ATLANTA -- The good folks at Fox Sports Net would like to issue an apology to all those fans who tuned in to watch the Mark McGwire Show Friday night.
It was scheduled to go on the air at 7:40, but viewers who flicked on their TV sets at the appointed hour were forced to sit through a two-hour instructional video on the art of pitching.
So, for the 50,662 fans who set an attendance record at Turner Field hoping to see McGwire crush a ball against the Coke bottle atop the left field grandstand, Greg Maddux and Kent Mercker suggest attending a game at another National League venue.
The only show McGwire put on was during batting practice. The remainder of the evening was taken up by two pitchers who defined the word.
Mercker, who wore an Atlanta uniform three years ago, outdueled Maddux in a game that was decided, curiously enough, by an error. Walt Weiss' bobble in the sixth inning was followed by Ray Lankford's homer as the St. Louis Cardinals opened a sold-out weekend with their first-ever victory at Turner Field, a 3-2 victory over the Braves before the fifth-largest crowd in franchise history.
"I think that's one of (Mercker's) better games this year," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "That's a pretty good right-handed hitting lineup he shut down."
Mercker didn't learn he would start until he arrived at the park and discovered Todd Stottlemyre, the scheduled starter, had been traded to the Rangers. He allowed one single after the third inning, then departed after yielding Andres Galarraga's leadoff hit in the ninth. The Braves loaded the bases with one out against reliever Lance Painter, who picked up his first save by striking out pinch hitters Greg Colbrunn and Michael Tucker.
"I get jacked up against these guys," Mercker said. "It's nothing personal, I like everybody on that team."
Mercker (7-8) kept the Braves off-balance by featuring a fastball and changeup almost exclusively. The left-hander, who entered with an 0-2 record and 6.35 ERA in three career appearances against his former club, made just one mistake, a home run pitch to Tony Graffanino in the third.
"He kept us honest with his fastball and threw his changeup exceptionally well," right fielder Gerald Williams said. "He basically pitched a very, very good ballgame."
With the exception of a hanging changeup he threw Lankford, Maddux (14-5) was just as good. He zipped through the first five innings, allowing only two singles, then ran into problems in the sixth. Brian Jordan's one-out single was followed by Weiss' error on McGwire's ground ball, setting the stage for Lankford's 18th homer.
St. Louis' center fielder drove a pitch into the right field stands, the first home run Maddux had yielded in his last 84 innings, a streak dating back to Jeromy Burnitz's ninth-inning homer in Milwaukee on June 1.
"I made a mistake to Lankford and it cost us the game," Maddux said. "I was trying to throw a good changeup. I threw a bad one. It hung."
The man the crowd came to see was hitless in three at-bats, including a pair of strikeouts. McGwire, baseball's home-run leader, was greeted with an ovation and a storm of flash bulbs in each of his four plate appearances. Maddux denied the hulking McGwire or the crowd had anything to do with the bad changeup in the sixth.
"Yeah, McGwire is a good hitter, but there are eight other guys I have to get out too," he said. "I felt as mentally tough on Mercker as I did on McGwire."
It wasn't McGwire, but Graffanino who went deep first. He clobbered a pitch into the left field stands in the third with Weiss on base, giving him two home runs and seven RBI in his last three games.
But that was it for an offense that had rung up 24 runs in its last two games.
"We knew going in (Mercker) had a good changeup and we knew he liked to work up with his fastball," Graffanino said. "He was mixing his pitches up and he didn't make any mistakes."
St. Louis -- 0 0 0 0 0 3 0 0 0 -- 3 8 0
Atlanta -- 0 0 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 -- 2 7 1
a-was intentionally walked for Perez in the 9th. b-struck out for Weiss in the 9th. c-struck out for Maddux in the 9th.
E -- Weiss (9). LOB -- St. Louis 8, Atlanta 7. 2B -- Polanco (1). HR -- RLankford (18) off GMaddux; Graffanino (5) off Mercker. RBIs -- RLankford 3 (64), Graffanino 2 (17). SB -- BJordan (12). CS -- GerWilliams (4), Galarraga (5). S -- Mercker, DBautista, GMaddux.
Runners left in scoring position -- St. Louis 4 (BJordan, McGwire, BRHunter, Polanco); Atlanta 4 (Weiss, Tucker 2).
Runners moved up -- PKelly, EddPerez.
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