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Sweet sweeps // Atlanta's pitching dooms Dodgers

The Braves' Big Three sent the Dodgers home in three straight.

Then again, what else would you expect from a pitching staff that has dominated the 1990s?

Tom Glavine put the final touches on another virtuoso performance by Atlanta's pitchers and sent the Braves to their fifth straight NL Championship Series with a 5-2 victory Saturday.

"I've never been a believer that you can just turn on the switch and play better in the post-season," said Glavine, who earned the win with a strong 6 innings. "But if there's ever been a team that can do it, we're the one. We're such a different playoff team."

Just look at what the Braves did to Hideo Nomo. He had a 1.53 ERA against Atlanta in his two major-league seasons but he was knocked out in the fourth inning in his shortest stint of the year.

"We come up with great pitching, great defense and great clutch hitting in the playoffs," Glavine said, shaking his head. "I don't know what it is, but we're sure able to do it."

The Dodgers, swept in the best-of-five divisional series for the second consecutive year, finished off a late-season meltdown with a feeble effort against the Braves' formidable staff, which held Los Angeles to a .147 average.

"The one thing we didn't do is hit," third baseman Tim Wallach said. "When you come up against this kind of pitching, that's what it's going to look like _ ugly."

Glavine followed in the footsteps of fellow Cy Young winner Greg Maddux and soon-to-be winner John Smoltz, shutting down a Dodgers team that had only 14 hits in the series. If pitching is a major factor in post-season, then Atlanta is in prime position to defend its World Series championship.

Still, even Glavine had to admit he was surprised that the Braves (1991-93, 1995-96) and Oakland (1971-75) are the only teams to play in five straight league championship series. The 1994 strike might have prevented another Atlanta appearance, though Montreal led the NL East when the players walked out in August.

"I don't care how good you are, it's hard to do," Glavine said. "When you get to this time of year, a few bad breaks and you're out."

The fans chanted "Sweep! Sweep! Sweep!" and waved tomahawks with brooms attached, but the Braves celebrated the final out as though it were just a regular-season game, their eyes firmly on a bigger prize.

"Maybe we didn't go into a pile and roll around on the field after the game, but the guys were happy after the game," manager Bobby Cox said. "There's so many things you've got to win now to win the World Series. We've gotten by two of them, but we have two more to go."

Los Angeles scored just five runs in the series, and only three were earned. In the first two games, at Dodger Stadium, Smoltz gave up four hits in nine innings and the Braves won 2-1 in the 10th, then Maddux allowed no earned runs in seven innings for a 3-2 victory.

Glavine had a bigger margin to work with, going on cruise control after the Braves scored four runs against Nomo with two outs in the fourth.

The Braves, just the third franchise with five straight post-season appearances, meet St. Louis in the NLCS, which begins Wednesday night at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium.

The Dodgers will have the winter to ponder a disastrous final 10 days to their season. They lost four straight games to close out the regular season, losing the West title to San Diego, then were dominated by the Braves.

"We still played a great series," said manager Bill Russell, who took over at midseason when Tommy Lasorda retired after a mild heart attack. "A break here and there and we'd still be playing."

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