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Giants-Braves: The big picture
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Division Series
10/03/2002 10:35 pm ET 
Giants-Braves: The big picture
By Chris Shuttlesworth /

Kevin Millwood pitched his team right back into the series. (Roberto Borea/AP)
In the playoffs particularly, momentum is a fragile thing, as the Giants were reminded Thursday night. Riding high on securing at least a split in the opening pair of Division Series games in Atlanta, they now return to San Francisco with questions swirling once again -- was that Game 1 victory a fluke, or was Game 2's loss the aberration?

Nobody ever expected the veteran Braves team to panic after losing Game 1, especially because they were able to get the tying run to the plate after falling behind by six runs. They carried that momentum over into Game 2, where their rout of the Giants erased any nagging doubts caused by that first-game loss.

Kirk Rueter, considered similar to Tom Glavine in the way he pitches, suffered the same fate as Glavine, getting roughed up early in the game and torching Dusty Baker's strategy of trying to fool an overamped opponent with a crafy soft-tosser.

And Kevin Millwood looked every bit the ace he had been in the second half of the season, validating Bobby Cox's decision to push back Greg Maddux to Game 3. The Giants know if it comes to a Game 5, they would likely have to face Millwood in that series decider.

If the Braves were going to split, maybe this was the best way to do it. They perhaps have more momentum by denying the Giants a chance to take a commanding 2-0 series lead and forcing them to think about the prospect of losing the series at home, or at least having to come back to Atlanta if they can't win both games at Pacific Bell Park.

Back to Winning Game 1 and coming into San Francisco on the heels of a loss could have been more damaging to the Braves' spirit, if that's even possible for this team that's been there, done that for 11 straight years.

While Game 3 starter Jason Schmidt has been largely superb for the Giants much of the season, he hasn't been infallible and has professed a hesitation over facing his former club, the Braves. Atlanta, meanwhile, counters with a name that still has the power to strike fear in the hearts of opposing hitters and fans alike: Greg Maddux.

It's safe to say that the Giants face more uncertainty over which direction the momentum -- and the series -- is going to head next. Saturday's Game 3 could prove to be the most crucial contest of the series.

Chris Shuttlesworth is an editorial producer for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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