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Bream’s Not Mad, but He Is Even : Braves: Dodger career is distant memory to first baseman whose grand slam is his third homer in four hits against Martinez.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Sid Bream knew it was gone as soon as he hit it Sunday. His first reaction?

“Obviously, elation,” Bream said.

Then, as he began his tour of the bases, two things came to mind.

“Don’t show them up and don’t fall down,” he said.

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It was the first inning, a crowd of 45,541 was on its feet and Bream couldn’t refrain from pumping a fist in response to his grand slam, but he didn’t fall.

A month ago, he might have. A month ago, he wouldn’t have been in the lineup and in position to hit the home run that would propel the Atlanta Braves to a 9-1 victory over the Dodgers and a 1 1/2-game lead in the National League West.

In the midst of two stints on the disabled list, frustrating his initial season with the Braves after leaving the Pittsburgh Pirates as a free agent, former Dodger Bream underwent surgery on his right knee for a fourth time.

A bone chip and cartilage was removed. He was activated Aug. 28, but by then the Braves had decided on a first base platoon of Bream and rookie Brian Hunter, a situation that has both unhappy.

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“No comment,” Bream said when asked about it Sunday, only 24 hours after Hunter had pinch-hit for him in the third inning of Atlanta’s 3-2 victory in 11 innings.

Bream had left the clubhouse even before reporters were allowed in after that game, an indication of his dissatisfaction.

He refused to discuss the platoon as he patiently stood at his locker Sunday, but he described the home run as an obvious lift at a time when he is still rehabilitating his knee and his timing.

“I had nine home runs and 34 RBI when I first went on the disabled list (June 26), but you reach a point when you’re not playing that you don’t even feel part of the team,” he said.

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“My knee is fine now, but my swing still isn’t right. I console myself with the fact that I’ve hit the ball hard, but I haven’t been hitting home runs or driving it in the gaps.

“I need to get my timing and rhythm back. I’m still not comfortable up there. I need to get going to help the team down the stretch. Hopefully, this was a start. It was a great feeling.”

Bream was batting .188 without an RBI since that second stint on the disabled list, but he added a sacrifice fly in the third inning for his first five-RBI game since Aug. 22, 1986, when he was still with the Dodgers.

Maybe it was the appearance of Ramon Martinez on the mound Sunday. Bream was three for seven against Martinez in his career, with two home runs.

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“The only thing I can tell you is that Ramon is a fastball pitcher who can get himself in a situation where he has to throw it, a situation where you can look for it,” Bream said. “When that happens, there’s the chance you might hit it pretty hard.”

That was exactly what happened in the first inning. Martinez fell behind Bream 3 and 0. Atlanta Manager Bobby Cox gave Bream a green light, but Bream said he was hesitant to swing at what might be a bad pitch.

There was no hesitancy on three and one. Bream nailed an outside fastball. Four hits against Martinez in a career. Three home runs. Asked if he felt Martinez had lost velocity during what has been a second-half struggle, Bream said:

“I don’t know because I haven’t seen enough of him. Sometimes a rookie pitcher can come in and dominate like Dwight Gooden did, but that second year he has to adjust because the hitters definitely will. Has Ramon adjusted? I don’t know that either.”

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After five years in Pittsburgh, traded with R.J. Reynolds and Cecil Espy in the deal that brought Bill Madlock to Los Angeles, Bream has adjusted to his early frustrations with the Dodgers.

He annually compiled big numbers at triple-A Albuquerque but never seemed to get that unconditional shot with the Dodger varsity. In the absence of Steve Garvey, the auditions at first base included Greg Brock and Franklin Stubbs. All are gone now.

“I put up the type numbers that usually win you a job, but there was a lot of politics,” Bream said. “I have no hard feelings. It’s a thing of the past. In fact, I thank the Dodgers for the opportunity they gave me, and I mean that. I wasn’t thinking about getting even today.”

He may get that chance in a playoff with the Pirates, who failed to meet his free agent price, leaving Pittsburgh Manager Jim Leyland furious at his front office and Bream headed to the Braves with a three-year, $5.7-million contract, similar to what the Braves gave first baseman Nick Esasky only a year before.

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Esasky remains sidelined by vertigo, and Bream is part of the Braves’ dizzying climb from last place, a reversal, he said, that he could not have foreseen when he left the Pirates.

“No one could have predicted it,” he said, “but the excitement and confidence here are quite a bit the same as what developed in Pittsburgh during my five years there. We feel we can win every time we step between the lines.”


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