LOS ANGELES -- For all the criticism the bullpen has taken this season, the relievers are getting the job done on this trip and silencing their critics. With one game remaining, the bullpen has a 1.88 ERA during the three-city tour and Kerry Ligtenberg is making Mark Wohlers look more and more expendable.
"Obviously it's nice to do well so (the media) will get off our backs a little bit," Ligtenberg said. "I think we're doing a good job. We're settling into certain roles."
The Braves have discovered a solid setup man in Rudy Seanez and a long reliever in Dennis Martinez. If left-hander John Rocker can throw strikes consistently and handle the pressure of the postseason, that's all the club needs to advance to a fifth World Series this decade.
"The bullpen was the name of the game tonight," Bobby Cox said following Friday night's 5-2 victory. "We've got a pretty good thing going."
What the Braves have is a collection of independent league refugees, castoffs and journeymen who have developed into a solid bullpen. Seanez, along with Ligtenberg, is the season's biggest surprise, a reliever who has never spent a full season in the majors and is with his seventh organization.
He didn't make the club out of spring training, then was called up from Class AAA Richmond May 30 and has posted a 4-0 record and 2.22 ERA in 22 games. The right-hander's turnaround can be traced to his command of three pitches -- a hard sinker, a split-finger he uses as a changeup and a "rinky-dink curve" -- which have led to 32 strikeouts in 24 innings.
"It's a great story because of what he's had to go through and endure," Cox said. "He's a pitcher now and he still has a good fastball."
Seanez's return to Los Angeles, where he pitched in parts of 1994-95, was low-key and unemotional, traits he has demonstrated since joining the club.
"I try and treat all my outings the same way," he said. "I try not to get any emotion into it because that's when I get hurt. I try and leave that out of it. I can't let myself get too down or too high on anything."
Seanez, who will turn 30 in October, and Ligtenberg have helped the Braves shorten games to seven innings. When they hold a lead after seven, they have won 71 of 78 games this season. With a lead after eight, their record is 72-2.
In the past, the bullpen has always been the club's biggest question mark in the postseason. Now, six weeks before the playoffs start, it's a strength, not a weakness.
As Cox acknowledged, all he needs is three or four relievers to be pitching well in October and he can make the combination work.
"If you have to use more than two or three in a game you're in deep trouble anyway," he said.
LOCKHART STUNG: Second baseman Keith Lockhart fouled a pitch off his right knee in a fourth-inning at-bat Friday night and though he indicated he was fine Saturday, Cox gave Tony Graffanino a rare start against a right-handed pitcher.
"It's hard to do," Lockhart said, identifying the pitch as a slider. "If you're fouling it off your knee, it's not a strike. I've seen people do it before and I'm like, `how do you do that?' I don't know if the ball would have hit me if I didn't swing at it."
MILLWOOD INJURED: Kevin Millwood left Friday's game after five innings with a sprained right ankle suffered while running out a ground ball and he was still limping Saturday morning. However, Monday's day off will give him an extra day's rest and he doesn't expect to miss his next start.
"I crossed first base and I kind of rolled my ankle a little bit," Millwood said. "It was sore, but I could still pitch. It was Bobby's decision and it was probably the right one."
After the game Cox was asked about Millwood's injury and he wryly noted, "I didn't think he ran fast enough to get hurt, but he did."
CHIPPER REACHES 100: By scoring a run Saturday, Chipper Jones reached 100 runs and became the first Brave to post 100 runs in three consecutive seasons since Hank Aaron did it for 13 straight years (1955-67) and Eddie Mathews accomplished the feat four years in a row 1959-62.
Jones is also six RBI away from becoming the first Brave to drive in 100 runs in three straight seasons since Dale Murphy did it four years in a row 1982-85.
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