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Braves rip Pirates, take 2-0 lead

Everything worked out Wednesday for the Atlanta Braves.

The little guys in the order staked them to a 4-0 lead in the second inning. Ron Gant reinflated his confidence with a fifth-inning grand slam. Steve Avery showed his mortality by giving up a few runs, but not until he had a comfy 8-0 lead. The sometimes shaky bullpen delivered 2 scoreless innings.

By the time they were done, they pasted a 13-5 defeat on the Pittsburgh Pirates and took a 2-0 lead in the National League playoffs.

"We just feel like we're capable of doing anything at any given time," Gant said.

The 18 combined runs was a baseball playoffs record, as were the 12 pitchers used. The Braves' 13 runs tied the playoffs record for one team.

When Wednesday's mugging was over, their pitching staff battered and their confidence bruised, the Pirates weren't sure what to think.

"There's nothing you can say to anybody, really," Pirates manager Jim Leyland said. "We were embarrassed today. The only thing good about it is that it's over. We had a real tough day. In fact, on my way down here (to the interview room), I almost got run over by a policeman on a motorcycle. So it hasn't been my day."

It wasn't a good day for anybody in gold and black.

Pittsburgh starter Danny Jackson didn't make it through the second inning, giving up four runs. Centerfielder Andy Van Slyke went 0-for-5, including a costly tap back to the mound to end the seventh after the Pirates halved the lead to 8-4. Leyland was forced to go seven pitchers deep into his staff. Leftfielder Barry Bonds took a called third strike to end the first inning and made two misplays in the field that led to runs.

"We played terrible today," said shortstop Jay Bell. "We played terrible yesterday. We didn't play our good fundamental baseball, and we deserved to lose the first two games."

The best-of-seven series takes a travel break today and resumes Friday night in Pittsburgh. Atlanta 20-game winner Tom Glavine will face Pittsburgh's rookie knuckleballer Tim Wakefield.

The Braves, low-key even after Wednesday's big win, insist they are just following a simple game plan: Score first, throw strikes, don't beat yourself, and stay on an even keel.

"We're just real happy with the way we're going out there and taking charge of the games early," first baseman Sid Bream said.

That was the blueprint again Wednesday.

They scored four runs in the second, four more in the fifth, withstood a four-run Pittsburgh rally in the seventh, then piled on five more runs in their seventh.

The offense came from everywhere _ 14 hits overall, three by Mr. October (Mark Lemke), at least one by each of the eight starting fielders.

The four runs in the second came rapidly. Brian Hunter led off with an infield single, Gant walked, Berryhill singled, and Hunter scored when Bonds' throw home was off line. Lemke singled Gant home. Avery then blew a bunt on his first pitch, then lofted a deep fly to centerfield that scored Berryhill. An out later, Blauser delivered a triple to score Lemke.

"We hit some heavy artillery today," Braves manager Bobby Cox said.

Gant, who slumped in the second half of the season and was dropped to sixth in the batting order for the playoffs, responded with his first-ever grand slam to double the Atlanta lead in the fifth.

"I'm swinging the bat as well as any time in my career," Gant said. "If I keep swinging like I am now, it will do wonders for my confidence."

Avery worked six shutout innings, extending his post-season scoreless streak to 22 and setting a playoffs record. He weakened in the seventh, allowing four runs on four hits.

"I think I went out there right away pumped up and had pretty good stuff," Avery said. "Then when I got the big lead I may have lost my concentration a little bit."

Halfway to their second straight NL pennant, the Braves seem to be a team in full stride. They've played the games to their tempo, their pitching is strong and their bats are in working order _ a team batting average of .319 after two games.

"We've got the momentum right now," said centerfielder Otis Nixon. "The pressure's not on us."

The Pirates, of course, insist it's not on them either. But listen carefully, and you hear the sounds of a team with the wall closing in.

"I always say you win collectively and you stink collectively," Van Slyke said. "Right now we stink collectively."

Leyland said the problem is that the team has had to constantly fight uphill. They trailed from the second inning in both games, and have thus far managed a team batting average of just .188 and produced just six runs.

"Obviously we've got to score some runs," Leyland said. "We've got to get out in front a little bit. And we've got to win a ballgame. It's that simple. There's no secret to that. That pretty much sums it up."

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