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News - Don't second-guess Rocker trade

Plus, finding a Thrashers captain; the Beat goes on

You diehards insisting that the Braves should have kept John Rocker, hollering that the bullpen's saves-to-opportunities ratio was 89 percent before his trade and a pathetic 54 percent after, are looking at the wrong thing. The correct comparison is between the Braves and Indians relievers since the trade.

And guess what? As of last week, Cleveland's bullpen record was 7-8 with an e.r.a. of 4.08 and a 50 percent saves conversion rate. The Braves: 7-8 with a 3.22 e.r.a. and a 50 percent saves conversion rate. More germane to post-season prognostication is the innings-pitched category: 174.1 for the Indians, 128.2 for the Braves. Teams with tired bullpens don't get to the World Series, let alone win them.

What could be more perfect than installing John Smoltz as the closer? He's got the fastball. He's got the fanaticism. He's got the Fu Manchu. He does not, however, have the durability to pitch every day. Yet. You're not a closer until you go three days in a row.

On the other hand, set-up guys get warmed up more, so they get burned out sooner. So long as Bobby Cox is being so careful with Smoltz's surgically-repaired elbow — and no one faults that — why not have Smoltz throw his current inning-a-day out on the mound instead of in the 'pen? And why not send him out in the ninth inning? Of all the reasons to entrust a crucial game to Smoltz, surely the most compelling is that he won't be tempted to launch anything but heat.

So Thrashers coach Curt Fraser — or is it GM Don Waddell, who pulls the strings — is thinking of naming Ray Ferraro team captain. I love it.

I'd have loved it even more a year ago, when the tentative second-year squad could have used Ferraro's multiple kicks in the butt. Say all you want about how hard Steve Staios worked in training camp last season; a team captain has to be able to talk. And talk and talk, a Ferraro specialty.

Still, this year's team will need a captain less than it will need a baby-sitter. For starters, the Thrashers have just signed Russian teenager Ilya Kovalchuk, the No.1 pick in the draft. Finally.

What took so long, you ask? It's not what you're thinking. It wasn't Waddell's famous aversion to parting with a single penny more than he thinks a player is worth. It was the burden of setting the standard for rookie contracts league-wide. (Think George Steinbrenner, Alex Rodriguez, the eternal enmity of his fellow GMs.)

First, though, Waddell had to weigh whether Kovalchuk needed another year of seasoning with his Russian team. Isn't it interesting that his answer was no when last year's top pick, Dany Heatley, drafted second overall, was remanded to the Wisconsin Badgers for maturation purposes?

Neither Kovalchuk nor Heatley lacks for self-esteem, that's for sure. Thanks mostly to cultural differences, that translates to confidence in the former, cockiness in the latter. No wonder Ferraro's name leaps to mind. He won't put up with cheeky children. Unless, of course, they score.

Tell George O'Leary he can stop fretting about a gaggle of 120-pound professional soccer players — girls — messing up Tech's football field. Saturday's WUSA playoffs semi-final match against the Philadelphia Charge was the Beat's last game at Bobby Dodd. Now they get to earn a championship on the field — next Saturday in Foxboro. Which is more than Tech can say.

Down 0-2 at the half, the Beat, known for their nerve-wracking last-minute charges, clearly had Philadelphia right where they wanted them. Especially because it began to rain. Beat motto: When it rains, we score.

Asked about his halftime speech, Beat coach Tom Stone, who bears more than a passing resemblance to Dennis the Menace, said it began, "Dear Lord . . . ."

I believe it.

Cindy Parlow's game-winning goal in the second overtime period hit the left goalpost and rolled — no, wobbled — into the promised land. Slo-mo. A charmed team, this, no doubt about it.

Parlow and goalkeeper Brianna Scurry like this one better than the U.S. national team's World Cup win, if you can believe it. "Twice as proud," Scurry says. "It's almost scary to get a lead on us. Because we get mad. It's like we go crazy."

Hot shots: What's hot in Atlanta sports
Quincy Carter -- Not good enough to QB the Dawgs but good enough to lead the Dallas Cowboys?

0 for 3 -- UGA denies admission to two more of Jim Harrick's recruits. By the way, Coach, how're those multi-year, multi-million-dollar contract extension talks going?

Thumbs up -- to The Denver Post, which has announced it will refer to the Broncos' new stadium as Mile High Stadium, not Invesco Field at Mile High. Invesco, the mutual funds company that paid $60 million for the naming rights, is not amused.

No comment -- The U.S. Chess Federation will begin drug testing tournament players for amphetamines, steroids and beta blockers.

Raise your hand if you care -- Flyers trade Eric Lindros and his parents to the Rangers.





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