But after Steve Avery defeated the Cleveland Indians, 5-2, Wednesday night before a crowd of 43,578 in Jacobs Field to take a commanding, three-games-to-one lead in the World Series, you've got to like the Braves' chances.
The reason is obvious: The Braves will send baseball's best pitcher, Greg Maddux, on his full four days' rest after his two-hit masterpiece against the Indians in Game 1 Saturday, to the mound for Game 5 tonight against Orel Hershiser.
"You've got to be crazy to not like our position," said Atlanta designated hitter Ryan Klesko, who snapped a scoreless tie with a bases-empty home run in the sixth inning Wednesday night. "I'm not saying we're going to be overconfident, but Maddux has been unbelievable lately."
But the Braves have been in a similar position before, and they know what can go wrong. Remember 1991? Atlanta ripped Minnesota, 14-5, in Game 5 to take a 3-2 lead in the series, only to travel to the Metrodome and lose the next two games--and the Series.
"We've been through this before, we've been close a lot of times," second baseman Mark Lemke said. "One thing this team is not going to do is grab something that's not in our hands yet."
Right fielder David Justice, whose two-run single in the seventh Wednesday blew open a one-run game, said there is no danger of the Braves feeling overconfident tonight.
"We know what could happen, and we don't feel this thing is over," said Justice, whose clutch hit gave the Braves a 4-1 lead. "I know Maddux is throwing, but he's also human. We have to come out and score as many runs as we can and hope Greg has a Maddux-like game, where he shuts them down."
If Maddux comes close to equaling his Game 1 performance, when he needed only 95 pitches to dispose of the Indians, and if the Braves come close to matching Wednesday night's offensive output, the Indians' 47-year wait for a World Series championship will grow to 48 years tonight.
Atlanta pounded out 11 hits, including three by leadoff batter Marquis Grissom and two each by Luis Polonia and Javier Lopez, and rebounded from an 0-for-8 performance with runners in scoring position in the first five innings with some clutch hits late in the game.
After Klesko's home run in the top of the sixth, Cleveland countered with Albert Belle's solo blast in the bottom of the sixth. But Polonia, playing only because the Braves are allowed to use the DH in the American League park, followed Grissom's walk with an RBI double in the seventh to make it 2-1.
Cleveland Manager Mike Hargrove summoned left-hander Paul Assenmacher, whose first job was to issue an intentional walk to Chipper Jones.
Assenmacher struck out Fred McGriff on a nasty slider for the second out, but catcher Sandy Alomar couldn't handle a low fastball, and the passed ball allowed both runners to move up.
Assenmacher, in a battle of left-handers, jumped ahead of Justice, 1-and-2. But Justice, who grounded out with a runner on third and two out in his first two at-bats Wednesday, who batted only .242 with three RBIs in 10 previous postseason games, slapped a slider up the middle for two runs and a 4-1 lead.
"I know I didn't do it my first two times up," Justice said. "But it only takes one at-bat to change the complexion of the game."
Atlanta added an insurance run in the ninth on doubles by McGriff and Lopez, and after Manny Ramirez homered and Paul Sorrento doubled in the bottom of the ninth for Cleveland, reliever Pedro Borbon came on to strike out Jim Thome and Sandy Alomar and retire Kenny Lofton on a fly ball to end the game.
That sealed the victory for Avery and guaranteed vindication for both Avery and Atlanta Manager Bobby Cox.
Cox was heavily criticized for his decision to start Avery, who went 7-13 this season, in Game 4 over Maddux, who could have come back for a potential Game 7 if he pitched Wednesday night.
But Avery gave up only three hits and one run in six innings Wednesday night, and Maddux is lined up for tonight, so who's complaining now?
"Bob showed confidence in me all year long when a lot of people could have given up on me," said Avery, who walked five--one intentionally--and struck out three. "The last thing I wanted was for him to have to answer a lot of questions about why he pitched Avery tonight."
The Indians appeared to have Avery measured in the first inning, as three balls shot off their bats like lasers, but good fortune intervened on Avery's behalf.
Lofton led off with a bullet, but Justice barely had to move in right field to make the catch. Omar Vizquel followed with a liner right at second baseman Lemke.
Carlos Baerga then ripped a single to center field and Belle walked. But Eddie Murray grounded into an inning-ending fielder's choice, and the Indians hardly threatened again until Belle's homer in the sixth.
The key for Avery and the entire Brave staff was keeping Lofton off base. The speedy Indian leadoff batter, who reached all six times in Tuesday's Game 3 victory, went 0 for 5.
Avery struggled at times--of his 109 pitches, 49 were balls--but he kept the Indians guessing with a good changeup and improved his career postseason record to 5-2 with a 2.88 earned-run average in 15 games.
And now the Braves will look to Maddux to close out the series and finally validate their status as baseball's team of the decade.
"For me the main thing will be to control my emotions," Maddux said. "It's going to be an exciting night. We have a chance to achieve something that we've been trying for since 1991. I just want to go out and pitch my normal game."