BASEBALL PLAYOFFS : Indians Climb, Braves on Top : National League: Atlanta tries to stay cool after sweep, but some can't help celebrating.


Owner Ted Turner and wife Jane Fonda giggled and sprayed champagne on one another in front of the cameras.

Rookie third baseman Chipper Jones, wondering a year ago if he'd even play again after reconstructive knee surgery, gargled with champagne to soothe a raspy throat.

Outfielder Luis Polonia, dumped in July when the Yankees signed Darryl Strawberry, kept screaming over and over: "Does anybody know where the Yankees are?"

While a flock of Atlanta Braves wildly celebrated their third National League pennant in five years Saturday night--completing a four-game sweep of the Cincinnati Reds with a 6-0 victory at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium--there were nine players who barely participated in the revelry of earning a World Series berth.

"It's nice to see for the young guys and new guys who have never been though this before," pitcher John Smoltz said, "but look around and you can tell who's been around here since '91.

"For us, there's a feeling of calmness, of tranquillity. There's no sense for us to celebrate because we've been there before. We've been to two World Series.

"But we win the World Series this time, oh, man, you're going to see a celebration like no other."

The Braves lost the World Series in 1991 on a base-running blunder by Lonnie Smith, lost in 1992 when Ed Sprague became a famous third baseman, lost in the National League championship series in 1993 because of a rotten bullpen, and were stopped in 1994 because of the strike.

This time?

"They're going to win it," said outgoing Red Manager Davey Johnson. "They're as good a club as I've ever seen. [Tom] Glavine and [Greg] Maddux are at their peaks. They never really had a bona-fide closer, and now they do [in Mark Wohlers]. They never had a setup man and now they do [in Alejandro Pena and Greg McMichael].

"Really they've got it all."

The Reds became the first team in NLCS history to be swept in a four-game series. Their offense was overwhelmed, and the heart of their order was embarrassed.

The Reds scored a National League playoff record-low five runs in 39 innings. They batted .209 (.107 with runners in scoring position). They never homered. They hit into eight double plays.

And their powerful 3-4 duo of Ron Gant and Reggie Sanders combined to bat .156 without an extra-base hit and drove in one run.

The Braves will tell you that no one expected a sweep. The Reds were dangerous, coming off a three-game sweep of the Dodgers, and setting up a rotation with three left-handers designed to stop the Braves' offense.

There was only one problem.

The Reds forgot how to hit, and Sanders had a series that will be remembered as one of the worst in baseball history. He never hit the ball out of the infield, batting .125 while striking out 10 times in 16 at-bats.

"It happened," Sanders said, "and I have to deal with it. I'll be fine. We'll be fine. We'll be back."

Said Red shortstop Barry Larkin: "I can't even tell you what I'm feeling. I'm just numb. Absolutely numb."

Perhaps all you need to know about this series is that part-time outfielder Mike Devereaux of the Braves drove in as many runs as the Reds scored.

Devereaux, voted the most valuable player in the series, wasn't even in the lineup Saturday until 30 minutes before game time when starting right fielder David Justice was hit in the right knee during batting practice.

Devereaux was playing out the season for the Chicago White Sox when he was traded to the Braves on Aug. 25. Who'd imagine that six weeks later he'd hit a three-run homer in the seventh inning that prompted the clubhouse attendants to start icing the champagne?

"You dream of things like this," said Devereaux, who spent the first four years of his career in the Dodger organization, "but you never think of it happening to you. It's something out of the movies."

The Braves were clinging to a 1-0 lead when they put the game away with their five-run seventh inning, highlighted by Devereaux's homer. The moment the ball sailed into the left-field seats, the sellout crowd of 52,067 began chanting, "Sweep, Sweep, Sweep."

The only question left was whether the Braves would prefer playing the Seattle Mariners or Cleveland Indians in the World Series. One team has never been to the Fall Classic. The other was last there 41 years ago.

"I want to play Cleveland because they're the best," Polonia said. "They've been the team to beat all year, and now we have a chance to get them.

"Everybody always knows that Atlanta will make it to the World Series, but every year they lose. It's going to be different this time. I can just feel it."

Said Jones: "Bring them all on, who's going to beat us? We've got the best pitching staff in baseball. We can pitch, we can play defense and we can have good clutch hitting.

"Go ahead and ask the Reds."


* MIKE DOWNEY: Reds' terrible series made the end even worse for Davey Johnson, who becomes a former manager. C10

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