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BRAVES 5, INDIANS 2 // Braves close in

Someone call the Buffalo Bills. The Atlanta Braves are about to leave them alone at the altar of infamy.

Atlanta, the best team not to win a World Series, moved into strong position to win one with a 5-2 victory Wednesday night over the Cleveland Indians.

The Braves won more games than any other team during the past five years, but have been haunted by their post-season failures. They lost the World Series in 1991 and 1992, and were upset in the National League playoffs in 1993. They have been constantly, and, they say, unfairly, compared to the Bills, who lost four straight Super Bowls.

But with a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven Series, the Braves look like they are about to put an end to that talk.

And Wednesday night, they sure made manager Bobby Cox look smart in the process.

Cox took advantage of the American League rules by moving Ryan Klesko to designated hitter and putting Luis Polonia in leftfield. Klesko homered and Polonia drove in the go-ahead run with a seventh-inning double.

And Cox decided to give Steve Avery a start and allow ace Greg Maddux to have another day of rest. Avery responded by holding the Indians to one run and three hits over six innings. And now the Braves will have a fully rested Maddux on the mound in Game 5 tonight when they seek to close out their first World Series championship since 1957.

David Justice added a two-run single for Atlanta in the decisive seventh inning. Relievers Greg McMichael pitched two scoreless innings of relief. Mark Wohlers gave up a home run and double in the ninth, but Pedro Borbon recorded the final three outs.

After playing 4 hours and seven minutes Tuesday night, the teams moved briskly through the early innings Wednesday.

The Braves advanced a runner to third base three times in the first four innings, but did not score until the sixth. Designated hitter Ryan Klesko, one pitch after arguing a strike call with home-plate umpire John Hirschbeck, crushed a 1-2 pitch from Ken Hill over the right-centerfield wall.

It was a rough inning for Hill, as all four batters hit the ball hard to centerfield.

The Indians, who only advanced one runner to second base through the first five innings, tied the game in the bottom of the sixth.

Omar Vizquel drew a leadoff walk on a full-count pitch, but Carlos Baerga grounded into a 5-4-3 double play. Good thing for Atlanta. Four pitches later, Cleveland slugger Albert Belle, who hit 50 home runs during the season but has struggled in the post-season, homered to right.

The Indians might have gotten more. Eddie Murray lined a shot down the third-base line and thought he had a double, but third-base umpire Harry Wendelstedt and leftfield umpire Jim McKean both called it foul. Murray then walked and went to second when Avery stumbled off the mound and was called for a balk. The Braves intentionally walked Manny Ramirez, putting runners on first and second, but Avery struck out Herbert Perry, the former Florida Gator standout.

Atlanta went back on top in the seventh. Hill looked like he was starting to tire, and for the second straight night, Cleveland manager Mike Hargrove gave Indians fans reason to question if he stayed with his starter too long. By the time reliever Paul Assenmacher was done, they had to be questioning that move too.

Marquis Grissom started the rally with a full-count walk. Then Luis Polonia laced a double to right-centerfield, scoring Grissom and chasing Hill.

Assenmacher intentionally walked Chipper Jones to get to Fred McGriff, who he struck out but not until a passed ball by Cleveland catcher Sandy Alomar allowed the runners to move up to second and third. Justice, 4-for-10 against Assenmacher coming into the Series, then singled to center to make it 4-1.

Atlanta added another run in the ninth when McGriff and Javy Lopez doubled.

Cleveland tacked on a run in the ninth when Manny Ramirez hit a leadoff homer off Wohlers.

The Braves also found a way to shut down Indians sparkplug Kenny Lofton, who had reached base six times on Tuesday and was batting .417 through the first three games. Wednesday, Lofton was 0-for-5.

The pitching matchup between Avery and Cleveland's Ken Hill was impressive, even if it was one some people didn't want to see. Avery and Hill were on the mound because their managers opted to not bring back aces Maddux and Orel Hershiser on short rest.

Avery struggled through a 7-13 season but finished strong and threw six shutout innings against Cincinnati in the clinching game of the NLCS.

Wednesday, he was sharp again, holding the Indians to one run on three hits over six innings.

The Braves said before the game they expected a strong performance from him.

"There's something about this time of year that brings out the best in him," Braves pitcher Tom Glavine said.

Hill was acquired from St. Louis is midseason. He had been struggling with a 6-7 record and 5.06 ERA with the Cardinals, but the Indians got his mechanics and his performance straightened out. He went 4-1 with a 3.98 ERA for Cleveland in 11 regular-season starts and was 2-0 in the post-season without allowing an earned run coming into Wednesday's game.

He couldn't keep up that pace and left after 6 innings.