Originally created 09/21/03

11th-inning home run wipes out Braves' rally

ATLANTA - Last weekend in Miami, Gary Sheffield urged the Atlanta Braves to deliver a message to the upstart Florida Marlins.

Bury their confidence now, he said, so they won't believe they can beat us in the playoffs later.

The message didn't take hold immediately, and it appears to have been lost in transit. On a Saturday night when the Braves welcomed back closer John Smoltz, Javy Lopez hit a record-tying home run and Sheffield collected his 2,000th hit, the Marlins squandered a 5-1 lead, then regrouped and slipped away with a 6-5 win on Miguel Cabrera's 11th-inning home run against Will Cunnane.

"I've got to believe that coming back from a 5-1 deficit speaks volumes about our team," said shortstop Mark DeRosa, who tied the score at 5 with a two-out single in the ninth. "Being able to play teams that are fighting for their lives makes us buckle down and play harder, which hopefully, will carry over to the postseason."

The Marlins reclaimed a half-game lead in the wild-card race, after the Cincinnati Reds defeated the Philadelphia Phillies 2-0.

Smoltz, who had not pitched since going on the disabled list Aug. 24 with elbow tendinitis, buoyed the crowd by retiring the only batter he faced in the ninth. Lopez homered against Looper in the ninth, matching Todd Hundley's 1996 major league record for catchers.

"I didn't let it go like I will," Smoltz said. "It felt awkward, but things did slow down. I need to gauge what I can do in the next seven days. Baby steps, and then once I get that (full) inning and that save, I'm back."

With a Turner Field crowd of 42,496 fans on its feet, the Braves rallied for two runs on Sheffield's 37th home run against reliever Ugueth Urbina in the eighth. The Braves tied the game in the bottom of the ninth on Lopez's 42nd home run and DeRosa's run-scoring single off Marlins closer Braden Looper.

"Finally, I can rest better now," Lopez said. "Just to tie the record is when you try the most. Now, I'm just going to let the record happen."

For Looper, it was his sixth blown save of the season and his third against the Braves.

The Braves set a franchise record by using nine pitchers and tied a franchise record by using 26 players.

In the 10th, the Braves loaded the bases with one out, but shortstop Alex Gonzalez gloved pinch hitter Rafael Furcal's smash and forced Sheffield at the plate. Reliever Rick Helling then coaxed a harmless fly from pinch hitter Johnny Estrada to end the inning.

"I thought we had it," Atlanta manager Bobby Cox said. "Furcal hit the ball right on the button, but it happened to be right at Gonzalez. We bounced back pretty good."

Horacio Ramirez has issued four or more walks in 11 of his 28 starts. So, it was not surprising to see Ramirez's radar malfunction again, the Marlins turning his five walks into three runs.

Ramirez has pitched far better than his 11-4 record would suggest, although that was not the case against the Marlins, who waited patiently for his mistakes, scoring four runs with two outs.

After Ramirez zipped through the first five Marlins, he went walk, walk, infield hit with two outs in the second, followed by pitcher Brad Penny's bases-clearing double.

The 23-year-old left-hander, a winner of his past three decisions, was chased in the fifth, departing with this line: 4 2/3 IP, 7 H, 5 W, 0 K, 4 R.

"Walk five guys, give up a hit to the pitcher, balk, throw a wild pitch, it wasn't my greatest game," Ramirez said. "Give some credit to them. They laid off some pretty good change-ups and sinkers, and then hit my mistakes hard."

Reach Bill Zack at bzack30143@aol.com.


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