10/03/2003 11:12 PM ET
Braves on short end of duel
By Mark Bowman / MLB.com
Game 3 wrapup: CHC 3, ATL 1
CHICAGO -- For more than a decade, the Braves have benefited from the proven age-old theory that good pitching will overcome good hitting.
While the theory still holds true, it's not exactly working in the Braves' favor during this year's National League Division Series.
Mark Prior, the anchor of a young and talented Cubs starting rotation, stood tall and delivered an epic postseason performance against Greg Maddux and a potent Braves lineup during a 3-1, Game 3 victory that will be forever cherished by the 39,982 fans that saw Friday night's game at Wrigley Field.
"This is supposed to be the best lineup in baseball and we just haven't shown that," said Robert Fick, who has gone hitless in 10 at-bats during the series. "Now we're in a position, where there is no tomorrow. Maybe that will get us going."
It's no secret that if the Braves want to join the 2002 Giants (who defeated the Braves) as the only teams to ever overcome a 2-1 Division Series deficit, they have to begin hitting. In their two losses, this potent lineup has managed a total of five hits against Kerry Wood and Prior.
"Everybody knows what they have to do," John Smoltz said. "You can't state the obvious. I mean we've only had one lead [in the series]. We've got to get a lead. ... We knew these games were going to be close. Unfortunately, their No. 1 and No. 2 pretty much went the distance."
Prior, the No. 2 that Smoltz was referring to, proved why at 23 years old he has already established himself among the games greatest pitchers. The hard-throwing right-hander allowed just two hits and one run while tossing the Cubs' first postseason complete game since the 1945 World Series.
"We ran into a hot pitcher tonight," said Braves starter Greg Maddux, who allowed just two runs in six innings, despite injuring his right calf during the first inning on Friday and then aggravating it again in the third inning. "You take it and get them tomorrow."
When the Braves take the field for Game 4, they hope to have the services of Gary Sheffield, who was hit on the left hand with a Mark Prior pitch in the sixth inning but remained in the game.
Dr. Joe Chandler, the Braves team physician, labeled the injury as a "significant contusion" and said the All-Star outfielder will be evaluated again on Saturday.
"No, I don't [feel good]," Sheffield said. "But I still feel good about our team. We've won two in a row lots of times. There's a reason we won the most games in the league this year, and I think we've got a lot to look forward to the next two weeks."
If there is another two weeks in the Braves' future, Maddux and the rest of the Braves' pitching staff will need more support from their offense that is hitting .191 in the series.
"I guess the old Braves were too hapless and laid back," Fick said in reference to the fact the Braves have won just one of their past six postseason games that have come on the brink of elimination. "But we haven't been too laid back. We just haven't been able to hit the ball and get timely hits."
The only two runs Maddux surrendered came courtesy of Randall Simon's first-inning two-out single to right that scored Kenny Lofton and Mark Grudzielanek, who had reached with back-to-back singles to begin the game. Grudzielanek's bunt single was aided when Fick slipped on the wet infield grass.
"Maddux I thought threw a terrific game," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "He made all the pitches he needed to, and he got beat with those jam shots. Typical Maddux runs. The balls they hit good, we caught. The balls they didn't fell in."
Marcus Giles and Mark DeRosa, who have driven in four of the Braves' runs in the series, were the only two Braves to record hits against Prior. Atlanta's only run came when Giles' eighth-inning sacrifice fly scored DeRosa.
"We really didn't hit that many balls hard and when Prior was a little bit wild early, we couldn't take advantage of it," Cox said. "That's probably where we got hurt a little bit."
When Cox sends Russ Ortiz, who was the Giants' winning pitcher in Game 5 of last year's Division Series, to the mound in Saturday's Game 4, there is no room for defensive lapses like the Braves experienced while matching a Division Series record with four errors on Friday night.
"It's a must-win game," Ortiz said. "I don't feel like anybody in this clubhouse doesn't feel like we can win [tomorrow] and go back home and win another. So right now, we just have to go back to the hotel and wake up tomorrow morning knowing we're going to do everything we can to win."
For a team with World Series aspirations, there isn't an alternative.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or