It was clear early on where this game was headed. As he sat patiently in the Atlanta Braves' bullpen, watching the zeroes go up on the scoreboard, John Rocker must have known it, too. Finally, he began warming up in the eighth inning, and entered Game 3 of the National League Championship Series to ringing, lusty jeers in the ninth.

Tonight, Mets fans have one more reason to hate John Rocker--not that they needed it. Rocker, whose caustic comments this week have inflamed the passions of the New York faithful, closed out the Braves' 1-0 victory in front of 55,911 at Shea Stadium, giving the Braves a commanding 3-0 lead in this best-of-seven series.

"If you bring a lot of attention on yourself, you'd better be prepared to deliver," said Braves third baseman Chipper Jones, himself no stranger to the wrath of Mets fans. "I'm glad [Rocker] nailed it down, because if he didn't, they might've torn the roof down."

Braves left-hander Tom Glavine, a two-time Cy Young winner, pitched seven shutout innings for only his fourth career win in 13 career NLCS starts (4-8). Glavine's mastery recalled his performance in the Braves' clinching Game 6 of the 1995 World Series, in which he pitched eight innings of one-hit ball.

"My command was the big thing tonight," Glavine said. "I was able to spot my pitches real well, and I had pretty good stuff to go with it. It was a good night to have it all working. We scored an early run. But I didn't think I was going to have to make it stand up all night."

"These guys are expected to throw shutouts every night," Cox said of his group of aces. "And it's not humanly possible. But it's amazing to see what they do in the playoffs."

The only score in the game was an unearned run the Braves got off starter Al Leiter in the first inning, the result of errors by Leiter and catcher Mike Piazza.

The Mets' obituary already has been written once before--prematurely, as it turned out--when the breath appeared to leave them at the end of the regular season. That same obituary, cleaned up and updated, is being prepared again this weekend. The end could come Saturday night, when Game 4 pits Atlanta's John Smoltz against Rick Reed.

The Braves were the ones who were supposed to wilt in the oppressive Shea Stadium atmosphere. Mets fans mercilessly razzed favorite whipping boys Rocker and Larry "Chipper" Jones, cheered foul balls that rocketed into the Braves' dugout and at one point literally spilled out of the stands onto the field when a ground-level railing gave way.

But in the early innings, it was the Mets who seemed to be caving in under the pressure of the 0-2 hole they had dug themselves in Atlanta.

The Mets' defense, statistically the best in history, went 168 games this season without committing two errors in one game. But in tonight's first inning, it happened, and it cost the Mets a run.

Leiter threw away Bret Boone's chopper back to the mound. Piazza threw wildly past second base on a double steal, allowing Gerald Williams to score an unearned run.

"Without those," Mets Manager Bobby Valentine said, "we might still be playing."

The Mets escaped further damage only because rookie center fielder Melvin Mora threw out Boone at the plate trying to tag and score on Brian Jordan's fly ball--one of four outs the Braves made on the base paths in the first four innings tonight.

On the play at the plate, Boone tried to steamroll Piazza at the plate, but Piazza absorbed the full force of Boone's 180 pounds and hung on. Piazza later had a slight concussion diagnosed, but stayed in the game and went 2 for 4.

But the Mets were 2 for 16 with runners on base. Moved from his usual No. 2 spot to No. 3, Edgardo Alfonzo went 0 for 4 with three strikeouts.

Even when Piazza twice led off innings with singles, right fielder Benny Agbayani, batting fifth instead of Robin Ventura, failed to advance Piazza either time, and both potential rallies died.

"The Braves' pitchers," Valentine said, "are as good as any in any era, any decade."

An inning of spotless set-up by left-hander Mike Remlinger in the eighth set the stage for Rocker.

The Braves' Walt Weiss, who has started at shortstop every game this series mainly for defensive purposes, booted a routine chance by Agbayani to lead off the ninth. But Rocker retired the next three batters--including Mora's fly ball just shy of the warning track in center--to record his second save of the series and his seventh in seven chances against the Mets this season.

"He went out there and walked the walk and talked the talk, I guess," Glavine said. "That's his thing. He's a lot different than most of us. Most of us just want to quietly come to town and beat somebody and leave."

THE PLAYOFFS

American League

New York vs. Texas

Game 1: New York 8, Texas 0

Game 2: New York 3, Texas 1

Game 3: New York 3, Texas 0

Cleveland vs. Boston

Game 1: Cleveland 3, Boston 2

Game 2: Cleveland 11, Boston 1

Game 3: Boston 9, Cleveland 3

Game 4: Boston 23, Cleveland 7

Game 5: Boston 12, Cleveland 8

National League

Atlanta vs. Houston

Game 1: Houston 6, Atlanta 1

Game 2: Atlanta 5, Houston 1

Game 3: Atlanta 5, Houston 3 (12)

Game 4: Atlanta 7, Houston 5

Arizona vs. New York

Game 1: New York 8, Arizona 4

Game 2: Arizona 7, New York 1

Game 3: New York 9, Arizona 2

Game 4: New York 4, Arizona 3 (10)

League

Championship Series

American League

Game 1: New York 4, Boston 3 (10)

Game 2: New York 3, Boston 2

Game 3: Today at Boston, 4 (NYY: Clemens, 14-10;

Bos: P. Martinez 23-4)

Game 4: Sunday at Boston7:30

If necessary

Game 5: Monday at Boston8

Game 6: Wed. at New YorkTBA

Game 7: Thurs. at New York8

National League

Game 1: Atlanta 4, New York 2

Game 2: Atlanta 4, New York 3

Game 3: Atlanta 1, New York 0

Game 4: Today at New York7:30 (Atl: Smoltz, 11-8;

NYM: Reed 11-5)

If necessary

Game 5: Sunday at New York4

Game 6: Tuesday at Atlanta8

Game 7: Wednesday at Atlanta8

World Series

Saturday, Oct. 23

at National League, 8:05 p.m.

Sunday, Oct. 24

at National League, 8:05 p.m.

Tuesday, Oct. 26

at American League, 8:35 p.m.

Wednesday, Oct. 27

at American League, 8:35 p.m.

Thursday, Oct. 28

at AL, 8:35 p.m., if necessary

Saturday, Oct. 30

at NL, 8:05 p.m., if necessary

Sunday, Oct. 31

at NL, 8:05 p.m., if necessary