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‘98 Braves’ offense remains silent in NLCS Game 3 loss to Padres

Atlanta falls into an 0-3 hole after a 4-1 loss in Game 3.

Chipper Jones of the Atlanta Braves walks back to Photo credit should read Vince Bucci/AFP via Getty Images

The Atlanta Braves entered Game 3 of the 1998 NLCS with their backs nearly up against the wall, but they still had to feel okay given that they had Greg Maddux on the mound and a dominant, if dormant offensive team that was bound to wake up eventually after being held in check over the first two games of the series.

Atlanta was unable to take advantage of some early opportunities, falling 3-2 in 10 innings in Game 1. Kevin Brown proved to once again be their playoff nemesis in Game 2 hurling a complete game shutout in a 3-0 loss.

Maddux had a stellar regular season posting a 2.22 ERA (2.81 FIP, 7.5 fWAR) in 251 innings. He walked just 45 batters for the season, and ten of those were intentional. Interestingly, Maddux faced the Padres once during the regular season and took the loss after allowing six hits and four runs in six innings. San Diego would counter with left-hander Sterling Hitchcock who put up 3.93 ERA (4.45 FIP, 1.5 fWAR) in 176 1/3 innings. Hitchcock faced the Braves once and held them scoreless while allowing four hits in 5 1/3 innings. The Braves perhaps had to feel somewhat positively about this matchup, given that Greg Maddux was Greg Maddux, and Sterling Hitchcock and didn’t even start the season in his team’s rotation.

1998 NLCS Game 3 Lineups

# Braves # Padres
# Braves # Padres
1 Walt Weiss SS 1 Quilvio Veras 2B
2 Gerald Williams RF 2 Steve Finley CF
3 Chipper Jones 3B 3 Tony Gwynn RF
4 Andres Galarraga 1B 4 Ken Caminiti 3B
5 Andruw Jones CF 5 Wally Joyner 1B
6 Eddie Perez C 6 Jim Leyritz C
7 Danny Bautista LF 7 John Vander Wal LF
8 Tony Graffanino 2B 8 Chris Gomez SS
9 Greg Maddux P 9 Sterling Hitchcock P

With a left-hander on the mound, Bobby Cox made the first significant changes to his lineup in the series. Left-handed hitters Keith Lockhart, Ryan Klesko and Michael Tucker all took a seat and were replaced by Gerald Williams, Danny Bautista and Tony Graffanino. Eddie Perez also took over behind the plate with Maddux on the mound. Williams produced a 122 OPS+ in 1998 while appearing in 129 games off the bench. Bautista (74 OPS+) and Graffanino (56 OPS+) were substantially less appealing options. Still, with the way the Braves struggled offensively over the first two games of the series, the idea of shaking up the lineup wasn’t the worst thing.

The Padres also made a couple of changes, inserting Jim Leyritz behind the plate and John Vander Wal in left.

1st Inning - Braves 0, Padres 0

Sterling Hitchcock picked up where San Diego’s pitching staff left off in the first inning, striking out Walt Weiss looking to start the game. Williams popped out for the second out before Chipper walked on four pitches to give Atlanta a baserunner. However, Galarraga struck out swinging to end the inning.

Maddux began his day with a strikeout of Veras to open the inning, but then gave up a single to Steve Finley. Finley was forced at second on a ground ball by Gwynn for the second out. Caminiti reached on an error by Galarraga to prolong the inning. Maddux then walked Joyner to load the bases but came back and struck out Leyritz to end the threat.

2nd Inning - Braves 0, Padres 0

Hitchcock continued to deal in the second, retiring Andruw and Perez on groundouts before Bautista flew out in foul territory to end the inning.

John Vander Wal swung at the first pitch he saw from Maddux and blooped in a lead off single. Maddux would recover, though, as Gomez also swung at the first pitch and grounded into a 5-4-3 double play. Hitchcock grounded out to Weiss at short to end the inning.

3rd Inning - Braves 1, Padres 0

Atlanta would finally break through in the third and take just their second lead of the series. Graffanino worked a leadoff walk and moved up to second on a successful sacrifice bunt by Maddux. Weiss followed with a solid single to right to score Graffanino and put the Braves in front 1-0. Williams struck out on a 3-2 pitch, but Weiss stole second base to get into scoring position. Chipper followed with a single to left but Weiss was gunned down at the plate by Vander Wal to end the inning.

Now with the lead, Maddux made quick work of the Padres in the home half of the third. Veras grounded out to open the frame. Finley flew out to Andruw in center and Gwynn grounded to Graffanino at second for the final out.

4th Inning - Braves 1, Padres 0

The Braves would make Hitchcock work again in the fourth but as was the theme of this series so far, they would fail to capitalize. Galarraga worked a leadoff walk. After a strikeout by Andruw, Perez singled to left to put runners at first and second. Bautista grounded to third for the second out. Hitchcock then walked Graffanino intentionally to load the bases to face Maddux, who flew out to left to end the threat.

Maddux continued to deal, retiring Caminiti and Joyner on flyouts. He then hit Leyritz but struck out Vander Wal to end the inning.

5th Inning - Padres 2, Braves 1

After a noisy fourth, Hitchcock made short work of the Braves in the fifth. Weiss flew out to left for the first out. Williams and Chipper then both struck out to end the inning.

Maddux ran into trouble in the fifth. After getting Gomez to ground out for the first out, Hitchcock then collected an infield single. Veras grounded back to Maddux for the second out with Hitchcock moving up to second. That would bring Finley to the plate, and he lined a 1-1 pitch to left for a double that scored Hitchcock to tie the game. Maddux then intentionally walked Gwynn but Caminiti made him pay with a groundball single to center which scored Finley to make it 2-1. Joyner then flew out to left to end the inning.

6th Inning - Padres 2, Braves 1

The Braves would again have opportunities in the sixth but again fail to cash in. Hitchcock issued a leadoff walk to Galarraga and was replaced by Donne Wall. Andruw followed with a single to center to put runners at first and second. Perez put down a sacrifice to move Galarraga and Jones up to second and third. Cox then sent Klesko out to pinch hit for Bautista, but he was intentionally walked by Wall to set up the double play. Michael Tucker then came on to pinch-hit for Graffanino but struck out swinging for the second out. With the bases still loaded, Cox made the decision to pinch hit for Maddux with Greg Colbrunn, who struck out swinging to end the inning.

Maddux would depart after throwing just 81 pitches as Dennis Martinez came on for the sixth. Martinez made quick work of the Padres on just five pitches, getting Leyritz and Vander Wal to fly out while Gomez grounded to Weiss at short for the third out.

7th Inning - Padres 2, Braves 1

Carlos Hernandez took over for Leyritz behind the plate in the seventh as Wall came on for his second inning of work. Weiss led off the inning with a single but Williams struck out for the first out. Chipper then swung at the first pitch and grounded into a 6-3 double play to end the inning.

John Rocker replaced Martinez in the seventh and struck out pinch hitter Mark Sweeney to start the inning. Veras worked a walk but was picked off at first for the second out. Finley then grounded out to end the frame.

8th Inning - Padres 4, Braves 1

Dan Miceli came on to pitch for the Padres and the Braves would again threaten but ultimately couldn’t get the big hit they needed. Galarraga led off the inning with a single to center. Andruw flew out but Perez singled to left to put runners at first and second. Bruce Bochy would then call on left-hander Randy Myers to face Klesko. Klesko had just 73 plate appearances against left-handed pitchers during the regular season and hit just .213/.342/.262. He put forth a good PA here, though, working the count full by successfully laying off every other pitch before walking on seven pitches to load the bases.

That would bring up Lockhart, who checked into the game in the fifth after Tucker pinch hit for Graffanino. Like Klesko, he didn’t see many opportunities against left-handed pitching, logging just 42 plate appearances in which he hit .189/.250/.243. Predictably, it didn’t go well for the Braves, as Lockhart popped up on the infield for the second out. Cox then sent Javy Lopez out to pinch hit, but Bochy countered by summoning Trevor Hoffman. Lopez quickly fell behind 0-2 and struck out swinging on just three pitches.

Rudy Seanez took over on the mound and got Gwynn to ground out for the first out. Caminiti followed with a strikeout. Seanez then ran the count full against Joyner but his payoff pitch missed for the dreaded two-out walk. Hernandez would make him pay with a deep double to left that scored Joyner all the way from first base to make it 3-1. Klesko was charged with an error on his throw which allowed Hernandez to move up to third. That would prove to be significant as Seanez then uncorked a wild pitch that allowed Hernandez to score to increase the lead to 4-1. Rivera singled and stole second but Gomez struck out to end the inning.

9th Inning - Padres 4, Braves 1

The Braves would go to the ninth needing to equal their run output in this series just to tie the game and potentially force extras. Of course they would have to go through Hoffman to do so. Weiss gave them a bit of hope as he led off the ninth with a single. However, Hoffman dug in and struck out Williams and Chipper for the first two outs of the inning. Galarraga then worked the count to 2-2 but flew out to right to end the game.

Wrap Up

If Game 1 wasn’t the pivotal game, then Game 3 was certainly the dagger. The Braves again had plenty of opportunities but weren’t able to do anything with them. Cox lifting Maddux after just 81 pitches is worth some criticism, but it is easy to see what he was thinking given the difficulties that they had scoring runs in the series. Maddux allowed five hits and two runs over his five innings. Hitchcock allowed three hits and walked five but just one run over his five innings. Lifting Maddux didn’t achieve, or fail to achieve anything anyway as with the maneuvering, the Braves still finished with just their one run.

Weiss was the lone bright spot for Atlanta offensively, going 3-for-5 at the plate. Williams was perhaps the biggest goat as he went 0-for-5 with four strikeouts.

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