The Atlanta Braves reassured themselves of the obvious things this afternoon as the 1999 World Series moved to Yankee Stadium for Game 3 on Tuesday night. The Braves reminded anyone within earshot that they've won more games this decade than any other team in baseball. And despite opening this World Series with two straight losses on their home field, the Braves pointed out that they arrive in the Bronx prepared to send three of baseball's best starting pitchers--Tom Glavine, John Smoltz and Greg Maddux--to the mound the next three games.
"Anytime you have the kind of pitching we have, you can reel off three in a row," Braves Manager Bobby Cox said. "We've done it before. We've always felt that because of our pitching, we're capable of beating anyone. But we've got to be hitting the ball a little better, too. They have great pitching."
Cox was speaking in a makeshift media room decorated with pictures of Ruth, Gehrig and other Yankee greats. His players' dressing room was just down the hall from where Mantle and DiMaggio put on the pin-stripes. And this afternoon, the Braves took another look at baseball's cathedral, with its facade and monuments and echoes of the past.
Because he played for the Yankees and then worked for them, Cox knows better than most what the Braves face as they attempt to overcome an 0-2 deficit in this best-of-seven series. He knows about the rowdy crowds and about the great park's intimidation factor. In his heart, he probably knows the Yankees are better, that they can match the Braves in quality of starting pitching and that they're baseball's smartest and most resourceful collection of everyday players.
But if he believes this series is all but over, he won't say so. He intends to call a team meeting Tuesday afternoon and remind his players that the Braves won the first two games of the 1996 World Series at Yankee Stadium, then went on to lose four in a row. The Braves said again and again today that a comeback can be made.
"Why not?" third baseman Chipper Jones said. "We only have to look across into their dugout to be reminded it can be done. It's improbable and we're disappointed, but you know what? They were disappointed in 1996 after losing the first two games."
Jones knows the numbers. He knows the Braves are hitting just .121 and have been outscored 11-3 in the first two games. He knows they're getting almost nothing from Gerald Williams (0 for 8) at the top of the order and very little behind himself and Brian Jordan in the middle.
He also knows that with the designated hitter rule back in effect for the American League park, the Yankees will be back at full strength. While Yankees Manager Joe Torre will write Darryl Strawberry or Chili Davis--both proven run producers--on his lineup card for Game 3, Cox will counter with shortstop Jose Hernandez. He's hitting .143 in the postseason.
If the Braves are to win, they need a solid outing from Glavine, who was scratched from Game 1 after coming down with flu. He's five to seven pounds lighter because of his illness, but this afternoon seemed well on his way to recovery.
"It's up to me to do something to get us back in the World Series," Glavine said. "I feel okay. I don't know how much stamina I'll have. If it were a 100-degree day, I'd be a lot more concerned. I'll just go out and see what happens. I don't anticipate it being a problem."
The Yankees will give the ball to left-hander Andy Pettitte, who defeated the Braves in the critical Game 5 of the 1996 World Series. That game began establishing Pettitte as a big-game performer, and he enters Tuesday's game having thrown 15 2/3 consecutive shutout innings in World Series play.
"Andy's tough," Jones said. "It depends on which Andy shows up. If it's the guy we faced the first time in 1996 [a 12-1 Atlanta win], we've got a good chance. If it's the one who showed up in Game 5 [a 1-0 Yankees victory], we're in trouble. But the momentum can shift at any time. Right now, momentum is wearing a Yankee uniform.
"Not too many guys outside this clubhouse gave us a chance. We don't have anything to lose. Let's just play as hard as we can and hope it turns around. If it doesn't, we've still had a great year and we'll come back next spring and try to do it again."
Braves hitting coach Don Baylor spent a lengthy session with his hitters this afternoon, hoping to break a two-game slump that might be as much the pinpoint pitching of Yankee starters Orlando Hernandez and David Cone (one earned run in 14 innings) as a hitting problem.
Baylor told his players they had to be aggressive from the beginning because, as Jones said: "The Yankees are a team that senses the kill. We've got to change the momentum. And believe me, it can change quickly in a series like this."
Nothing much has changed recently for the Yankees, whose 10-game World Series winning streak is the second longest in history. Only the Yankees of Ruth and Gehrig, who won 12 straight games between 1927 and 1932, had a longer streak. After sailing through last year's postseason by winning 11 of 13, the Yankees have won 9 of 10 this year.
This afternoon, they talked about taking nothing for granted.
"I was telling people before the second game that we had to play it like it was the first," shortstop Derek Jeter said. "That's still the way we have to look at it. You can't sit around and think about what you've done. That's a great way to let them back in it."