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BRAVES PITCHERS TALLY NO-HITTER WITH JUST A LITTLE HELP FROM SCORER

Last week, a baseball committee eliminated 50 no-hitters. On Wednesday night, an official scorer helped add one.

Kent Mercker, Atlanta's stopgap starter, teamed with two relievers on a no-hitter that was kept alive by a close call with two outs in the ninth inning as the surprising Braves beat the San Diego Padres 1-0 and maintained their NL West lead.Just 16 days after Bret Saberhagen's no-hitter in Kansas City was preserved by a scorer's decision to rule an error on a fly ball that glanced off outfielder Kirk Gibson's glove, the first combined no-hitter in NL history also came down to an off-field decision. This new debate came shortly after a statistical committee finally defined no-hitters, ruling they were no-hit games of nine innings or more that ended hitless - which purged 50 and left 225 intact.

Mercker (5-3) pitched six innings and rookie Mark Wohlers worked two, leaving Alejandro Pena one out away from ending it when Darrin Jackson hit a chopper to the left side of the infield. Third baseman Terry Pendleton cut in front of shortstop Rafael Belliard, but backed away at the last second. The ball glanced off Belliard after a short hop, and Jackson was safe.

Official scorer Mark Frederickson immediately ruled it an error on Pendleton, even though he never touched the ball.

"The ball was lost in the lights. I couldn't make a play on it if I had to," Pendleton, a two-time Gold Glove winner, said. "But I'll take an `E' on it any time for a no-hitter."

Frederickson said there was no debate. He did not wait to see a replay before making his call.

"Pendleton could have had the ball," Frederickson said. "He let it go by. Pendleton committed on the ball and if he would have gone ahead and made the play, he would have thrown him out."

Frederickson, 32, is a medical business manager and has been a scorer for six years. He said he talked to Pendleton in the clubhouse after the game.

"I asked Pendleton, `Was that a fair error?' He said, `No doubt about it. It was an error all the way."'

Jackson said he was running hard on the play and didn't see what happened.

"I hope the scorer wasn't swayed by the home factor," Jackson said. "A hit is a hit, an error is an error. It shouldn't matter whether it's at home or on the road."

Baseball's official scoring rules state:

"It is not necessary that the fielder touch the ball to be charged with an error. If a ground ball goes through a fielder's legs or a pop fly falls untouched and in the scorer's judgment the fielder could have handled the ball with ordinary effort, an error shall be charged."

After Jackson reached safely, Pena retired Tony Gwynn, the NL's leading hitter, on a routine fly to left field for the final out.

Pendleton hit his 20th home run in the fifth inning off Greg Harris (5-5), enough for the Braves to win their sixth in a row. They stayed one-half game ahead of Los Angeles, which won in Houston 9-1. Atlanta also snapped the Padres' seven-game winning streak, their longest since 1987.

Mercker, thrust into the rotation last week after Armando Reynoso did not work out as a fifth starter, overpowered the Padres in his third major league start.

"I look at pitching the same way, whether I'm in the 'pen or a starter," Mercker said.

The Padres' only runners until the ninth came on two walks by Mercker. San Diego did not come close to a hit, with its best effort being Fred McGriff's fly ball to the warning track in center field off Wohlers in the seventh.

The three Atlanta pitchers teamed on the seventh no-hitter this season and the second combined effort. Nolan Ryan, Tommy Greene, four Baltimore pitchers, Dennis Martinez, Wilson Alvarez and Bret Saberhagen had done it previously.

This year's no-hitters matched the seven pitched last season and raised the total this decade to 14. There were only 13 no-hitters in the entire 1980s.

One of the no-hitters tossed out last week was Mark Gardner's effort earlier this season when he pitched nine no-hit innings against Los Angeles, but gave up a hit in the 10th and lost.

Mercker, Wohlers and Pena teamed on the sixth combined no-hitter in history.

Mercker had made 80 straight relief appearances until manager Bobby Cox brought him in from the bullpen last week to start against the New York Mets. He pitched into the fifth inning, his longest stint of the year.

"We wanted to get five innings and 80-some pitches," pitching coach Leo Mazzone said, explaining why Mercker came out.

Mercker struck out six and threw 81 pitches, 48 for strikes. He walked Gwynn in the first inning and Craig Shipley in the third.

Wohlers, 21, was promoted from the minors on Aug. 16. He has pitched 11 innings for Atlanta and allowed nine hits.

"I'm glad to be a part of this," Wohlers said. "It's a big win for the team. I'm never going to forget this."