Originally created 09/17/00

Rocker rescues Braves



PHOENIX -- There is still one game left here, one more shot against a playoff-caliber opponent with the New York Mets dead ahead.

With their greatest explosion of offense since July 29, a third of it supplied by the surprising Reggie Sanders, the Braves survived a six-run ninth inning and spiked the Arizona Diamondbacks' playoff hopes with a 12-10 win Saturday afternoon at Bank One Ballpark and headed into today's series finale against Curt Schilling with their magic number reduced to 13.

Any combination of Braves wins and Mets losses totaling 13 and the Braves will clinch a ninth straight division championship.

"It would have been devastating for us to lose that game," said fifth starter John Burkett, who improved to 9-6. "That's the weird thing about this game. You never know which run is going to be the winner."

The Diamondbacks made a game of it by beating up relievers Scott Kamieniecki and Terry Mulholland in the ninth, scoring six runs on six straight hits.

John Rocker then came on and rescued the relief corps, striking out the side for his 22nd save. The save was the bullpen's 51st, matching the 1982 franchise record.

"I was remembering the Mets game and saying, no way," said right fielder Brian Jordan, referring to New York's 10-run eighth inning June 30 that turned a Braves' 8-1 lead into an 11-8 loss. "I was also saying this could be the last time me and Chipper (Jones) get out of a game early."

In a remarkable contrast with Friday night's 2-1 loss, the Braves pummeled Diamondbacks starter Todd Stottlemyre and four relievers before a packed house (41,470), blasting four home runs, including a pair of two-run homers by Sanders, and rang up 14 hits.

"It's a fun time right now," said Sanders, who hit only three home runs in July and August combined, "but that was a screamer of a game."

Burkett, who had made six starts without a win, was the beneficiary of the Braves' most offense since a 13-5 rout of the Astros nearly two months ago. It must have looked familiar to the right-hander. He was on the mound that day, too.

In his longest outing since July 29, which also was the last time he came away with a win, Burkett went 6 2/3 innings and allowed eight hits and four runs.

"I feel good about giving up three runs early and being able to settle down," he said. "With some help from defensive plays, I was able to get through the middle innings."

Arizona started the day four games in back of the Mets in the chase for the wild-card spot, but ended it with its three-game win streak in tatters and needing a win this afternoon to claim its first-ever season series here against the Braves.

Stottlemyre was a reprieve from Randy Johnson. After scoring one run against Johnson and Arizona's bullpen some 15 hours earlier, the Braves teed off on Stottlemyre (9-6), pummeling him with five hits and seven runs in three innings.

"I didn't give us much of a chance," Stottlemyre said.

Sanders was responsible for much of the carnage, launching a 412-foot home run into the right-center field swimming pool (splashdown No. 18 in Bank One's brief history) in the second and lining another two-run home run (No. 10) inches over the left field fence to key a five-run third.

Stottlemyre fell to 0-6 against the Braves.

"I feel like I'm getting started," said Sanders, who is hitting .270 since Aug. 15. "For the most part, I'm swinging the bat pretty well."

The Braves padded their lead in the fifth when Sanders walked, stole second and scored on Burkett's single to make it 8-3. Rafael Furcal followed by belting his second home run against reliever Russ Springer into the right field grandstand, a drive estimated at 382 feet.

Andres Galarraga hit the Braves' fourth home run of the game in the eighth, launching a 2-and-2 delivery from reliever Geraldo Guzman into the left-center field seats.

"We kept putting up runs, and it's a good thing we did," Burkett said.

Reach Bill Zack at bzack30143@aol.com.