October 11, 1997 in Sports

Marlins’ Johnson Ends Jinx Catcher’s Bases-Loaded Double Seals 5-2 Triumph Over Atlanta

Associated Press
 

The Florida Marlins, for once, were glad to see something unpredictable.

Charles Johnson changed his luck with a tiebreaking, bases-loaded double in the sixth inning off John Smoltz and the Marlins, despite more medical problems, beat the Atlanta Braves 5-2 Friday night for a 2-1 lead in the N.L. championship series.

Having already lost pitcher Alex Fernandez and outfielder Moises Alou to injuries, the Marlins found that Kevin Brown, scheduled to start Game 4, would not be able to pitch because of a viral infection.

“We have to keep making some adjustments we didn’t want to make,” manager Jim Leyland said.

But Johnson made a sudden switch that delighted the Marlins and a baseball record crowd of 53,857 at Pro Player Stadium. His three-run hit also made moot Leyland’s protest of an earlier play.

Johnson stepped up in the sixth inning with two outs, the bases loaded and the score 2-all. And the odds all against him.

No player in the majors batted more often this season with the bases loaded (13) without getting a hit.

In addition, Johnson was 0 for 12 lifetime with eight strikeouts against Smoltz - including his two previous at-bats in the game - when he stepped to the plate.

“I knew it was something bad,” Johnson said of Smoltz. “He’s one of the best pitchers in the game. He showed it today. He got me my first two at-bats.”

But Johnson, whose rare error in Game 2 sent the Braves toward a 7-1 win, hung in against Smoltz, whose 10 postseason wins tie him with Whitey Ford and Dave Stewart for the most in history.

“What a time for him to get his first career hit off me,” Smoltz said.

Leyland, who depends on the two-time Gold Glove catcher for defense, said he was not surprised by the blow from the .250 hitter.

“I think C.J. is really dangerous because he swings the bat,” Leyland said. “Any time you go up there and get some swings, you’ve got a chance to do damage.”

In the Marlins’ sixth, Edgar Renteria doubled with one out and Gary Sheffield walked. With two outs, Darren Daulton hit an RBI double that made it 2-all and an intentional walk to Devon White brought up Johnson.

Johnson fouled off a 2-2 pitch, then hit a liner that barely escaped left fielder Ryan Klesko’s dive and landed on the cinder warning track and one-hopped off the wall.

Johnson’s hit capped a four-run inning, kept alive when Daulton’s two-out liner froze right fielder Andruw Jones and sailed over his head for an RBI double.

“It took off and went up in the air like a Frisbee,” Jones said.

Livan Hernandez, scheduled to pitch Game 6 in place of injured Alex Fernandez, worked 1-2/3 scoreless innings for the win and Robb Nen got his second save of the series. The Marlins’ 47th come-from-behind win this season left Smoltz as the loser.

Game 4 will be tonight. Brown, the winner of Game 1, was scheduled to start against 20-game winner Denny Neagle of the Braves.

After the game, Leyland said he would start Al Leiter instead and move Brown to Game 5.

Alou did not start for the second straight game because of a sore left wrist. Leyland said Alou would start today.

Pitching dominated the early innings.

Smoltz did not allow a hit until Sheffield’s home run in the fourth tied it at 1. Smoltz struck out six in the first three innings, and fanned nine in six innings.

Rookie Tony Saunders, 3-0 with a 1.65 ERA in four starts against Atlanta this year, permitted just one hit through three innings.

Then came the controversial fourth.

Kenny Lofton led off with a single and was running on a 3-2 pitch to Jeff Blauser. It was ball four, low and away, but Lofton slid head-first and was called out by second-base umpire Eric Gregg.

Lofton got up and walked off the bag. Alertly, second baseman Craig Counsell tagged Lofton again. Gregg signaled out.

But a moment later, Lofton was allowed to stay at second. Leyland came out to argue his point with several umpires, and eventually crew chief Bruce Froemming huddled with league president Leonard Coleman, seated in a first-row box.

The umpires decided to let Lofton remain, saying it was umpire error that caused the confusion.

Leyland put the game under protest. The win made it moot.

The last postseason game to be protested came last fall when the Baltimore Orioles protested after 12-year-old Jeffrey Maier reached over the right-field wall to catch a ball hit by Derek Jeter. The Orioles’ protest was denied two days later.

Notes

The Marlins (52-29) had the best home record in the majors this year. The Braves’ 51-30 road mark was best in the N.L. … Neagle has not started since Sept. 28. Last Tuesday, he pitched three scoreless innings in relief.

Marlins 5, Braves 2

Atlanta AB R H BI BB SO Avg.

Lofton cf 4 1 1 0 0 0 .143

Blauser ss 3 1 1 0 1 2 .300

ChJones 3b 2 0 0 0 1 0 .364

McGriff 1b 3 0 1 1 0 1 .300

JLopez c 3 0 0 1 0 2 .111

AJones rf 2 0 1 0 1 0 .400

d-Tucker ph 1 0 0 0 0 0 .000

Klesko lf 4 0 1 0 0 0 .300

Graffanino 2b 2 0 0 0 0 0 .250

a-Lockhart 2b 2 0 1 0 0 0 .500

Smoltz p 2 0 0 0 0 1 .000

b-Gregg ph 1 0 0 0 0 0 .000

Cather p 0 0 0 0 0 0 —

Ligtenberg p 0 0 0 0 0 0 —

Totals 29 2 6 2 3 6

Florida AB R H BI BB SO Avg.

Cangelosi lf 3 0 0 0 1 0 .000

Renteria ss 4 1 1 0 0 1 .182

Sheffield rf 3 2 2 1 1 0 .333

Bonilla 3b 4 0 1 0 0 1 .091

AArias 3b 0 0 0 0 0 0 —

Daulton 1b 3 1 1 1 0 1 .250

Conine 1b 1 0 0 0 0 0 .000

DWhite cf 2 1 1 0 2 0 .200

CJohnson c 3 0 1 3 0 2 .222

Counsell 2b 3 0 1 0 1 1 .429

Saunders p 2 0 0 0 0 2 .000

LHernandez p 1 0 0 0 0 1 .000

Cook p 0 0 0 0 0 0 —

c-Alou ph 1 0 0 0 0 1 .200

Nen p 0 0 0 0 0 0 —

Totals 30 5 8 5 5 10

Atlanta 000 101 000 2

Florida 000 104 00x 5

a-singled for Graffanino in the 7th. b-flied out for Smoltz in the 7th. c-struck out for Cook in the 8th. d-flied out for A.Jones in the 9th.

E-Lofton (2), Counsell (1). LOB-Atlanta 6, Florida 7. 2B-Renteria (1), Daulton (1), CJohnson (2). HR-Sheffield (1) off Smoltz. RBIs-McGriff (2), JLopez (2), Sheffield (1), Daulton (1), CJohnson 3 (4). S-ChJones, CJohnson. SF-McGriff, JLopez. GIDP-Graffanino.

Runners left in scoring position-Atlanta 3 (Klesko 3); Florida 5 (Conine, Saunders 2, LHernandez, Alou).

DP-Atlanta 1 (AJones and McGriff); Florida 1 (Renteria, Counsell and Daulton).

Atlanta IP H R ER BB SO NP ERA

Smoltz L,0-1 6 5 5 5 5 9 119 7.50 Cather 1 2 0 0 0 0 10 0.00 Ligtenberg 1 1 0 0 0 1 17 0.00

Florida IP H R ER BB SO NP ERA

Saunders 5-1/3 4 2 2 3 3 86 3.38 LHernandez W,1-0 1-2/3 2 0 0 0 1 22 0.00 Cook 1 0 0 0 0 2 13 0.00 Nen S,2 1 0 0 0 0 0 14 0.00 Saunders pitched to 3 batters in the 6th.

Inherited runners-scored-LHernandez 2-1.

IBB-off Smoltz (Counsell) 1, off Smoltz (DWhite) 1.

T-2:59. A-53,857 (41,855).

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