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Atlanta's magic number: 3.00

By MARC TOPKIN, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published August 11, 2002

Home runs are what's happening.

Home runs are what's happening.

But with Barry Bonds joining the 600 club and teams figuring that going deep is the best way to get to the postseason, the Braves are making a pitch for an amazing accomplishment.

They went into play Saturday with a 2.91 team ERA.

Not only are they nearly a full run stingier than the next-best team -- the Dodgers were at 3.75 -- they are three-fourths of the way to the first sub-3.00 season in more than a decade.

The last team in this offense-is-everything era to finish a season better than 3.00 was the 1989 Dodgers.

"A sub-3.00 ERA is like going to the moon," Braves general manager John Schuerholz said. "You just don't do that, not in this day and age, with the livelier ball, smaller ballparks, bigger hitters, the shrinking strike zone. . . . If we continue to perform like we have, we have a good shot."

For 10 years, the Braves have had good pitching staffs. But the combination of a starting rotation led by aces Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, a strong if unknown middle-relief corps (which will be without injured Mike Remlinger for a couple of weeks) and starter-turned-dominant-closer John Smoltz might be their best yet.

"I can't think of a pitching staff that's been better," Glavine said. "It may not get the attention some of our other staffs have gotten, but a lot of that has to do with the starting rotation. Our starters may not be as deep and talented as some we've had, but you can't argue with the numbers. And we've never had a bullpen this good."

The starters -- currently Maddux, Glavine, Kevin Millwood, Damian Moss and Jason Marquis -- have a combined ERA of 3.23. The relievers have a remarkable 2.32 ERA. How good is that? The next-best team is Anaheim at 3.22. The Rays are at 5.54.

And people wonder how, with a middle-of-the-pack offense, they have had a 56-18 run, a streak of 22 non-losing series and the largest divisional lead.

* * *

TOSCA TALK: The Blue Jays went into Saturday 31-30 under Brandon High/USF product Carlos Tosca, who appears to be making a good impression on general manager J.P. Ricciardi.

"Carlos Tosca has gone above and beyond trying to make us a better club," Ricciardi said. "I like the way we have progressed. Little things are addressed before they become big things. When we don't execute Carlos makes a mental note and gets the point across later to the young player. He does have an open door."

BAD DAY: First, Phillies reliever Dan Plesac watched a harness racing horse of which he is part owner, ENS Snapshot, start strong in the Aug. 3 Hambletonian then fade at the three-quarters pole and finish seventh. A couple hours later he gave up a tying ninth-inning home run to Shawn Green.

BUSY DAY: The Wednesday news conference to announce a two-year contract extension for Rockies manager Clint Hurdle had to be canceled because his wife went into labor and delivered the couple's first child, a girl named Madison Ryan. "This is still surreal to me," Hurdle said Thursday. "Not everybody is given the opportunities that I have been given in the last 24-hour period. For whatever reason I've been chosen, and I feel very humbled and very blessed."

DO THE WAIVE: Players who reportedly cleared waivers and could help a contender include pitchers Roberto Hernandez, Livan Hernandez, Scott Erickson and Tom Gordon, catcher Pudge Rodriguez, outfielder Michael Tucker and shortstop Royce Clayton.

OH, GEORGE: Former Marlins and current Red Sox owner John Henry claims, as required to close the Boston deal, he sold his 1 percent interest in the Yankees. But he said he has not been paid.

WON'T VINCE BE JEALOUS?: It's not enough the D'backs won the World Series last year while the Rays finished last. Monday, en route to an exhibition with their Class A team in South Bend, Ind., the Diamondbacks will tour the Notre Dame football facilities and visit with coach Tyrone Willingham and players. Rays managing general partner Vince Naimoli is a huge Notre Dame supporter.

SOMETHING'S WRONG: Jon Lieber is the fifth prominent pitcher in the Cubs organization to need Tommy John elbow surgery this year, joining Will Ohman, Phil Norton, Ben Christensen and Scott Chiasson.

NUMBERS GAME: The Padres have used 30 pitchers, two shy of the 2000 Indians major-league record. . . . The Yankees and Royals went 482 days without playing each other. . . . Arizona's Randy Johnson has taken a no-hitter into the sixth inning 20 times. . . . Barry Zito could become Oakland's third different 20-game winner in three seasons, following Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder. . . . Plesac is about to become the seventh pitcher to make 1,000 appearances.

HE SAID IT: "They ought to freeze him, like Ted Williams."

-- Colorado's Todd Helton, who was very impressed with Cubs pitcher Mark Prior.

MISCELLANY: Having traded Ryan Dempster to the Reds, the Marlins are deciding what to do with 15,000 Dempster bobbleheads they'd planned to give out next month. . . . Schedules with all 30 teams, including the Expos in Montreal, reportedly have been distributed. . . . Ex-Rays pitcher Rick White was designated for assignment by the Rockies. . . . Arizona pitcher Miguel Batista is selling his book of poetry, Sentimientos en Blanco y Negro, with proceeds going to team charities and a foundation to provide needy children from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, with resources to attend school.

-- Information from other news organizations was used in compiling this report.

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