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Walk not surprised to get starting nod

In his nine seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Bob Walk has done whatever he has been asked to do. That means he's done just about everything _ start, long relief, short relief. So when Pittsburgh manager Jim Leyland told Walk on Friday that he was going from the bullpen to start tonight's Game 5 of the NL playoffs against Atlanta's Steve Avery, Walk was only caught a little off guard. "I don't get very surprised anymore at that kind of stuff," Walk said.

What the 35-year-old right-hander hopes to do is surprise the Braves with a good performance. In 22 career games against his former Atlanta mates, Walk has a record of 5-9 with a 4.95 ERA. "They are probably one of the teams that has given me more trouble than anyone else," Walk said.

Avery, meanwhile, is hoping for a repeat of Wednesday, when the Braves staked him to an 8-0 lead and he earned the win by holding the Pirates to six hits in 6 innings and extended his post-season scoreless streak to 22 innings.

"I don't know how much they think about it when I'm out there, if they're pressing a little bit to get to me early," Avery said.

Fans repair image

They chanted, they cheered, they chopped with foam-rubber team symbols on their hands. They jammed the stadium to the top row and made so much noise that players came out of the dugout to watch in disbelief.

This was the National League playoffs, but this was not Atlanta. It was Pittsburgh, and the fans who have carried the burden of not selling out Three Rivers Stadium for last year's playoff finale were here to party _ and root.

Pirates fans jammed Three Rivers Stadium with the third-largest crowd (56,610) in the city's 106-year baseball history for Game 3 of the playoffs, and there was another sellout crowd Saturday. Today's Game 5 also is expected to be sold out, although several thousand tickets remained Saturday.

Last year, Pittsburgh's reputation as a good sports town was marred by the nationally televised image of empty seats for Game 7. The Pirate hook-waving fans may have gone a long way toward repairing that damage with their noisy presence Friday and Saturday.

"Man, it was great to come home and see fans wearing hooks instead of tomahawks," Gary Redus said. "It was uplifting to look up and not see empty seats. I got goose bumps from the way the crowd reacted."

Pittsburgh drew just over 1.8-million this season after two straight 2-million seasons. However, the three cities in the majors that most supported their teams on a per-capita basis were Atlanta, St. Louis and Pittsburgh, which has a population of only 375,000 and a metropolitan area of 1.9-million.

Miscellany

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation installed "No Tomahawking" signs along the Fort Pitt Turnpike. . . . Tonight's Game 5 will start at 8:35 p.m. instead of at 4:05 p.m. as scheduled. . . . There were no saves in the first three games of the series, the first time that has happened since the 1986 Mets-Astros series, which had no saves. . . . Batman and Mr. Mom star Michael Keaton threw out the first pitch Saturday. The Braves were the 18th team with a 2-1 lead in the 24-year history of the National League playoffs. Eleven of the previous 17 teams went on to win the series.

_ MARC TOPKIN and AP

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