Originally created 09/30/03

Big crowds expected for first two games at Turner Field



ATLANTA -- Here's a change: The Atlanta Braves are expecting sellout crowds for the first two games of their division series against the Chicago Cubs.

Of course, there might be a bunch of Cubs' fans filling the seats.

"Our fans are everywhere," Chicago manager Dusty Baker said Monday, a day before the best-of-five series opens at Turner Field. "Any tickets that haven't been sold, I hope they show up in droves and buy the rest of them."

The Braves have failed to sell out at least 15 postseason games since moving to Turner Field in 1997. This year, they benefited from playing the Cubs, which led to a more favorable television schedule.

Hoping to cash in on Chicago's popularity and surprising success, TV executives scheduled the first two games in prime time, which makes it easier for Atlanta fans to attend after work.

"I think we'll see pretty good crowds here," Braves general manager John Schuerholz said.

Atlanta hasn't sold out any postseason games the last two years, but team officials were so confident of a sellout for Game 1 they announced that standing-room tickets would be sold beginning Tuesday afternoon.

"I've been asked all week why they don't sell out here," said Cubs reliever Mike Remlinger, who pitched for the Braves from 1999-02. "As a player, it was frustrating. But the fans we had were great fans."

The Cubs set an attendance record this season, though Remlinger wonders how Chicago's fans would react to a prolonged period of success.

"If we won the division 12 years in a row, would we still get a sellout in the first round?" he said. "I'd like to find out."

PLAYOFF ROSTERS: Neither team released its 25-man roster for the opening-round series, but several Braves players revealed their postseason fate.

Reliever Jaret Wright, picked up off waivers from San Diego, will be on the roster. No. 5 starter Shane Reynolds (11-9) will not.

"It's very disappointing," Reynolds said. "Then again, I'm a team player. I want what gives us the best chance to win."

Reynolds will continue to work out with the team and hopes to be included on the roster for the NL championship series if the Braves get by the Cubs.

Wright, who is 2-5 with a 7.35 ERA overall, has pitched well since being claimed by the Braves on Aug. 29. In 11 appearances covering nine innings, he went 1-0 with a 2.00 ERA.

This is quite a comeback for Wright, who was one of baseball's most promising pitchers when he started Game 7 of the 1997 World Series for Cleveland.

"It feels like 20 years ago," said Wright, who has been plagued by shoulder problems. "I lot of stuff has happened since then. This is definitely a good place to be."

With Wright on the roster, the Braves are likely to carry 11 pitchers: Starters Russ Ortiz, Mike Hampton, Greg Maddox and Horacio Ramirez and relievers John Smoltz, Ray King, Kent Mercker, Kevin Gryboski, Will Cunnane, Roberto Hernandez and Wright.

Among position players, look for the Braves to keep catcher Johnny Estrada and infielder Jesse Garcia, who spent most of the season at Triple-A. Since three catchers aren't likely to be needed, season-long backup Henry Blanco could be left off the division series roster.

Blanco had a disappointing season, batting just .199 and struggling defensively.

Chicago manager Dusty Baker said he still had to meet with his coaches before setting the roster. The teams have a 10 a.m. Tuesday deadline to make their decisions.

WHERE'S SMOLTZ: John Smoltz, who may be the key to Atlanta's postseason fortunes, wasn't around for Monday's workout.

Smoltz apparently attended a private team meeting, but he wasn't seen after the players took the field.

Smoltz missed nearly a month with a sore elbow, but returned to pitch the final week of the regular season. He had 45 saves and a 1.12 ERA, but blew a two-run lead in his last appearance at Philadelphia on Saturday.

"He's as close to 100 percent as he's been in the last month," manager Bobby Cox said. "I thought he threw the ball well in Philadelphia. We lost the game, but he threw well. John's feeling good, and it wouldn't surprise me if he pitched in five of the five ballgames."

REM RETURNS: The last four years, Mike Remlinger went to the playoffs in a Braves uniform. He returned to Turner Field on Monday with the visiting team.

Remlinger signed with the Cubs during the offseason and, just as he did in Atlanta, played a valuable role as a setup reliever. The left-hander went 6-5 with a 3.65 ERA in 73 games.

"Every night, I dreamed about getting back," Remlinger said. "It's great to be back and play these guys. If you beat this team, it says something about your own team."

JAVY'S BOAST: Javy Lopez created a bit of a firestorm by saying the Braves were a more cohesive team than the Cubs.

"No way they can beat us as a unit," Lopez was quoted as saying before the Atlanta's final regular-season game at Philadelphia. "We've had the same guys since Day 1."

A day later, Lopez clarified his remarks, saying he didn't mean to be critical of the Cubs. He was referring to Chicago acquiring Kenny Lofton, Aramis Ramirez and Randall Simon during the season.

"They asked me about team chemistry, would it be an advantage for us," Lopez said. "I thought it would be an advantage for our team because they were just put together."

For the most part, the Cubs brushed off Lopez's comment.

"You don't really know he said it or if that's how he said it," manager Dusty Baker said. "Every man can say what he wants to say, but it's up to both sides to determine who is right and who is wrong and who is the best in the five-game series."

EXTRA BASES: Braves RHP Darren Holmes is done for the season with a rotator cuff injury. He already had been on the DL once this year, and the shoulder began acting up again when he pitched Saturday. He plans to have surgery. ... Russ Ortiz, who will start for the Braves in Game 1, didn't face the Cubs this year. Ditto for Chicago's Kerry Wood, who will be making his first appearance of the year against Atlanta. ... Sammy Sosa batted .520 (13 of 25) against the Braves this season, but he wasn't the team leader. Journeyman Tom Goodwin was 11 of 19 (.579). Of course, Sosa caused more damage with four homers and 11 RBIs.