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MCGRIFF KEEPS THE HEAT ON, FOLLOWS FIRE WITH 2-RUN BLAST

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Then there was a blast. So went the Atlanta debut of Fred McGriff.

McGriff's first appearance in a Braves jersey was delayed Tuesday when a fire broke out in Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium 90 minutes before the Braves were to play the St. Louis Cardinals. The fire was put out 45 minutes after it began but the 7:40 p.m. EDT start was pushed back to 9:38 p.m.McGriff, wearing No. 27, playing first base and batting fourth, homered in his third at-bat, sending Rene Arocha's first pitch of the sixth inning 407 feet over the center-field wall.

The homer - his 19th of the year - capped a five-run rally and the Braves added three runs in the eighth to defeat St. Louis 8-5.

"With the fire and driving from Tampa - what a day - I need some sleep," said McGriff, who had arrived in Atlanta earlier in the day.

The Braves became the beneficiaries of San Diego's salary purge when they acquired McGriff Sunday for three minor leaguers. Though Atlanta still trails San Francisco by nine games in the NL West, St. Louis manager Joe Torre feels the newest Brave will have an effect on the race.

"I think he'll (McGriff) make a big difference," Torre said. "His presence will take a lot of pressure off everybody trying to carry the load. They won't have the pressure of thinking they'll have to do it all."

David Justice scored the go-ahead run in the eighth from second when Rheal Cormier (5-6) bobbled Terry Pendleton's sacrifice bunt and threw wildly to first. Justice had opened the inning with a single and took second when rightfielder Mark Whiten fumbled the ball.

The Braves planned to meet with local officials today to ask why firefighting equipment was not immediately available to put out a blaze that destroyed several mezzanine boxes and broadcast booths.

The stadium, which was built in 1966, does not have sprinkler systems or standpipes.

Atlanta fire chief David Chamberlin said the fire apparently was started by "a sterno heating unit" in an empty suite rented by radio station WGST on the third-base side of the press level.