PITTSBURGH -- If Tom Glavine is right and the Atlanta Braves are focusing more on their disabled list than the pennant race, then the final two months likely will be a 1980s reenactment of mediocrity.
A partial answer to the hold 'em or fold 'em question arrived Thursday night from a group of hitters who spent the first two days in the Iron City wondering whether Louisville had sent them a bad batch of Sluggers.
After making a .500 career pitcher look like Lefty Grove for six innings, the Braves took advantage of the Pirates bullpen and rescued the series finale with a 6-3 victory before a crowd of 19,078 fans to avoid being swept in three games at Three Rivers Stadium for the first time since 1994.
"You never want to get swept, particularly right now when we're in second place and battling for a playoff spot," Glavine said. "Also from a confidence standpoint. We wanted to get a positive feeling back heading back home."
Limited to nine hits and three runs in the first two games, the Braves rallied from a 3-1 deficit to tie the game in the seventh inning on Ryan Klesko's sacrifice fly. Pinch hitter Keith Lockhart delivered the knockout blow in the eighth with a two-out, bases-loaded double against reliever Greg Hansell. It was the team's biggest hit this month and allowed the Braves to close to within 1 1/2 games of the idle first-place Mets.
"With two outs I'm just trying to battle and survive and hit the ball hard," Lockhart said. "We really haven't had a whole lot of offense lately and it had to turn around sometime."
Bidding to move his record above .500 for the first time this season, Glavine offered another solid start and came away with nothing but a pat on the back. He went six innings and matched his season-high with eight strikeouts, but left with a no-decision thanks to a Freddy Garcia home run in the sixth.
That's been the story of Glavine's season. The left-hander, 15-4 at this point in 1998, has a 3.45 ERA over his last 11 starts, but has only six wins and three no-decisions to show for it.
Glavine refused to let the game get away from him in the first inning, striking out Ed Sprague and Dale Sveum with one run in and runners on second and third. He made another neat escape in the fifth when he got John Wehner and Kevin Young with two more runners in scoring position.
"I seem to pitch an inning too long or an inning too short this year," Glavine said. "I had good stuff and good location. Usually (that adds up to a win), but this year they've been hard to come by."
Atlanta's bullpen did sterling work, working three hitless innings to secure the victory. Mike Remlinger (3-1) benefited from the three-run eighth to pick up the win, and John Rocker walked the first hitter he faced in the ninth, then struck out the side for his 22nd save.
Not surprisingly for a lineup that had been no-hit in 11 of 18 innings in the first two games, the Braves made Pete Schourek look like a Cy Young winner. The first nine hitters went like dominoes before Gerald Williams' leadoff single in the fourth broke the spell. Chipper Jones walked, Williams swiped third and Brian Jordan's infield roller scored him with the tying run.
By current standards, that represented a rally.
Schourek, 3-5 with a 4.73 ERA as a starter this season, lasted six innings and allowed five hits and three runs, ushering in a bullpen that's been walloped for 16 runs over its last 11 innings.
Brian Hunter battled back from a 1-and-2 hole against Hansell (1-2) in the seventh to deliver an RBI single, then Klesko's sacrifice fly tied the game. Hansell was still on the mound in the eighth when Jones walked and Jordan looped a single into right. Jose Hernandez, following up a disastrous Wednesday night debut with a pair of singles, accepted another walk and Lockhart lined a full-count fastball into right-center field to send the Braves home happy.
"Very big game," Jones said. "We finally got a break. You can play well, but if you don't get breaks, things tend to fall apart on you."
Now all the Braves have to do is hold things together for three more months.
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