98

Cubs rip Neagle in 11-4 route



ATLANTA -- If Denny Neagle had to do it over again, he would call in sick.

The left-hander, who took FOX-TV viewers on a tour of Atlanta's clubhouse during a pregame show, should have locked himself in a broom closet. When the television lights went off, he'd already done his best work.

A pitcher who hates to embarrass himself in front of a home crowd came away from Monday night's game with a flushed face and a bruised ego.

Neagle suffered through the worst performance of his career, rocked for nine runs in only four innings as the Braves were soundly thumped by the Chicago Cubs 11-4 in the opener of a brief two-game series in front of a sellout crowd of 47,475 fans at Turner Field.

"That reminded me of 1985," Fox broadcaster Ernie Johnson said.

The Braves, 18-5 against the rest of the National League Central, are 3-5 against the Cubs, one of only three teams they own a losing record against this season.

"The Cubs are showing they're a playoff-caliber team," third baseman Chipper Jones said. "We've got to start playing better against them because we might see them down the road."

Neagle set the tone with an outing of historic proportions. He allowed the first grand slam by a Cubs pitcher in 26 years and offered the worst performance by a Braves starter in the last 614 games.

Who would have believed the Cubs would score 11 runs on a night when Sammy Sosa was 0-for-5?

"For me, this is pretty much a freak outing," Neagle said. "You don't like to go out and embarrass yourself like that. It's a wakeup call for me."

Neagle, the league's only 20-game winner last season, is 3-7 in his last 10 decisions dating back to May 31 and his ERA has jumped from 3.01 to 3.62 during that stretch.

The left-hander, who had allowed five earned runs in his last four starts combined, a stretch covering 26 innings, gave up six extra-base hits and 14 of the 25 hitters he faced reached base. The biggest blow was pitcher Kevin Tapani's grand slam in the third inning, which also happened to be the first home run of his career and the first grand slam by a Cubs pitcher since 1972.

It didn't take long to see that Neagle (10-8) had few weapons. He made his best pitches to Sosa, forcing a bases-loaded fly to end the second and striking him out with a runner in scoring position in the fourth, and saved his worst pitches for everyone else.

In three innings Neagle yielded two doubles, a pair of walks and a grand slam to Kevin Orie, Scott Servais and Tapani, Chicago's 7-8-9 hitters, and the trio scored four runs.

"I was out there pumping one fastball after another and I'm not Nolan Ryan or Randy Johnson," Neagle said. "Without my changeup I felt naked out there. I get a guy 1-and-2 and I can't bury him. It used to be automatic. I've got to figure out somehow, someway to get my good changeup back."

Ex-Brave Jeff Blauser boosted the lead to 9-0 in the fourth with his second home run of the season, a three-run shot that increased Neagle's homers allowed to 19, one more than he gave up all of last season.

By the time Neagle departed after four, he had thrown 105 pitches and equaled his career-high with six walks, in addition to being charged with eight hits and as many earned runs as a Braves starter had allowed in five years.

"That was a rough night," Braves manager Bobby Cox said.

The last Atlanta pitcher to yield as many as nine earned runs was John Smoltz, who allowed four homers to the Reds in the first inning on June 19, 1994 and eventually departed with nine runs tagged next to his name in a 12-4 loss.

Mark Wohlers only made it worse with another disastrous appearance, walking four and allowing a pair of runs in the eighth. He got only two outs while 19 of his 24 pitches, including 17 of his last 18, missed the strike zone.

"There's some concern there, I'll be honest," Cox said. "Hopefully he'll get better. It's got to get a little bit better than what it is."

Given a huge lead, Tapani (11-6) set the cruise control and strolled through seven innings, his only mistakes pitches to Jones in the fourth, who drilled his 26th homer deep into the right field stands, and another to Andruw Jones in the fifth, who clobbered his 14th home run.

On this night, that wasn't nearly enough.