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Give Braves an `E' for errors

All those people predicting a bunch of great pitching duels between Atlanta and Florida dropped the ball.

Just like the Braves.On a night when Greg Maddux and Kevin Brown both struggled, the Marlins made the plays and the Braves did not, giving Florida a 5-3 win Tuesday in the opener of the NL championship series.

"That's basically the difference tonight. It was defense," Florida first baseman Jeff Conine said. "We played a little better defensively than they did. That's all there is to it."

The wild-card Marlins, playing in their first postseason, improved to 4-0 in the playoffs. Moises Alou drove in four runs, three with a first-inning double set up by shaky fielding, as Florida showed its 8-4 record against the Braves in the regular season was no fluke.

Chipper Jones and Ryan Klesko homered for Atlanta, which is appearing in the postseason for the sixth straight time - a streak that started two years before the Marlins even began their first season.

But Jones, Klesko, Fred McGriff and Kenny Lofton also had misplays that made all five runs off Maddux unearned.

"Weird, isn't it?" Maddux said. "Weird game. It happens. This team plays good defense, it does.

"Errors are going to happen. Obviously, the timing wasn't very good."

The Braves, who won the opener in their past seven postseason series, were scheduled to start Tom Glavine today against Alex Fernandez.

The Marlins were making no apologies for what happened in Game 1.

"Earned, unearned, who cares," third baseman Bobby Bonilla said. "It's wins and losses that count. And tonight, we're winners."

Braves manager Bobby Cox knew it could've been different.

"If we don't make errors, they don't get any runs," he said. "We didn't catch the ball. We gave them too many outs.

"We picked a bad night to kick the ball around," he said. "The first inning was a nightmare, actually."

A recurring one for Maddux, in fact.

In 33 starts in the regular season, he allowed just one unearned run. In 157 regular-season starts since joining the Braves, he's permitted only 27 unearned runs.

But in 14 postseason games for Atlanta, he's been hurt by 15 unearned runs from his usually reliable fielders. Shoddy defense is a factor as to why the four-time Cy Young winner is 8-6 lifetime in the postseason.

"You give a team four or five outs an inning, it's tough," Maddux said.

A crowd of 49,244, clearly the loudest of the year at Turner Field, saw Maddux match season highs for runs and walks with just 22/3 innings elapsed. And rather than seeing the Atlanta ace paint the corners of the plate, the home fans watched Marlins batters paint the corners of the ballpark with hits.

The Braves did their best to rally, employing a rare pinch-hitter in the first inning. They fell short, however, managing just five hits against four pitchers.

Maddux, who started Atlanta's sweep of Houston in the division series, lasted six innings. Brown, who began the Marlins' sweep of San Francisco last week, also struggled for six innings - he'll need to get better because manager Jim Leyland plans to start him two more times in the series, if necessary.

"I would've much preferred to have a stronger game, but it boils down to we won," Brown said.

Relievers Dennis Cook, Jay Powell and Robb Nen combined for three hitless innings. Nen pitched the ninth for a save, giving him nine scoreless innings against Atlanta this year.

Maddux's troubles began when Edgar Renteria singled with one out in the first inning and stole second. Gary Sheffield walked and, after Bonilla struck out, Conine sliced a grounder toward first base that handcuffed McGriff for an error that loaded the bases.

Alou then hit a high, two-hopper down the third-base line. But Jones, still slowed after fouling a ball off his foot in a Sunday workout, took a tentative first step and did not field the chopper.

The ball rolled near the stands in left field, and Klesko appeared to box it around as all three runners scored.

"If I knock it down, we're still playing," said Jones, who did not blame his injury. "If I make the play, we win."

In the third, Sheffield's long fly to center deflected off Lofton's glove for a three-base error. Bonilla walked, Alou had an RBI grounder and, with two outs, Maddux got sloppy on a two-strike pitch that Charles Johnson lined for a double for a 5-1 lead.

Keith Lockhart doubled and McGriff singled for a run in the Atlanta first. With the bases loaded and two outs, Javy Lopez pinch-hit for Eddie Perez, Maddux's personal catcher.

"I was surprised to see him," Brown said.

Lopez, who hit .295 with 23 homers to Perez's .215 and six homers, grounded out on the first pitch.

Jones homered in the third and Klesko connected off Brown in the sixth, closing Atlanta within two.

Denny Neagle, the NL's only 20-game winner, pitched three scoreless innings for Atlanta in his first postseason appearance this year.