Atlanta 1 win away from title

The Associated Press

CLEVELAND Even the Atlanta Braves will be hard-pressed to blow this.

The Braves, with Steve Avery starting ahead of Greg Maddux, moved within one victory of the World Series championship that has always eluded them, beating the Cleveland Indians 5-2 Wednesday night for a 3-1 lead.

Atlanta, its postseason history filled with failure, could not ask for a better position.

Now Maddux, held back a day to rest, can clinch it Thursday night in Game 5 against Orel Hershiser. Maddux, the three-time Cy Young winner, won the opener with a two-hitter.

Even if they lose, the Braves will head home with two more chances to win. The stats are on their side, too: Of the 39 teams taking a 3-1 edge in the Series, 33 have won it.

After sixth-inning homers by Ryan Klesko and Albert Belle left it tied at 1, the Braves broke it open with three runs in the seventh. Luis Polonia's go-ahead double chased Ken Hill, and David Justice hit a two-out, two-run single off Paul Assenmacher.

''It felt really good because we needed that because we know what kind of team Cleveland has,'' Justice said. ''The more runs we get ahead of them, the better for us.''

Doubles by Fred McGriff and Javier Lopez in the ninth added an insurance run against Alan Embree, and sent a few of the 43,578 fans to the exits at quiet Jacobs Field.

A day after the Indians rapped 12 hits in a 7-6, 11-inning win, Avery limited them to three hits over six innings. Greg McMichael followed with two scoreless innings.

Mark Wohlers, whose 2 2-3-inning stint Tuesday night was his longest of the season, took over in the ninth with a 5-1 lead. He was tagged for Manny Ramirez's leadoff homer and a double by pinch-hitter Paul Sorrento. Manager Bobby Cox wasted no time in bringing in Pedro Borbon, who struck out Jim Thome and Sandy Alomar and retired Kenny Lofton on a liner to right in his second appearance of the postseason and first in 19 days.

Lofton went 0-for-5 one game after reaching base in all six plate appearances.

Not since the 1991 Series, when the Braves held a 3-2 lead over Minnesota, have they been in such a good spot. That year, they lost the last two games at the Metrodome to the Twins, and then Atlanta lost the 1992 Series in six games to Toronto.

Marquis Grissom had three hits for the Braves. He scored the go-ahead run in the seventh on Polonia's double after drawing a one-out walk.

Avery, who earned this start with six shutout innings in the pennant-clinching win over Cincinnati on Oct. 14, managed to avoid trouble despite several well-hit balls early in the game.

After working his way through the lineup the first time and giving up two hits, Avery, who is 5-2 career in the postseason, did not allow a hit until Belle homered with two outs in the sixth. Belle had not swung all night, taking seven balls and seven strikes, until lining an opposite-field drive into the Braves bullpen in right.

Right before the pitch, Avery started and then stopped his windup. When he resumed, Belle hit his first Series homer, a shot that seemed to send Avery into a bit of a spin.

Eddie Murray, after thinking he'd hit a double until being told by second-base umpire Joe Brinkman that his grounder down the left-field line was foul, walked on a full count.

Avery then caught his cleats while going into his stretch, stumbled backward off the mound and was called for a balk. He went ahead and intentionally walked Ramirez and, perhaps sensing this was his last batter, struck out Herbert Perry swinging on a nasty, down-and-in slider.

Avery, having thrown 109 pitches, was pulled after preserving the 1-1 tie.

''Steve did an awesome job. He was under lot of pressure. A lot of people were second-guessing (manager) Bobby (Cox),'' Justice said. ''He did what we've seen him do a lot of times.''

The Braves came back to break it open, and McMichael relieved to start the bottom of the seventh with a 4-1 lead.

Hill, who got to start because of seven shutout innings against Seattle in Game 4 of the AL playoffs, worked out of jams all night.

Atlanta put a runner in scoring position in four of the first five innings without scoring. Twice, Hill pitched around McGriff, walking him with a man on third before retiring Justice.

When they faced each other in the NL, Justice was just 1-for-25 (.040) lifetime against Hill. McGriff, meanwhile, was 9-for-33 (.273) with three home runs off Hill.

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