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Bench gave D-Backs edge

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Oct. 12
Game 3: D-Backs 5, Cardinals 3
It was Darryl Kile's one major mistake, the walk to Matt Williams leading off the seventh inning with the Cardinals up 2-1 in front of their home crowd. That allowed the game to unfurl, and because of that walk the depth of these two teams was revealed.

Tony La Russa decided to skip the bench and go with 12 pitchers on his playoff roster, a move that didn’t help him much in Game 3. After Kile’s walk to Williams, La Russa sent in reliever Mike Matthews, who held lefties to a .133 batting average this season. That forced Steve Finley, a noted clutch player who hit .330 after the All-Star break, to bunt.

Next up was Damian Miller. La Russa's choice? Either go to Mike Timlin, and have him face Miller, Dave Dellucci or Eurebial Durazo off the bench, Tony Womack and Craig Counsell -- all lefties -- or stay with Matthews, who would face Miller and either Greg Colbrunn or Reggie Sanders followed by the lefties Womack and Counsell. D-Backs manager Bob Brenley left La Russa with no winning choice.

As it turned out, La Russa stuck with Matthews. Miller, .300 against lefties, singled, and so did Colbrunn, who kills left-handers. After Womack grounded into a fielder’s choice, up came Counsell. The light-hitting infielder had batted .337 against lefties, but in 220 major league at-bats against them he'd never homered, while Matthews not only held lefties to .133, but had allowed one homer to a left-handed hitter in his career.

So much for playing the odds. Counsell sent one deep to right field and put Arizona up for good.

A walk, a great bench and Brenly setting it in place and the D-Backs are up 2-1 -- which means they don't have to pitch Curt Schilling on three days’ rest.

Oh yes. If you're wondering why Brenly doesn't go to Schilling anyway …

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Schilling has never started on three days’ rest.

Game 3: Braves 6, Astros 2
The Braves are the Braves. No matter the season, they can always count on the core of superb, intelligent, gutsy pitchers.

John Burkett stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz -- who hit 99 mph in all three games -- is the best closer in Atlanta’s 11 year run.

Where once Gregg Olsen caught and had big hits, now it is Paul Bako. And somehow Julio Franco can come out of the Mexican League and Marcus Giles out of Triple-A and they win. To be this good for this long, never failing to finish first in a full season since 1990, is remarkable.

But unfortunately, the Astros are the Astros, and in four postseasons beginning in 1997, they have won two games and lost 12. In those 14 games, they have scored one run six times, none once, two once and three twice, and averaged 2.4 runs a game.

Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell, Lance Berkman and Moises Alou, all terrific to great players, each has postseason averages under .200 as a 'Stro. There are theories that Houston has too many swing-and-miss hitters (only the Brewers and Reds swung and missed at a higher percentage), that breaking ball righties and changeup lefties exploit their inability to make adjustments.

Others feel they try too hard, and, dammit, they've faced great pitchers.

But this is going to be the end of the line for this team as it's now constituted. They will find a legit center fielder, find a little more speed, try to develop their young pitchers. And, in all probability, Larry Dierker will move on.

The Braves have always won with dignity. The Astros keep losing, and yet they're one of those teams that plays hard every day and has people like Bagwell and Brad Ausmus and Berkman and Biggio and Alou that you'd always root for if you knew them.

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Gammons: Day three notes

Gammons: Day two notes

Gammons: Day one notes

Braves finish three-game sweep to reach NLCS

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