WORLD SERIES: ATLANTA BRAVES vs. CLEVELAND INDIANS : Braves, Pitchers in Command : Game 2: Atlanta confident after 4-3 victory over Indians is good for 2-0 edge.


The Atlanta Braves weren't quite giddy enough Sunday night to proclaim that this World Series is over, but after two games this has become little more than a showcase for the greatest pitching staff in the game.

The Braves again dominated the Cleveland Indians' offense, winning, 4-3, in front of a sellout crowd of 51,877 at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium and taking a commanding 2-0 lead in the World Series.

"You're going to tell me that the Indians can beat us four times in the next five games?" Atlanta outfielder Luis Polonia said. "It ain't going to happen. Not against this pitching staff.

"To tell you the truth, I'm kind of surprised it's this easy. I've seen the Indians all year when I was with the Yankees, and I know what they can do. They've got unbelievable power.

"But man, we're just shutting them down.

"We just keep throwing different pitchers at them, and we got them frustrated. We got them real down. How are they going to come back from this?"

The Indians are batting .125 in the Series with three runs batted in. Their only extra-base hit was Eddie Murray's two-run homer in the second inning, providing a lead that lasted one inning.

You know you've got big problems when Braves' part-time catcher Javier Lopez is the star of the game, with a two-run homer in the sixth inning and a pickoff throw in the eighth.

How can anyone possibly explain that Lopez is batting .385 with two homers and eight RBIs in 26 at-bats this postseason, while Cleveland slugger Albert Belle is hitting .229 with only one RBI since the Indians' first playoff game?

"Sooner or later, we're going to have to wake up," Cleveland catcher Tony Pena said, "and it better be sooner. I don't think anyone's panicking. We've lost two games in a row before, and come right back and won eight of 10.

"This team will bounce back."

While the Indians shrugged their shoulders when they lost Game 1 to Greg Maddux, acknowledging they were overmatched, they had difficulty accepting this defeat.

Again, they found themselves tied in the late innings, 2-2 in the sixth. And once again, disaster struck again, this time in the name of the 24-year-old Lopez.

Cleveland starter Dennis Martinez, who later conceded that he never felt comfortable the entire night, opened the sixth by yielding a slicing single to left by Dave Justice. Belle ran over to cut the ball off, but it caromed off his glove for an error, enabling Justice to take second.

Belle didn't want to talk about it later.

"Get the . . . out of here," Belle said, when asked what happened.

Ryan Klesko then grounded out to second, moving Justice to third, and setting up an intriguing decision.

Do you walk Lopez, the No. 7 batter, and set up the double play? Or do you pitch to Lopez, and hope for a strikeout or ground ball with the infield drawn in?

Mark Wiley, Cleveland pitching coach, went to the mound for a strategy session with Martinez. He told Martinez that Manager Mike Hargrove elected to pitch to Lopez.

It was a move they may regret all winter.

Martinez quickly got ahead with two strikes, but on a 1-and-2 pitch, tried to throw a fastball on the outside part of the plate. It stayed right over the heart, and Lopez sent it soaring over the center-field fence for a two-run homer.

Lopez, who shares the catching duties with Charlie O'Brien, rounded first base and thrust his arms into the air while Martinez looked at the ground in disbelief.

"Everybody wants to be a hero in a World Series game," Lopez said. "This is something I will never forget."

Said Atlanta pitcher John Smoltz, who starts Tuesday in Game 3: "You're going to be hearing from Javy for a long, long time. I think he'll fall right into the footsteps of Mike Piazza. He's that good."

Just when the Indians figured that Lopez had caused all of the damage he could in one night, they helped make him an overnight folk hero.

Cleveland was just starting to make it interesting when it scored a run in the seventh inning, courtesy of left fielder Mike Devereaux's two-base error, but left two more runners on when Belle ended the inning by fouling out to Lopez.

In the eighth, Manny Ramirez hit a one-out, broken-bat single. Atlanta reliever Alejandro Pena, trying to protect Tom Glavine's victory, started to complicate matters when he fell behind to Jim Thome.

Pena threw a high and inside pitch, forcing a full count, when it happened.

Ramirez, for some unknown reason, was wandering far off first base, catching Lopez's attention. Lopez stepped behind Thome, fired the ball to first baseman Fred McGriff, and Ramirez was out.

"Earlier in the game, I told Javy that Ramirez was taking real big leads at first," McGriff said. "I'm glad he remembered."

Thome stared at Ramirez in disgust, and when he walked one pitch later, angrily tossed his bat aside realizing the severity of the blunder. Atlanta Manager Bobby Cox summoned closer Mark Wohlers to face pinch-hitter Paul Sorrento, who flied out to deep center.

The Indians had one final chance in the ninth when Omar Vizquel hit a two-out single up the middle and stole second. No matter. Carlos Baerga, who is hitless in the Series, popped up to third baseman Chipper Jones for the final out.

"Everybody is sky high, it's a tremendous high," Jones said. "It assures us that no matter what happens in Cleveland, we can come back here and close it out."

For the Indians, they still are trying to figure out what has happened to their offense. They are hitting only .224 in postseason with only 26 extra-base hits in 384 at-bats. They still have yet to produce a hit with a runner in scoring position this Series.

"This team is still capable of exploding," Baerga said. "Even with their pitching, we're too good to be playing like this. We still believe in this team.

"I guess it might be hard for anyone else to at this point."

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