If you want to beat the Atlanta Braves, you have to beat the
poet. By now everybody should know that. If the New York Mets
can't figure out a way to do it, the National League playoffs
will be a blur. In the Division Series the Houston Astros made a
fatal mistake. They dissed the poet. He made them pay.
by Brian Jordan
face your fear.
don't bow down.
just stand up.
Believe in yourself.
Believe in what you were taught.
You have a mind of your own.
You can make your own decisions,
whether they're good or bad.
Live in yourself,
live in your body.
Stand up. Stand up. Stand up.
October 17, 1999
At home, in Alpharetta, Ga., Brian Jordan writes poetry in the
small hours of restless nights, his long fingers tapping on the
keyboard of his computer while his wife and kids sleep. On the
road he writes in longhand on legal pads or on a laptop. He
writes when he's frustrated. He writes when he's happy. He
writes the same way he bats. He arrives--at the keyboard, at
home plate--seething with emotion. As he settles in, he grows
calm. His brain takes over.
By the time he reached the majors, in 1992, Jordan had already
played three years for the Atlanta Falcons at safety. There's a
lot of football player left in him. Now, at 32, he plays as if
he's trying to prove something to his high school coach. When he
swings, he tries to hurt the baseball.
The first game in the best-of-five series against the Astros was
at Turner Field on Oct. 5, a luscious Tuesday afternoon with a
meager 39,119 in attendance. When Jordan saw that manager Bobby
Cox was batting him fifth, he made a vow to himself: I'll earn
my way back to fourth. That's where he had batted for most of
the season. That's where he batted for most of last year for the
St. Louis Cardinals, for whom his chief job was to secure
hittable pitches for Mark McGwire by standing menacingly in the
on-deck circle. With the Braves, Jordan was the cleanup man only
because Andres Galarraga, fighting cancer, was out for the
season. Jordan, facing a daunting task, stood up.
He carried the team at the outset, hitting .356 and driving in
22 runs during April, but on June 22 he was drilled in the right
wrist by a pitch that left him sore and swinging with diminished
power for months. Under the guidance of his personal trainer,
track and field guru Bobby Kersee, Jordan worked the wrist back
to near full strength, finishing the season at .283, with 100
runs, 23 homers and 115 RBIs. In the final week, particularly in
three games against the Mets, he was torrid, going 5 for 10
against New York and driving in five runs. Still, for the
postseason opener the Braves' manager decided to take some
pressure off Jordan. Cox batted third baseman Chipper Jones in
his customary spot, third, followed by first baseman Ryan Klesko
and then Jordan. Jones and Klesko were hitless in eight trips to
the plate (though Jones walked twice). Jordan got two hits in
four at bats. The Braves lost 6-1. The skipper had momentarily
forgotten something: His rightfielder feasts on pressure. Stand
up, stand up, stand up.
The next day Cox trotted out the lineup card that had served him
well for much of the season. The heart of the order went Jones,
Jordan, Klesko. Again the Astros took no chances with Jones,
among the best all-around hitters in baseball in 1999. While
Atlanta righthander Kevin Millwood was throwing a scrumptious
one-hitter, Jordan was stewing. They're pitching around Chipper
to get to me? Bad choice! Jordan had an RBI single in the first
(after a groundout by Jones) to give the Braves a 1-0 lead. In
the seventh, with one out and Bret Boone on third, the Astros
intentionally walked Jones and took their chances with Jordan.
"I took that as a slap in the face," Jordan said. "Any athlete
would." He calmly lifted a sacrifice fly to center, and Atlanta
had a 3-1 lead. The Braves won 5-1, and the series was level.
When the teams reconvened in Houston last Friday, they played a
game that made your skin tingle no matter whom you were rooting
for. Two evenly matched clubs played four hours and 19 minutes
of magnificent baseball. Through nine, they were tied at three.
All the Braves' runs had come on one swing, a three-run homer in
the sixth by Jordan. The score was still 3-3 in the tenth when
the Astros loaded the bases with nobody out. In the visiting
dugout Cox looked ill, but two ground balls and a strikeout
later, the Braves were still alive. Jordan came up in the top of
the 12th with Otis Nixon on third, Bret Boone on second and two
men out. Jay Powell started Jordan off with a ball, then threw
strike one past him. The poet couldn't believe it. "I was like,
Whoa, they're pitching to me," he said. "I thought they'd walk
me. I said to myself, Better get ready to hit." He took a deep
breath, fouled off the following pitch, then ripped the next for
a double down the rightfield line, driving runs four and five
across the plate. The Braves won 5-3.
The fourth game, on Saturday, was a formality. Jordan opened the
floodgates in the sixth with a leadoff single, and Atlanta went
on to score five runs in the inning and win 7-5. A smash to deep
center by Ken Caminiti was the final out.
The visitors' clubhouse was hot and wet from spilled champagne,
sweating men and TV lights. Jordan talked to one camera crew
after another, saying the same thing again and again, steadily
cheerful. "We're overjoyed," he said, with Kersee standing beside
him. "We're overjoyed. We're overjoyed." It sounded like an
emerging line of his poetry, but it wasn't. Jordan wasn't really
celebrating. His head was elsewhere.
He was thinking about how the Mets would pitch Jones, and how
they would pitch him. In three games in the last week of
September the Mets pitched around Jones (who'd had four homers
against them in a three-game Braves sweep the previous week),
but perhaps they should have been more careful with Jordan. He
tripled and homered in the first game, which the Braves won. He
doubled and hit a two-run single in the second game, which the
Mets won. His triple in the 11th inning of the third game set up
another Atlanta win. Jordan wound up the season hitting .359
against New York, with a .769 slugging percentage.
Bobby Cox knows who his cleanup hitter is now. He knows that his
cleanup hitter is healthy. He knows the Mets are going to have
to pick their poison, Jones or Jordan. When the mood strikes
him, Brian Jordan just might write a poem about this most lovely
predicament. He finds his art in the most unlikely places.
THE SCOUT'S VIEW
Gerald Williams LF
Susceptible to breaking balls. Has made himself a better hitter,
mostly because he's better with two strikes. Likes to turn on
fastballs. A good fielder who throws well.
Bret Boone 2B
Will chase pitches up in the strike zone. Has a little hitch
with his hands, so you can spoil his timing by changing speeds
and moving the ball in and out, up and down.
Chipper Jones 3B
More power from the right side this year, but he's still a
better hitter from the left. Make him hit righthanded whenever
possible, then challenge him with fastballs. Lefthanded, you
must change speeds.
Brian Jordan RF
Hand injury seemed to cut power, though he has come on strong
lately. Likes to hit to all fields and likes the ball over the
plate. Tough with runners on. Pound him inside with hard stuff,
testing the hand.
Ryan Klesko 1B
Made himself a better hitter with improved plate coverage. Also
not as susceptible to chasing pitches but still goes after high
fastballs. Get him to chase those and mix in breaking balls on
Andruw Jones CF
Susceptible to pitches up and out of strike zone. Will also
chase sliders away. Get him to expand the zone. He's a streak
guy with a lot of holes. If he's hot, it doesn't matter what you
throw him. The best defensive outfielder in baseball, though
sometimes he takes his ability for granted.
Jose Hernandez SS
Likes to hit the ball out of the park, but big swing gets him
into trouble. Has a tendency to expand the zone. Keep the ball
away from the middle of the plate to take advantage of long
Eddie Perez C
Keep it simple--in and out, up and down, with sliders away. Has
a tough time getting to good fastballs in. Defensively he throws
O.K., but Rickey Henderson and Roger Cedeno should be able to
run on him.
INF Keith Lockhart isn't afraid to hit with two strikes and make
contact. He's the best lefthander off the bench. C Greg Myers
likes the ball from the middle in. Lefthanders get him out
fairly easily. INF Walt Weiss replaces Hernandez at shortstop
whenever manager Bobby Cox goes to his best defensive team with
a late lead.
Greg Maddux, RHP Make him throw as many pitches as possible.
Don't swing early in the count, unless he's getting the calls on
the corners. Likes to run the fastball back over the inside
corner on lefthanders. Righthanded batters should look for
anything that sinks. Don't try to pull him. Just take what he
gives you. Has shown that he's human in the postseason.
Kevin Millwood, RHP On top of his game. A strike machine who
changes speeds from 90 to 94 mph with his fastball and throws it
at the knees and up in the strike zone. Has a good overhand
curve and slider. Throwing with a high level of confidence right
now. Held Mike Piazza to just two hits in 16 at bats this year.
Tom Glavine, LHP Tries to get the outside part of the plate with
his fastball and changeup. Will show a curve once in a while that
is good but not great. Fields his position very well.
John Smoltz, RHP Made amazing transformation this year by
changing angle of his arm during delivery. Slider is
particularly nasty on righthanders, thrown at more of an angle,
like a Laredo pitch, than before. Fools around with a
knuckleball. A veteran who knows how to win.
LH closer John Rocker comes on very aggressive. Will attack with
a fastball that rides up on hitters. Throws strikes. Has a good
cut fastball as well as a good slider. LH Mike Remlinger is the
perfect setup man in front of Rocker. Throws strikes, doesn't
walk people, throws two- and four-seam fastballs in 90-93 mph
range. Has some deception to his delivery. Also has a good
breaking ball. Has matured as a pitcher and found his niche. RH
Russ Springer throws his fastball 90 to 94 mph. Has pretty good
sink on his heater, and his breaking ball is between a slider
and a curve. Hides the ball by throwing slightly across his
body. LH Terry Mulholland could be very valuable in a short
series. Has a good fastball that he can make sink and can throw
for strikes. Complements heater with excellent breaking ball.
Can give you one inning or four or five. Gives Bobby Cox great
flexibility. RH Kevin McGlinchy has an above-average fastball
with power up in the zone and a hard splitter.
HOW TO BEAT THEM
The Braves' lineup has holes, and they don't run a lot of big
bats at you. If the Mets' starters have their stuff, they can
avoid major damage. Look for Henderson to disrupt the Braves by
going deep into counts, stealing bases and getting hit by
pitches when Atlanta gets mad at him.