News - Braves getting hot, getting lucky

Meanwhile, the Falcons and Thrashers self-destruct

Talk all you want
about baseball’s postseason belonging to the hot team, not the best team — and the Braves are doing just that, because it’s true and they are the hot team. But here’s the real reason Atlanta suddenly finds itself in the National League Championship series: They drew the Astros first.

Unlike the Cardinals, a team of crafty hitters and runners capable of adapting to changes in pitchers, pitches and defensive shifts, the Astros — Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio and Moises Alou, in particular — either can not or will not change their approach at the plate. One might think they would have learned from tanking to the Braves before, but no. Especially weaselly little Biggio, one of the bigger busts in playoff history. Not that he’s ever taken responsibility for flopping year after year. He’s just continued to undermine his manager, whoever it was.

Against this backdrop, Houston GM Gerry Hunsicker made a surprise appearance in the interview room at Turner Field last week, allowing himself to be grilled by the Houston writers about manager Larry Dierker. It was a set-up. Hunsicker used the questions he knew were coming to put the onus on his under-performing players.

“I think,” he said pointedly, “too many times we judge managers on wins and losses. I’m not sure that’s the single biggest criteria. It’s certainly important. But to me, you’ve got to try to objectively evaluate the talent that you’ve given the manager, and then . . . evaluate how effectively he’s used that talent. Has he gotten more out of that talent than he deserves? Or less out of that talent than he deserves. And then even if it’s less, how big a factor was he in the reason that that team underachieved?”

Dan Reeves
is way ahead of schedule this year. He’s testy now.

First, losing Jamal Anderson for the year (essentially two years, given the recovery time for ripped knee ligaments) is big enough without Anderson firing broadsides at anyone expressing concern about his football future. That would be Reeves and any other logical person. On top of that, Anderson is a sidelines no-show at the Dome. He says it’s because he can’t stand to watch and not be part of the action. I, for one, believe him. Being the star is what he cares about.

Second, Reeves is furious that neither Chris Chandler nor Terance Mathis informed him of Chandler’s mild concussion in the first half of the Bears game. We don’t know whether Chandler was too stubborn or too groggy to do it — he is always unavailable for comment unless he has done something good. But Mathis was neither stubborn nor groggy; he says he knew right away that Chandler was out of it.

Mathis maintains it is not his place to tell on an injured teammate. Informed of this position during an open locker room period last week, Reeves went nuts. No wonder. Mathis, keeping to himself the fact that his QB’s eyes were practically rolling back in his head, cost Reeves the opportunity to change personnel or call more appropriate plays. Not to mention that such silence further endangers Chandler’s health. That’s the last thing the Falcons need.

Now that Ray Ferraro
is the Thrashers’ team captain, he isn’t going to get away with ducking the media after losses anymore. This is important because Ferraro, a noted spokesperson both off the record and on ESPN, is an especially juicy quote when things look bleak.

It’s too early for bleak. But it is never too early, apparently, for the Thrashers to take dumb penalties. Like three minors in less than seven minutes to start the Thrashers home opener Saturday night, a 5-2 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes.

We’d understand if it were uber-rookies Ilya Kovalchuk and Dany Heatley high-sticking, interfering and generally screwing up. Instead, it was Jiri Slegr and Ferraro. So the captain had to be headed off at the shower door by ace P.R. director Tom Hughes. “It was a mess out there,” Ferraro said when finally corralled and forced back to his locker.

Curt Fraser, the coach who pulls no punches, offered one word: “Awful.” Yep, that covers the penalties, the individualistic power play, the nonexistent defense, the slow forwards and the lethargy in goal. u

Hot Shots
Beverage of choice So the Braves were miffed that Bud Selig’s no-champagne-celebration decree kept them from dumping warm, flat (and cheap) domestic bubbly all over themselves after they swept the Astros? What should have kept them from the childish rite is this: they didn’t win anything. (Note: it’s not as though the Braves were without alcohol entirely. There were plenty of Heineken and Budweiser cans on ice. Rafael Furcal he of the DWI — drank bottled water.)

On second thought . . . -- Maybe Tech can beat Florida State this year. Unless George O’Leary makes another of his let’s-go-for-two calls.

Even more pathetic than usual -- The latest Tyson so-called fight. What in the world are you people thinking when you pay to watch this flab-fest?

No kidding -- Texas Tech and Indiana cancel their basketball game, scheduled for 2002.

It’s a good thing -- that the Georgia Dome subscribes to the NFL cable package. What would Taylor Smith watch on Sundays?

Fantasy league -- Who would you rather have on your team: Jamal Anderson or Bob Christian?

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