10/04/2003 10:57 PM ET
All about the right approach
CHICAGO -- Given the choice, the Braves would rather have a scheduled date with Kerry Wood than a tee time. But if the choice is between trying to hit Wood and pretty much any other task on the baseball field, well, Atlanta's hitters would probably choose "other."
By Matthew Leach / MLB.com
Wood is, to use a term whose prominence has risen in the last year, filthy. He shut down the prolific Braves offense in Game 1 of the National League Division Series, staking his Cubs to a 1-0 series lead. Now a fully rested Wood will try to close out the series against Mike Hampton, pitching on three days' rest.
Trying to hit him is not an enviable task.
But for what it's worth, the Braves finally started to hit like the Braves on Saturday. Chipper Jones ripped a pair of two-run homers, and the team's three extra-base hits were as many as it had in the first three games combined. A team that may have been trying to do too much, getting a little too pull-happy, relaxed and hit the ball.
"Anybody who thinks we're going to go out and throw out 10 or 15 hits a game is crazy," Jones said. "I invite anybody to stand away from these guys and try to be successful. It's a very difficult thing to do. We have had 10-plus hits in two of the four games. Kerry Wood and [Mark] Prior pretty much shut us down."
The biggest question remaining in the series is, can Wood do it again, or will the Braves bats get to him?
"[Saturday] we had a better approach," said Andruw Jones. "We got 10 hits out there. [Friday] we only got two hits. We didn't have a good approach to [Mark] Prior -- he pitched really good, though. We didn't have a good approach to him to go out and do what we did [Saturday]."
The Cubs have attempted to stay away from Atlanta's hitters, opting to give up the occasional single in favor of keeping the ball in the park. The thing is, even against top pitching, a team with power like the Braves have can still hit the ball out sometimes.
"In this kind of series," said Javy Lopez, "Everybody wants to do good. Everybody wants to be a hero. Of course this is a total advantage for the pitchers, because they all know that the hitters are totally anxious to get base hits, to bring the run in. so they're pretty tight in the corners. They try to make you chase pitches, and that's pretty much what we've been doing. Both teams.
"We've got to approach [Wood] totally different. We already faced Kerry Wood. We've got to approach him totally different than we did the first night."
On that night, Wood struck out 11 and gave up two hits. Atlanta will need to stay with the relaxed, up-the-middle and opposite-field approach that worked against Carlos Zambrano in Game 2 and Matt Clement in Game 4.
"We've got to put the ball in play more," Chipper Jones said. "When you make contact, good things can happen. On the flip side, [if] he strikes out 12, 13, 14 of us, I would say he's giving his team a chance to win. That's going to be the main thing. I think basically [we need to] take the same approach we took against Zambrano."
Hitting may or may not be "contagious," but it is largely mental. And attitudes can be contagious. If the Braves can stay relaxed, if they believe they can hit Wood and they don't try to pull the ball out of the park on every pitch, they have a shot.
If not ...
"We're gonna have a better approach seeing him the second time," said Andruw Jones. "We know he's gonna bring his A game. We've just got to bring our A game too. It's do or die and I think everybody's gonna be really pumped up. If anybody makes a mistake, the game is over. I think the game is gonna be a lot about who makes a mistake first."
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to approval by Major League Baseball or its clubs.