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NATIONAL LEAGUE ROUNDUP : Cox Finds Extra Help in Mercker; Braves Win

Bobby Cox made a major gamble Friday night at New York and it helped make him the winningest manager in Atlanta Braves’ history.

Cox, hurting for a fifth starting pitcher, reached into the deepest part of his bullpen and brought out his forgotten man, Kent Mercker, to face the Mets.

Mercker didn’t get credit for the 4-2 victory, Cox’s 380th, but gave up three hits in four innings before relievers took over. The newest member of the bullpen, Alejandro Pena (7-1), gave up one hit in three innings to get the victory.

With the Dodgers splitting a doubleheader at Pittsburgh, the Braves cut their deficit in the National League West to one-half game.

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Although Atlanta lost two top relievers, Juan Berenguer and Marvin Freeman, because of injuries, Cox still had been unable to find work for the left-hander Mercker.

He had made four appearances for a total of four innings in the last month. “I knew I had to prove something,” Mercker said. “I knew they had no faith in me. I hope I showed them that I can help in the stretch.”

Cox, who broke a tie with Luman Harris for the most victories by a Braves’ manager, went to Pena after Mercker gave up a lead-off double to Rick Cerone in the fifth inning.

“It’s a great feeling when you are back against your old team and beat them,” Pena said after holding the Mets to one hit in three innings. “I went to their locker room before the game to visit, but once you cross the white line, you have no friends on the other side.”

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The Mets traded Pena to the Braves before the trading deadline.

Met Manager Bud Harrelson offered faint praise. “Pena looked good,” he said. “Howard Johnson said he didn’t pitch like that for us.”

Mercker had made 80 relief appearances since making his other start.

Cox made Mercker his fifth starter because he was not happy with the way rookie Armando Reynoso has been pitching.

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The Mets didn’t score until the ninth inning when Johnson hit his league-leading 32nd home run. Mike Stanton got the last out with the potential tying runs on base.

Chicago 3, San Francisco 2--When the Giants were six games behind the Dodgers in the middle of last month, Manager Roger Craig said he was convinced his club could win the West.

With a month left of the season the Giants are out of the race and hoping to avoid last place.

They couldn’t handle pitcher Frank Castillo at Chicago and lost their fifth in a row.

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Castillo, who tired in the ninth, held the Giants to two singles through eight innings, improving his record to 6-3.

The Giants were without Will Clark, who has a knee injury and is expected to be out a few more games.

Montreal 4, Cincinnati 1--Chris Haney gave up four hits in seven innings at Montreal to give the Expos their sixth victory in the last seven games. The loss dropped the Reds to 66-68.

The Reds’ Barry Larkin, who says he feels uncomfortable at the plate, had a single to increase his hitting streak to 19 games.

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Houston 3, Philadelphia 1--The Astros aren’t convinced they are destined to finish last in the West.

Rookie Jeff Bagwell homered and drove in two runs at Houston to help Pete Harnisch (9-8) win his third game in a row.

San Diego 6, St. Louis 2--Rookie Rick Bones and reliever Craig Lefferts combined to pitch the Padres’ to another victory at San Diego.

With the Pirates splitting a doubleheader with the Dodgers, the Cardinals fell to 10 games back in the East. They are 2-7 on the trip West.

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Cardinal shortstop Ozzie Smith, trying to set a league record for fewest errors, made his seventh. He can afford only one more error if he is to get the record.


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