HOUSTON (REUTERS)–Tom Glavine and the Atlanta Braves showed that they, too, know how to throw a shutout in the playoffs.
In a postseason that’s begun with dominant pitching, the team that’s been doing it longer than the rest joined the trend Wednesday in a 1-0 victory over the Houston Astros in Game 2 of the NL first round series.
Glavine threw eight sharp innings, and John Smoltz pitched the ninth to cap the third shutout in the first four playoff games. This one sends the Braves home needing only one more win to return to the NLCS after a one year absence.
“You hear over and over that the postseason is about pitching and defense. We’ve proven that the last couple of days,” said Glavine, who improved to 10-0 in Houston since June 1991.
The Astros have gotten great pitching this series, too, but poor defense from shortstop Julio Lugo has put them on the brink of dropping to 0-7 all-time in playoff series.
After making the fielding error that turned Game 1 in Atlanta’s favor, Lugo made throwing errors on the first two balls hit to him in Game 2. The second one, which came after a great diving stop, led to Atlanta’s only run.
Now the Astros, who were ousted by the Braves in 1997 and 1999, go to Atlanta facing elimination. They’ve never won such a game in six previous tries. Shane Reynolds will try to change that Friday afternoon, when he starts Game 3 against Atlanta’s John Burkett.
The change of scenery might be Houston’s best hope for extending the series.
The Astros had the NL’s best road record, winning a franchise-record 49 games, while Atlanta was just 40-41 in Turner Field, becoming the first team to make the playoffs with a losing record at home.
“I don’t feel good about going on the road 0-2. I wouldn’t feel good about staying here 0-2,” Houston manager Larry Dierker said. “If we are able to win two games there, then I feel like we’re due to win one here.”
Braves manager Bobby Cox learned before the game that his sister, Joy Rogers, had a brain hemorrhage and was in intensive care. He did not speak with reporters and planned to drive to be with her in Birmingham, Ala., upon flying back to Atlanta late Wednesday.
It was not known whether Cox would be with the Braves for Game 3.
Glavine, who said he didn’t know about Cox’s distraction, limited Houston to six hits, striking out three and walking two. Both walks were to Jeff Bagwell, the Astro who had hit him the hardest.
His toughest jam came in the fifth, when the Astros got within six inches of taking the lead, then had men on the corners with one out.
First was the blast by Brad Ausmus that came so close to being a home run that it ripped the padding just below the yellow stripe across the top of the wall in left field. B.J. Surhoff played the quick carom perfectly, forcing Ausmus to settle for a single, and Vinny Castilla, who was on first, to stop at third.
“Fortunately, nobody reached over in a situation like we had one year in New York,” said Surhoff, who was with Baltimore when 12-year-old Jeff Maier created a game-tying homer by Derek Jeter by reaching out to grab a ball that was about to be caught.
Glavine then got behind 3-0 on pinch-hitter Chris Truby, bringing the crowd to its feet. The left-hander rallied with a called strike and two low pitches that Truby chased. Craig Biggio ended the threat with a weak grounder.
“Glavine doesn’t give in, even in spring training,” Bagwell said. “He preys on the inability of a hitter to be patient. That was a tough situation for Truby to be in.”
Truby was hitting for Dave Mlicki, who had allowed only an unearned run on four hits and two walks through five innings. Dierker admitted it was a “desperate measure.”
“We needed a run there, and it wasn’t promising to try to let the pitcher hit and then score later,” Dierker said. “So we hit and it didn’t work out.”
Surhoff led off the second inning with a double, and Andruw Jones followed with a grounder up the middle. Lugo dove and stopped it, then threw to first to try beating the speedy Jones.
His low throw got past Bagwell, allowing Surhoff to go to third. Jones got a single for the hit and Lugo got an error for the throw moving up Surhoff.
Surhoff then scored when Rey Sanchez grounded into a double play that started with a grounder to Lugo.
Lugo, who threw high to Bagwell in the first inning for his first error, botched a grounder Wednesday that would’ve started an inning-ending double play with the score tied at 3 in the eighth. Instead, Chipper Jones followed with a three-run homer, and Atlanta won 7-4.
Dierker risked second-guessing by sticking with Lugo after Game 1 instead of going with veteran Jose Vizcaino. Last October, while playing for the New York Yankees, Vizcaino had the game-winning hit in Game 1 of the World Series.
“Maybe there are other shortstops in the league who would be better, but I don’t think there’s anybody on our team who’s better,” Dierker said.
Lugo had a chance to redeem himself in the eighth inning of Game 2. With two outs and a runner at second, he flied out to right, making him 0 for 4 in the game and 0 for 7 in the series.
Smoltz allowed a leadoff single to Bagwell in the ninth; then Lance Berkman hit a hard grounder that first baseman Julio Franco fielded and turned into Atlanta’s third double play of the game. Smoltz retired Moises Alou on a popup for his second save of the series.