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Braves' "lethal weapon' in a pinch is Deion

He's certainly no secret, but Deion Sanders will be a weapon for the Braves. The former Florida State star will put football on hold and stay with the Braves through the post-season, most likely contributing as a pinch-runner. "He's a lethal weapon to have on the bench," Braves manager Bobby Cox said.

No-sweat decision

Pirates manager Jim Leyland said it really wasn't hard to leave Zane Smith off the post-season roster. Smith (8-8 in 22 starts) has been bothered by an arm injury and may undergo arthroscopic surgery. "Zane Smith was not healthy. It was no decision at all," Leyland said.

Atlanta to Colorado?

Shortstop Jeff Blauser not only has played his way into the Atlanta starting lineup, but he is forcing the Braves to do some careful deliberating over the list of players who will be protected in the Nov.

17 expansion draft.

Cox is convinced if Blauser is exposed to the draft he will be wearing a Colorado Rockies uniform next summer.

"I know (Rockies general manager Bob) Gebhard would take him in a heartbeat," said Cox. "He'd hit 20 home runs if he played there every day."

Blauser hit .262 with 14 home runs and 46 RBI in 123 games, and in 53 games since Aug. 1 he has hit .319.

An MVP diplomat

For the second consecutive year, Atlanta's Terry Pendleton and Pittsburgh's Barry Bonds are the top candidates for the league MVP. Pendleton won last year, possibly in part because of his friendly nature. He was asked whom he would vote for this year. "Uh," Pendleton replied, "it's raining outside. I can't answer that."

Money talks

There has been speculation as to where free-agent-to-be Bonds will end up next year (just about everywhere but Boston and Miami, from what he's said), but the Pirates also stand to lose ace pitcher Doug Drabek to free-agency. Drabek said he has tried to keep his contract status out of the news. But asked how talks with the Pirates were going, Drabek said: "They haven't been going."

Money talks, part II

The Pirates are perceived as the penurious small-market team and the Braves as the superstation-backed big spenders. But the Atlanta payroll is about $26-million, while the Pirates are paying out about $30-million.

Behind the plate

The late-season injury to Greg Olson will force the Braves to use Damon Berryhill as their catcher full-time, but neither manager said there will be much of a dropoff. "Berryhill has been here all year so there's no problem with calling the game, that's fine," said Cox. "It may make a difference on the bases."

Miscellany

Braves outfielder David Justice, who earlier this year was angry at a Braves fan who threw peanuts at him, will provide special reports (David's Diary) for an Atlanta TV station. Bonds' agent sent faxes touting his client to the writers who will cast MVP votes. The Braves won the season series from Pittsburgh 7-5, with 10 of the games decided by two runs or less.

_ MARC TOPKIN, TIMES WIRES

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