Originally created 04/18/99

Braves fail to close win



DENVER -- Throw open the bullpen doors, the Atlanta Braves are looking for a closer -- again.

Twenty-four hours after dealing away Mark Wohlers, the Braves found themselves in dire need of a closer, any closer.

John Rocker, who converted just two of four save opportunities last year, demonstrated he needs more than a 100 m.p.h. fastball if he wants the job.

In a ninth inning straight out of 1989, the second-year reliever blew a two-run lead Saturday afternoon and spoiled Tom Glavine's remarkable performance, allowing the Colorado Rockies to escape with a 5-4 victory before 42,510 fans at Coors Field.

"I'm confused, really," Rocker said. "That was probably the best stuff I've ever had. I probably had not given up three runs in an inning in a year and a half."

Making his first appearance since April 9, Rocker got the first out in the ninth, then walked Todd Helton and gave up a base hit to Mike Lansing. A walk to pinch hitter Pat Watkins, batting .091, loaded the bases for pinch hitter Angel Echevarria, who delivered a two-run single to tie the game. Darryl Hamilton's base hit sent Watkins across the plate with the winning run.

"You walk guys in the ninth inning, you're going to get beat, it's as simple as that," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "We played flawlessly until that inning. You don't see really good ballgames like that here unless something happens and it did in the ninth inning."

Given a choice, most pitchers would prefer working with only two outfielders to pitching at Coors. The exception is Glavine, who could teach a course in pitching in mile-high conditions.

Atlanta's left-hander, who owns two of the seven shutouts pitched at Coors since it opened four years ago, pitched seven superb innings, allowing seven hits and a pair of runs. After two shaky starts, he was back in Cy Young form, yet came away with a no-decision.

"If it wasn't for bad luck, I wouldn't have any luck," Glavine said. "No question it would have been nice getting that first win under my belt and getting going."

Glavine, who had allowed 10 earned runs in 12 2/3 innings, made an adjustment with his leg kick which allowed him to get his pitches down in the strike zone. The results were immediately evident as he got nine ground-ball outs and five strikeouts.

"This is not a pitcher's ballpark," he said. "To come in struggling, then have to pitch here is not the ideal circumstances to turn things around. But I've pitched well here. Some of it is the mindset coming in; you're either going to be intimidated or you're going to buckle down and realize you've got to make good pitches."

Colorado's Darryl Kile pitched almost as well as Glavine, not allowing an RBI hit in seven innings. The Braves scored an unearned run in the second, then sacrifice flies by Chipper Jones in the fifth inning and Otis Nixon in the seventh made it 3-2. Brian Jordan's third homer against reliever Jerry Dipoto in the eighth gave Atlanta an extra run.

Atlanta's bullpen, 2-for-3 in save opportunities this season, set up the ninth inning perfectly for Rocker. Rudy Seanez worked a scoreless eighth, then Rocker got Vinny Castilla to fly out to open the ninth.

"Helton's at-bat was the key," said Rocker, who had struck out six straight hitters in his last two appearances. "Two outs and nobody on, it's pretty much a done deal."

Instead, the Rockies demonstrated great patience at the plate and the inning collapsed around Rocker.

"How did they get cuts that good on 99 and 100 m.p.h. fastballs?" Rocker wondered. "Stuff happens. I know I'm not going to change my pitching philosophy."