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In Defense, Pendleton, Belliard Are Fallible : Braves: Their errors in the eighth inning enable Dodgers to tie a game they eventually win, 2-1.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

If there is an improbability to the Atlanta Braves’ rise from last place to pennant contender, there is some of that same improbability to the events of the eighth inning Saturday night.

“Defense is a main part of the reason we’re where we are,” Atlanta Manager Bobby Cox said, “and those two guys on the left side of our infield are as good as there is.

“This just proves they’re human, like everyone else.”

An error by third baseman Terry Pendleton and another by shortstop Rafael Belliard disrupted a brilliant pitching performance by Charlie Leibrandt, enabling the Dodgers to tie the score with an unearned run in that eighth inning and then win it, 2-1, in the ninth.

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The Braves dropped half a game behind the Dodgers in the National League West, but that is nothing compared to what they dropped last year when they finished last in the division standings and last in the league in fielding with 158 errors.

“Did we need to improve the defense?” Leibrandt said after the painful defeat Saturday night. “No question about it. We needed to and we did.”

Pendleton, Belliard and first baseman Sid Bream were signed as free agents, and the Braves came into their 148th game having made only 124 errors, a dramatic improvement that doesn’t measure the number of potential hits Pendleton and Belliard have deprived the opposition of, fueling the confidence of their young starting staff.

Leibrandt, who is 34 and has faced the pressure of other Septembers, gained confidence and momentum as he watched Pendleton and Belliard make a succession of excellent plays through the first seven innings, protecting his shutout and two-hitter.

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“If we win 1-0,” Leibrandt said, “everyone is writing how Rafael and Terry’s defense saved the day. They must have made eight to 10 tremendous plays for me. It’s a shame that one inning may overshadow it.”

The inning opened with Juan Samuel hitting a slow chopper that Pendleton, a most valuable player candidate in this season of Atlanta’s renaissance, charged. The ball skidded under his glove for an error.

“I feel like I personally beat us,” Pendleton, a Gold Glove winner with the St. Louis Cardinals, said later, “and it hurts because Charlie deserved to win.

“It was a situation where I thought I played the ball perfectly, but I expected the hop and it just stayed down. There’s not much I can do about it. I’ve made 20 errors this season (now 21), so it’s not a first. It’s happened and will happen again.”

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