Now the pressure's off. Or has it just begun?
The Atlanta Braves won their second straight National League West title with a 6-0 victory Tuesday night over San Francisco and second-place Cincinnati's loss to Los Angeles.The Braves clinched the division crown just moments after the Dodgers blanked the Reds 5-0 in Cincinnati.
"I feel like a little bit of the pressure's off us now," said Ron Gant, who went 3-for-4 and drove in two runs. "Last year we had to go down almost to the last game. I think we can prepare ourselves a little earlier this year and we'll be ready.
For the second straight year, the Braves will meet the Pittsburgh Pirates in the National League Championship Series, beginning Oct. 6 in Atlanta.
"Definitely there won't be too many surprises," the Braves' David Justice said. "We know just about as much about them as they know about us. So it's basically going to be whoever gets the breaks and whoever hits the ball in these games."
Atlanta defeated Pittsburgh in seven games last year.
"Obviously, they were the best team last year," Pirates Manager Jim Leyland said. "They won it. They played great. They've got a lot of offensive weapons and great pitching. They're a great ballclub."
Charlie Leibrandt, 14-7, scattered eight hits to record his second shutout and fifth complete game of the season. Leibrandt, who struck out four and did not yield a walk, retired the last 11 batters he faced.
"The fans were awful excited I started to get excited myself," Leibrandt said. "I thought about it probably from the fifth or sixth inning on, closing the thing out and being out there for the final out. The closer I got the more excited I got."
Gant gave the Braves a 1-0 lead in the first inning with his 17th homer of the season, off San Francisco starter Bud Black, 10-12.
"I told myself that I was going to get ready for the playoffs," Gant said. "I came out early and did some early hitting today. I think I started off on the right foot. I felt pretty good swinging the bat tonight so hopefully it's the start of things and I'll be ready for the playoffs."
The Braves chased Black with a four-run fourth inning. Gant drove in one run with a single, Brian Hunter singled in another and Damon Berryhill clubbed a two-run double.
The Pirates continued their playoff tuneup with a 3-0 victory over the slumping Chicago Cubs. Van Slyke hit a two-run homer and four Pittsburgh pitchers combined on a two-hitter to lead the Pirates to their sixth straight win.
Rookie Paul Wagner, 2-0, picked up the win in four innings of one-hit relief. Stan Belinda pitched the ninth for his 18th save.
Dodgers 5, Reds 0
At Cincinnati, Pedro Astacio pitched a three-hit shutout and knocked in a run to lead the last-place Dodgers. Astacio, 5-4, hurled his fourth shutout to help the Dodgers break a five-game losing streak.
Cardinals 2, Expos 1 (10 innings)
At St. Louis, Rod Brewer singled in front of right fielder John VanderWal to score Rex Hudler with the winning run in the 10th. Mike Perez recorded an out in the 10th inning for the win.
Phillies 5, Mets 3
At New York, Anthony Young, asked to protect a 3-2 ninth-inning lead for Bret Saberagen, threw a sacrifice bunt into left field, allowing two runs to score and the Phillies rallied for their fourth straught.
Astros 6, Padres 5
At Houston, Luis Gonzalez rapped a two-run double off reliever Randy Myers in the ninth, giving the Astros their fourth straight victory. Al Osuna pitched a scoreless inning for the win.