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Published Jul. 6, 2006

They say baseball is the sport that time cannot control. There is no clock, no timekeeper.

There is only the Atlanta Braves.

When the Braves are ready to end a game, it is history.

Atlanta beat the Cincinnati Reds 6-2 in 10 innings Wednesday night before a crowd of 43,257 to take a 2-0 lead in the National League Championship Series.

Twenty-five times during the regular season, the Braves won a game in their final at-bat. Since then, they have gotten hotter. Atlanta has won four of its five post-season games by scoring in the ninth inning or later.

"We've been in the situation many times. We are used to it," said Braves catcher Javier Lopez, whose three-run homer capped the four-run 10th. "No matter where we play, we play hard until the game is over."

So now the Reds face a 2-0 deficit. They face Cy Young collector Greg Maddux in Game 3 Friday. And they're in serious danger of losing face.

"It's not a pleasant thought," Reds manager Davey Johnson said. "He's 19-2, he's obviously the hands-down Cy Young winner. But we've beaten him before there."

If the Reds reach the World Series, they will be making history. Six teams have lost the first two games of the NLCS at home and none has recovered.

"It's a very unfortunate feeling," Johnson said.

For the Braves, it is a feeling of deja too. Tuesday, the Braves came from behind in the ninth inning to tie the game and won in the 11th. This time, Cincinnati tied it in the fifth, but the Braves ended it in the 10th.

Mark Lemke, who had a leadoff single in the 10th, scored on a wild pitch by reliever Mark Portugal for the go-ahead run. Minutes later, Lopez launched a towering shot to leftfield.

"He made a mistake and threw the ball down the middle," Lopez said. "I knew it was gone, but I wasn't sure if it was fair or foul. I kept looking at it, and when it went fair it was the happiest moment of my life."

There have been plenty of happy moments for the Braves this season. Every game seems to produce a new hero and a new way to win.

"It's just a ton of times," manager Bobby Cox said. "It's good pitching against us that makes us do that. They've held us down. But our pitching keeps us in the ballgame and it enables us to bounce back."

If the Reds fail to reach the World Series, they will look back in November and December and realize they left their 1995 season on third base Wednesday night.

Braves reliever Alejandro Pena had been on the mound for only a few seconds when Barry Larkin got Cincinnati's first extra-base hit of the night, a double to right. On the next pitch, he stole third base without a throw from Lopez.

No outs, Larkin on third, and Ron Gant, Reggie Sanders and Hal Morris due to hit. Larkin still is waiting to come home.

Gant popped out, Sanders struck out for the third time in the game and 13th time in the post-season, Morris was intentionally walked, and Benito Santiago struck out.

"We're having trouble scoring runs, for whatever reason. We had the right guys up at the right time and didn't get it done," Johnson said. "The only runs we scored were on a double steal and a pinch hit. This is not like our offense."

Technically, it is like Cincinnati's offense _ when the Reds have faced the Braves. Cincinnati has scored 2, 1, 1, 1, 1 and 1 in its past six games against the Braves.

"I have to give all of the credit to the pitchers," Lopez said. "They do a great job. They were getting the big out with men on third base."

The Reds stranded another runner on third in the ninth inning. Bret Boone led off with a walk and moved to third on two groundouts. He was left when pinch-hitter Mariano Duncan hit a grounder to second base.

"You can't ask any more from our bullpen," Cox said.

The Atlanta bullpen has thrown seven innings of shutout ball the past two nights. Greg McMichael and Mark Wohlers each have a save and a win in the NLCS.

Braves starter John Smoltz, who is among the most successful pitchers in league championship series history, was effective if not overpowering Wednesday night.

The Reds reached him for seven hits, but none went for extra bases. He had a season-low two strikeouts but left with the score tied 2-2 after seven innings.

"Smoltz was excellent tonight," Cox said. "He threw 28 consecutive fastballs to start the game. That's how well he was throwing."

The only way Cincinnati was able to score was with a pair of bunt singles by Santiago and Boone, a pinch-hit single by Lenny Harris, and a double-steal in the fifth inning.