Originally created 05/08/99

Braves pitching self-destructs



SAN DIEGO -- Just when the Atlanta Braves figured they had a bullpen to be proud of, it self-destructed in a most gruesome way.

Parts are still being fished out of the Pacific.

In the most hideous reproduction of a 1989 bullpen the Braves have offered this season, the relief corps opened up a nine-game road trip by giving away a game to the last-place Padres.

Asked to protect a 3-1 lead, a trio of relievers combined to yield five hits and three runs in the eighth inning Friday night and San Diego's bullpen no-hit Atlanta over the final four innings in a 4-3 victory before 26,765 fans at Qualcomm Stadium.

"Three hits in a row with a two-run lead, that's pretty bad," said John Rocker, who was saddled with his second loss. "There's not a whole lot of positives to take out of that one."

In search of his third win, Kevin Millwood deserved a better fate. He worked 6 13 innings and allowed one run, while striking out six, and departed with a 3-1 lead. The bullpen, 5-for-10 in save opportunities this season, couldn't hold it.

Rudy Seanez, who entered with an 0.69 ERA, made the critical mistake of walking the leadoff hitter in the eighth and it snowballed into a big inning. Reggie Sanders followed with a double, then Rocker came on and Tony Gwynn hit his first pitch into center field to tie the game and Phil Nevin's single gave the Padres a lead.

"When you start an inning like that, nothing good ever comes out of it," Seanez said. "We've been pretty good, but tonight was just one of those nights."

Catcher Javy Lopez was scratched from the lineup just before the start of the game after learning of the death of his mother in Puerto Rico. He was expected to fly home and rejoin the club next week.

Padres starter Matt Clement yielded all of Atlanta's runs in the first inning when he walked leadoff hitter Otis Nixon, then took Bret Boone's hard grounder off his right ankle and went down in a heap. After taking a few minutes to hobble around and recover, the rookie right-hander gave up an RBI single to Brian Jordan, then his error led to another run and Andruw Jones' grounder made it 3-0.

Clement lasted five and departed having allowed just one earned run, yet trailed 3-1. The difference in the game was, San Diego's relievers kept the game close, refusing to yield a hit over the last four innings.

Brian Boehringer (1-1) was credited with the win and Trevor Hoffman picked up his fourth save despite issuing a leadoff walk to Chipper Jones in the ninth. Jones was left stranded on third base when Andruw Jones went down swinging.

Millwood was strong right from the start. He cruised through three innings, yielding only one harmless single, then gave up a run in the fourth when Reggie Sanders singled and scored on George Arias' fielder's choice.

That was all for a San Diego lineup that hit only .222 on a just-completed road trip until the eighth inning. The Padres mounted a threat in the seventh when Jones couldn't make a shoestring catch of Phil Nevin's sinking liner that went for a double and Ruben Rivera delivered a one-out single.

That brought Bobby Cox out of the dugout and he called in Mike Remlinger to face pinch hitter Eric Owens. The rally faded as quickly as it developed when Rivera was caught trying to advance when a pitch briefly got away from Perez and Owens grounded out.

The next inning the bullpen blew up.

"They had a big inning and beat us," Cox said. "It hasn't happened hardly at all this season. We know we're not going to be perfect."