That menacing sound behind the Dodgers is the San Francisco Giants breathing down their necks.
With solid pitching performances at Dodger Stadium the last two nights, the Braves have blunted some of the excitement generated by the acquisition of Otis Nixon and Eric Young, highlighted the sharp differences between themselves and the Dodgers, and erased all but half a game of the 2 1/2-game lead the Dodgers enjoyed over the Giants in the National League West 10 days ago.
Tuesday's Dodger loss to the Braves was disappointing.
Wednesday night's 7-0 defeat to Atlanta in front of a crowd of 41,564 was scary and ugly.
Scary because the Dodgers struggled at the plate for the second night in a row, even though they didn't have to face either of the Braves' top two pitchers in this series: 20-game winner Denny Neagle and four-time Cy Young Award winner Greg Maddux.
Of course, the two pitchers the Dodgers lost to--Tom Glavine, who shut them out on four hits Wednesday, and John Smoltz--would be the aces on almost any other staff. Each of them has also won a Cy Young Award, giving the Braves an embarrassment of riches on the mound.
Speaking of embarrassing, Wednesday night's loss was ugly because the Dodgers' committed their fifth error in two nights. And while the four Tuesday night did not affect the scoring, a fourth-inning error by Young at second base opened the gates for four unearned runs.
The victim was Dodger starter and loser Ramon Martinez (9-4), who needs all the help he can get as he continues to recover, slowly but steadily, from the torn rotator cuff in his throwing shoulder that put him on the disabled list for two months.
Martinez's nightmare fourth began with a double by Kenny Lofton. With one out and Lofton at third, Chipper Jones hit a bouncer near the bag at second. Young backhanded the ball, twisted and then heaved a throw that sailed over the head of first baseman Eric Karros, allowing Lofton to trot home.
He soon had plenty of company.
After a walk to Fred McGriff, Ryan Klesko, who sat out Tuesday's game because of a sore left wrist, hit an RBI single to right. Before they were done, the Braves sent 10 men to the plate in the inning, the additional runs coming across on a fielder's choice by Andruw Jones, and RBI singles by Javier Lopez and Glavine.
Giving Glavine a five-run lead is like giving Emmitt Smith an open field and two blockers in front of him.
Glavine mowed the Dodgers down smoothly and effectively. He struck out seven and did not walk a batter. Only once did he allow more than one runner on base in an inning, and that was in the seventh when Mike Piazza got aboard on an error by Andruw Jones. Todd Zeile had an infield single with two out, but both men were stranded.
"He was really quick out there," Atlanta Manager Bobby Cox said. "He sneaks up on you. He had a great slider and a great changeup."
Said Glavine: "Tonight, I felt like I was in control. I wasn't throwing too hard. Not muscling it. I threw free and easy, and the lead helped."
Like Smoltz before him, Glavine kept the Dodgers in check by keeping the top of the order, Young and Nixon, from causing him any trouble. The two were a combined 0 for 7 against Glavine.
The Braves added two runs in the fifth, Klesko hitting his 22nd home run to right-center with a man aboard.
At that point, it suddenly looked more like a game at Holman Stadium in Vero Beach in March rather than one in September in the midst of a tight pennant race.
Manager Bill Russell emptied his bench. He gave Pacific Coast League most valuable player Paul Konerko his his first chance to play in the field at first base.
Russell also gave pitcher Rick Gorecki, called up Tuesday from double-A San Antonio, his first chance to face big league hitters. Gorecki gave up a walk and a single in the ninth, but no runs.
But Russell knows that the division race does not figure to be decided by a Konerko or a Gorecki.
It's going to be decided on the mound, where the Dodgers must find a way a way to regain their effectiveness.
Otherwise, the next sound they hear will be a whoosh as the Giants zip past them.
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THE NL WEST HOW THEY STAND
W L Pct. GB DODGERS 81 65 .555 -- GIANTS 80 65 .552 1/2
Braves 7, Dodgers 0 Giants 7, Cardinals 6 (10) Up Next
Today: Giants at Phillies Friday: Dodgers at Astros