No Nixon, No Victory for Braves Again, 3-2 : Baseball: They lose to Giants and are now 0-2 without their suspended leadoff batter.
Their private view of Otis Nixon and the drug violation resulting in his 60-day suspension might differ from their compassionate public posture, but the Atlanta Braves continued to address his loss with a measure of bravado Tuesday.
“We came through the loss of Sid Bream (knee surgery) and David Justice (back injury) with shining colors, and we can do the same now,” catcher Greg Olson said. “The important thing is that our pitching is so strong.”
Charlie Leibrandt showed how he has been a key factor in that strength Tuesday night.
A winner of six consecutive decisions and 15 for the season, the 34-year-old left-hander gave up only two runs and four hits in a seven-inning stint that was only good for a tie.
The San Francisco Giants’ Bud Black held Atlanta to similar totals in eight innings and the Braves eventually lost, 3-2, to go 0-2 here without Nixon and fall half a game behind the Dodgers in the National League West.
Giant Manager Roger Craig predicted the Braves would continue to struggle without Nixon, their leadoff hitter and the major league leader in stolen bases.
“It’s going to hurt them,” Craig said. “He’s a guy the other manager is always thinking about. Even if it doesn’t affect them emotionally, it’s going to affect them physically on the field, because of all he can do.”
The Braves might also pay a price for the absence of relief pitcher Juan Berenguer, who leads the club with 17 saves but has not pitched since Aug. 12 because of a forearm muscle strain.
Manager Bobby Cox has successfully employed a bullpen by committee, but the Giants broke the 2-2 tie against Mike Stanton in the eighth after Leibrandt was removed for a pinch-hitter in the top of that inning.
Mike Felder, batting for Black, walked, moved to second on a sacrifice, stole third and scored on Willie McGee’s one-out chopper to second baseman Mark Lemke, who was playing in to cut off the run but had no play on Felder.
Dave Righetti pitched a flawless ninth to preserve the victory for Black, who is 11-15 and had worked more than five innings only once in his past six starts.
This time, he gave up only a third-inning double by Olson until the seventh, when a three-base error by McGee on a fly ball by Lonnie Smith, a triple by Lemke and an infield single by Justice produced the tying two runs.
Leibrandt, who has given up only 11 earned runs in his past eight starts, gave up a run on singles by Matt Williams and Tom Herr in the second, then another on a homer by Kevin Bass in the sixth.
The Braves, who left Atlanta Sunday night with a 1 1/2-game lead and the emotional high of two consecutive victories over the Dodgers, now will play two games at San Diego before a three-game weekend series at Los Angeles.
“We’ve been trading leads with the Dodgers all season,” Leibrandt said, “and I wanted to stop that trend tonight. I thought I pitched pretty well, but it wasn’t good enough. We just have to pick up the pieces again.”
For the disappointing Giants, it was another chance to play the spoiler role. They are through with the Braves, but have six games left against the Dodgers.
Craig said his players will go at it with vigor.
“Sure, they’re looking to take out their frustrations for the fact they didn’t win or didn’t finish as high as they wanted,” Craig said. “We want to win as many games as we can. We’ll put a priority on using our best pitchers against the Dodgers. If Will Clark and Kevin Mitchell can play, they’ll play.”
Clark (bruised knee) played Tuesday night but Mitchell (strained groin) did not. The rivalry with the Dodgers isn’t as intense as it once was, Craig said, but the last thing Bay Area fans want is a Los Angeles pennant.
“Now that we’re out of the race,” Craig said, “everyone I see says to me, ‘Just beat the Dodgers, just beat the Dodgers.’ ”