Originally created 04/09/00

Galarraga saves Braves again with slam



ATLANTA -- If there's a familiar ring to this song, blame the maestro.

Andres Galarraga isn't just marching to the beat of his own drummer. He's producing his own symphony.

The Braves have played five games, and he's won three of them with home runs. At this rate, he'll not only win the Comeback Player of the Year, he'll take home MVP honors in a landslide.

Galarraga, who hit a solo homer on Opening Day and a three-run shot Wednesday, did the honors again by launching a grand slam into the teeth of Saturday night's gale, carrying the Braves to a 7-5 victory over the Giants before a chapped and chilled crowd of 35,343 fans at Turner Field.

"That's as hard a hit ball as I've seen," manager Bobby Cox said. "It was almost impossible to hit one out in that area, and it made a funny sound when he hit it. I think he's in midseason form."

Galarraga's fifth-inning blast off San Francisco starter Livan Hernandez capped a comeback from a 3-0 deficit and gave him nine RBI in his first 16 at-bats. It also made a winner of Greg Maddux, who has won six straight April decisions dating back to last year.

Maddux, who gave up six hits and three runs in the first two innings, settled down and didn't allow another run until Felipe Crespo sent a solo homer into the right field crowd in the seventh. He made 70 pitches in seven innings, allowing eight hits while striking out four.

It was the type of performance the Braves have come to expect from their four-time Cy Young winner. Working in the sort of conditions the Giants are accustomed to at their former stomping grounds at Candlestick Point, he changed speeds effectively, used his fastball on the inside corner against left-handers and didn't issue a walk.

"When it's windy, you have a chance to have better stuff," he said. "I thought I had a lot better stuff tonight than five days ago."

Beating the Giants has become Maddux's third-favorite pastime. He's beaten only two other teams -- the Mets and Phillies -- more often than San Francisco, and of his 20 wins against the Giants, 12 have come in Atlanta.

On the flip side of Maddux's success is Hernandez.

Without Eric Gregg on hand to provide a Texas-sized strike zone, Hernandez has been heading in the opposite direction of his older brother, the Yankees' Orlando Hernandez. Since his infamous 15-strikeout performance against the Braves in the 1997 NLCS, the ample right-hander is 18-26, including losing both starts this month.

Hernandez cruised through the early innings, then gave up a pair of runs on Rafael Furcal's first major-league RBI and Chipper Jones' double in the third, and fell apart in the fifth. Maddux's second career triple was the catalyst to a rally that resulted in the Braves' first lead of the series.

Reggie Sanders and Jones accepted two-out walks, the latter incensing the Giants because Hernandez thought home plate umpire Mark Hirschbeck missed two third-strike calls. That brought Galarraga to the plate, and he sent Hernandez's first pitch hurtling into the left-center field stands, his 10th career grand slam and first since May 31, 1997, against then-Marlins pitcher Kevin Brown.

"When you put a team in a hole by three runs, somebody is going to have to do something pretty special to come back," Maddux said. "Cat did."

Reach Bill Zack at bzack30143@aol.com.