Wood: 'I'm ready to go'
CHICAGO -- Mike Hampton's first season with the Braves has already been successful in the fact that he has already proven that his two-year struggle in Colorado was purely environmental.
But if Hampton wants to prolong this season, he will need to provide a strong effort against Kerry Wood and the Cubs in the decisive Game 5 of the National League Division Series, which will be played at Turner Field on Sunday night.
"Any time you play in the postseason, I think every game has a lot of pressure in it," Hampton said. "In the ALCS, NLCS and World Series games, there is a lot of pressure involved in any of them. I don't think any other one is greater than the other, unless it's a deciding game."
Hampton's most recent experience in a possible series clinching situation was a successful one. The veteran southpaw tossed a complete-game, three-hit shutout against the Cardinals in the clinching Game 5 of the 2000 National League Championship Series. The effort earned him Series MVP honors and sent the Mets to the World Series.
"It's about winning right now," Hampton said. "Whether I throw a shutout or give up five or six runs, it's about winning and doing whatever you have to do to do that."
1. Strike first. The Cubs are not the best come-from-behind team around and few teams have fared well when trailing against the Atlanta bullpen and closer John Smoltz. An early advantage will keep the crowd noise down and give starter Kerry Wood something to work with.
2. Situational hitting. The Cubs have stranded 33 baserunners so far and hit .167 with runners in scoring position in their two losses compared to .318 in their two victories.
3. Good Wood. Another quality start by Kerry Wood is crucial if the Cubs are going to win the series.
1. Keep the Cubs in the park. The Braves have done an excellent job against Chicago's power hitters, holding the team overall to just two home runs and none by Sammy Sosa, Moises Alou or Aramis Ramirez and forcing them to string together hits to score.
2. Middle of the order. The Cub pitchers had completely held in check Atlanta's No. 3-6 hitters until Saturday when those four spots hit .438 (7-for-16). The Braves must get similar production out of Chipper Jones, Javy Lopez, Andruw Jones and Gary Sheffield or his replacement.
3. Tight defense. In an expected pitchers' duel, defense could be crucial, and the Braves have already had numerous misplays and made five errors, compared to none by the Cubs.
-- Jim Molony
If Hampton is to return to the World Series this year, he must pitch similar to the manner he displayed after escaping a first-inning jam in the Braves' Game 2 victory. After allowing two runs and creating a bases-loaded jam with nobody out in that contest, he tied a postseason record by striking out six consecutive Cubs batters.
"That was unbelievable pitching performance out of him," Robert Fick said after Hampton rebounded to not allow another run in his six-inning effort.
"He came back strong. You can't teach that. He's got heart."
Nobody has ever questioned Hampton's heart. But when he posted 6.15 ERA with the Rockies last year, it was easy to debate whether the hurler would ever regain the form that enabled him to land an eight-year, $121 million deal in Colorado before the 2001 season.
But after working diligently to relocate his patented sinker with Braves pitching coach Leo Mazzone this year, Hampton began seeing results. In his final 11 regular-season starts, he posted an impressive 2.49 ERA.
"I've never lost the confidence in myself, and I know the ability I have that I can still play this game and do a pretty good job at it," Hampton said. "It was just me getting back to myself, and I think I've done that in the second half."
Hampton, who threw 100 pitches on Wednesday, will be making his first start of the season on three days' rest. In the fives career starts he has made when coming back one day, the southpaw is 3-0 with a 2.61 ERA.
Saturday's start will be the first of the season for Hampton on three days' rest. He threw 100 pitches on Wednesday, but doesn't believe he'll have a problem coming back one day earlier than usual.
"If you're durable and you're used to throwing a lot, I don't think there is any problem," Hampton said while explaining the fact that Mazzone has his pitchers throw twice between each start is another benefit.
Hampton's teammates gave him the opportunity to make a second postseason start this season with their Game 4 win on Saturday afternoon at Wrigley Field. Now, he must simply give them an effort strong enough that will enable World Series dreams to remain alive in Atlanta.
"We know it takes three to win this thing," Hampton said with the confidence of a pitcher who has already proven he knows how to overcome adversity.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or