Originally created 09/13/98

Chen gets first win



ATLANTA -- This is the time of year when you don't need tarot cards to reveal the future.

It's right there in front of you, dressed in an Atlanta Braves uniform and trying to affix a veteran's expression on youthful features.

So it goes every September. Occasionally the rookies stick around. Most times they don't.

Bruce Chen will be around next year. And the year after and the year after that. There's nothing standing between him and membership in a rather exclusive group except three Cy Young winners, a 20-game winner and a second-year pitcher with 15 wins.

Nevertheless, remember the name. Chen, as in win.

The 21-year-old left-hander made his second major league start a Kodak moment Saturday night with a performance reminiscent of any of the Braves' Fab Four. Chen overmatched the Florida Marlins and beat last October's World Series MVP for his first win, striking out seven en route to a 4-2 victory before a sellout crowd of 48,797 fans at Turner Field.

Chen pitched into the seventh inning, then turned the game over the the bullpen. Dennis Martinez, who started his pro career in 1974, three years before Chen was born, retired all five men he faced, then Kerry Ligtenberg pitched the ninth for his 27th save.

In his debut last Monday against the Mets, Chen couldn't keep his pitches down and fell behind hitters consistently. This was a different left-hander. He showed off a hard fastball and a nasty curve, kept the Marlins off-balance and when he needed a big pitch, he made it.

He stranded two runners in the first inning with a strikeout of Derrek Lee and forced a fly from Kevin Orie, then ducked trouble the next inning with two more strikeouts.

Chen yielded a two-out homer to Lee in the third, a nine-iron shot that struck the left field foul pole net, then walked Orie. He showed a measure of maturity by steadying himself and striking out Preston Wilson to end the rally.

The youngster showed more maturity in the fifth after issuing a leadoff walk to Luis Castillo and an RBI triple to Mark Kotsay. With his lead down to only two runs, Chen struck out Lee and coaxed a grounder from Orie, stranding Kotsay at third.

Starting to tire after 105 pitches, Chen allowed a one-out single to Castillo in the seventh and manager Bobby Cox went to the bullpen. He called Martinez and the veteran right-hander got two outs to preserve the lead.

Marlins starter Livan Hernandez, who will forever be remembered in Atlanta as the pitcher who benefited from Eric Gregg's enormous strike zone and beat the Braves with a 15-strikeout performance in Game 5 of the NLCS last October, hasn't had any success against them since then.

The right-hander, 3-7 with a 5.92 ERA since the All-Star break, was a 6-4 loser to the Braves on July 9. Just as he did in that game, he fell behind early, balking home a run and yielding Ryan Klesko's two-run homer in the first inning, then allowed Klesko's RBI double in the third.

Hernandez was in trouble frequently after the third, but did his best work with runners on base. He struck out Klesko with two men on in the fifth, then escaped the sixth after giving up a leadoff double to Andruw Jones.