John Rocker, the Atlanta Braves' attention-grabbing closer, was uninjured in an automobile accident Monday, in which his white Corvette collided with another vehicle outside of Atlanta. The Braves said Rocker was available to pitch in tonight's Game 6 of the National League Championship Series.

"He walked away, no one was hurt, and there were no tickets" issued, said Braves General Manager John Schuerholz.

Rocker, in contrast to the quotable persona that created a war of words between himself and Mets fans in New York, declined to comment before tonight's game. Although both Schuerholz and Manager Bobby Cox described the accident as a fender-bender, television video of Rocker's car showed the front end mangled.

Rocker apparently was driving on State Highway 400 outside Atlanta when he swerved to miss another car, driving into the path of a tractor-trailer, according to television reports.

"Initially, it didn't sound too good, that he was going 140 miles per hour and totaled his car," Cox said. "I still don't know. I didn't ask him. I asked him how he was. He said 100 percent."

Act of No Faith

Mets Manager Bobby Valentine admitted today he never honestly felt the Mets would return to Atlanta after losing the first two games of the series here last week.

The last thing Valentine did before leaving Atlanta after the Game 2 loss was tip the visiting clubhouse manager, as is customary.

"I had the check out," he said. "I had it sitting there the entire postgame. And I was going to do one of those things that would have gotten me in trouble, and say, `I'm going to fill this out when we come back.' And I didn't. So there was probably a little doubt whether or not I was coming back.

"But it wasn't until everybody was out of the clubhouse that I made it out. I wanted to do something to show that I believed we were coming back, but I guess I just didn't believe it all that much."

Back on the Field

Mets catcher Mike Piazza, suffering from a sore left thumb and a strained left forearm, was in tonight's starting lineup, as was Mets right fielder Roger Cedeno, who has been bothered by back spasms. . . . With left-hander Al Leiter pitching for the Mets, Cox started the right-handed-hitting Brian Hunter at first base instead of Ryan Klesko, who bats left-handed. . . . Cox said he expected to have Game 4 starter John Smoltz and possibly Game 5 starter Greg Maddux available for limited relief tonight. . . .

Cox defended Rocker's actions toward Mets fans and his comments about Mets fans, whom Rocker called "not even human" following Game 5.

"Some of the stuff that was said to him [by Mets fans], anybody in this room would confront that person," Cox said. "It was really, really bad stuff."

Might Shift to Manuel

Charlie Manuel, Cleveland's hitting instructor, is the leading candidate to become the next manager of the Indians, who fired Mike Hargrove last week after the club's playoff collapse.

"Charlie has to be," Cleveland assistant general manager Mark Shapiro said. "He's the guy who we know the best. Someone is going to have to come in here and be pretty impressive."

Shapiro, though, said that doesn't mean anyone should rush to any conclusions and said the club is in no hurry to fill the vacancy. Cleveland GM John Hart said last week that the Indians might consider those with no managerial experience.

One prominent name hoping for a chance to talk to the Indians is pitcher Orel Hershiser. Hershiser spent three seasons with Cleveland, going 45-21 and winning the ALCS MVP in 1995.

He was invited to the Indians' training camp this spring, but when the club couldn't fit him into their starting rotation, the right-hander signed with the Mets. He went 13-12 during the regular season.

"The way he's pitching, I kind of expect him to keep pitching," Shapiro said.

Hershiser is close with Hart and said he would welcome the chance to interview for the manager's job.

"I think when this part is over, that is something I would be interested in," Hershiser said in Atlanta tonight.

"We've had a couple of brief conversations. We agreed it's not fair to me to talk about it now. We'll talk when this thing is over."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.