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No more Mr. Nice Guy
10/06/2004 4:15 PM ET
ATLANTA -- Friendship ends when the quest for championships begin.

Deep down, Braves left-hander Mike Hampton has strong feels for his former team, the Astros. He keeps in touch with a number of players, and even helped put Houston in the playoffs by beating the Cubs last weekend at Wrigley Field.

Not only did Hampton pitch effectively, allowing one run in six innings, he belted a home run off Kerry Wood to pad his lead while enhancing Houston's playoff aspirations. The Braves are sending Hampton (13-9) to the mound to face the Astros' Roy Oswalt (20-10) in Game 2 of the Division Series at Turner Field.

"There won't be a whole lot of chitchat going on through this series," Hampton said. "You're happy for your friends that they went to the postseason. But the bottom line is, we want to kick their butt."

An Astro from 1994-99, Hampton is all too familiar with the Astros' past postseason struggles. He's also aware that the Braves have fallen short many times, too, in the playoffs.

"It's a special time for them," Hampton said. "But it's a special time for us, too. I've been there before. I've got the second-place ring. I've got the runner-up ring. It's not as nice as the World Series ring. That's something I'm definitely shooting for. If we win this series, it will be bittersweet, but it will be something that I'll definitely work my tail off to accomplish."

Hampton has plenty of playoff experience, having reached the World Series in 2000 with the Mets, who then lost to the Yankees.

How well the Braves hold up in the playoffs depends in part on the stability of Hampton's left knee.

Well Grounded
Best regular-season ratios of ground outs to fly outs among starters currently in the playoffs
Rank Pitcher Team Ratio
1. Derek Lowe Boston 3.36
2. Jason Marquis St. Louis 2.05
3. Matt Morris St. Louis 1.86
4. Odalis Perez Los Angeles 1.83
5. Chris Carpenter St. Louis 1.74
6. Mike Hampton Atlanta 1.62
7. Carlos Silva Minnesota 1.60
8. Jose Lima Los Angeles 1.48
9. Jon Lieber NY Yankees 1.46
10. John Thomson Atlanta 1.44

Hampton tore cartilage in the knee while pitching against the Expos on Sept. 11 at Turner Field. The injury occurred when his front leg landed awkwardly on his delivery.

Their lone left-handed starter hobbled, the Braves opted not to place him on the disabled list. Instead, the recommended rest and rehabilitation. He's spent time receiving treatment and getting the fluid drained from the knee. But two weeks after damaging the cartilage, Hampton made a triumphant return.

Despite the layoff, he showed remarkable command, breezing through the Marlins for seven scoreless innings on Sept. 25. He didn't allow a run or a walk.

Against the Cubs on Oct. 1, he walked four and gave up four hits, but with five strikeouts, he was in control. The performance in Chicago eliminated the Cubs and all but put the Astros in the playoffs.

"I went into that start against the Cubs aware that if we won, it was going to help them out tremendously," Hampton said. "They're good friends of mine, but for me, the friendship will end, I guess, 4:09 [p.m.] tomorrow, between the white lines."

What made Hampton's last two starts so impressive is the fact he is playing hurt. He faces knee surgery after the season.

   Mike Hampton  /   P
Born: 09/09/72
Height: 5'10"
Weight: 195 lbs
Bats: R / Throws: L

About 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday, 30 minutes before talking with the media, Hampton had the knee drained yet again.

"We know the diagnosis," Hampton said. "We know we'll have to have surgery at the end of the year. We'll put it off as long as we can. The two starts since I went and had it examined, I felt good. I've been able to tolerate it and move pretty well."

Manager Bobby Cox knows there is risk with every pitch Hampton throws.

"We're going to have to get it operated on after the season." Cox said. "We're going to try to get him through this month. Right now, we've got him ready to go tomorrow. Hopefully, he won't have any problems with it. I can't guarantee that he won't. We have our fingers crossed that he will be ready for at least seven innings."

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.