Braves face uphill struggle

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The Atlanta Braves will hope to emulate the 1996 Yankees when they take the field in New York tonight for Game Three of the World Series.

The Atlanta Braves will hope to emulate the 1996 Yankees when they take the field in New York tonight for Game Three of the World Series.

Bobby Cox's men, still haunted by their infamous collapse three years ago when the Yankees fought back from a 2-0 deficit to win four games on the trot, must conjure up a similar comeback.

Otherwise, the bad hitting, bad pitching and bad defence which have put the Braves into a deep hole will give the Yankees the unofficial tag of 'Team of the Decade', and condemn Atlanta to a label like 'Big Game Losers of the 90s'.

Atlanta, who have won more games in the regular season than any other club this decade, had won just one World Series in four tries heading into this year's Fall Classic.

"We can't lose the World Series in two games," insisted shortstop Ozzie Guillen, one of the culprits in the Game Two defeat. "I've never seen that happen before."

They will certainly lose it in four if they continue to plod along as in the first two games.

A few hits might ease the pressure on Braves hurler Tom Glavine, pencilled in to start tonight's game.

"We've got to find a way to put up some runs early," said Braves hitting coach Don Baylor. "We've got to create some things - get Gerald Williams on base and get Chipper (Jones) to swing with some people on base."

Chipper Jones smashed 45 home runs during the regular season, and smashed one in Game One to give Atlanta their 1-0 lead before the Yankees erupted for four runs in the eighth.

He cannot drive in runs if no one is on base.

The feeble hitting has been the worst indictment against Atlanta. They have batted a sickly .130, managing just seven hits in 54 at-bats.

"We just haven't had good at-bats," Baylor said. "Are we showing enough patience? All I know is we're not showing enough hits."

Atlanta need to recall 1996 if optimism is in short supply.

The Braves appeared to be invincible, having stormed into the World Series against the Yankees after outscoring St Louis 32-1 in their last three games of the National League Championship.

They destroyed New York 12-1 in Game One, and then shut out the Yankees 4-0 in Game Two - both contests at Yankee Stadium.

New York was shellshocked.

When the series returned to Atlanta, New York finally won 5-2 after breaking open a 2-2 game with three runs in the eighth.

Atlanta were in complete control in Game Four, though, leading 5-0 after five innings and cruising toward a commanding 3-1 series lead when New York fought back to tie the game, the devastating blow a game-tying two-run home run by virtual unknown Jim Leyritz in the eighth inning. New York went on to capture the game and level the series in extra innings.

The Yankees, with renewed confidence, polished off the Braves the following night in Atlanta and then returned to New York to win in six games.

It's now 1999, and the Yankees, zeroing in on their third World Series triumph in four years, are in the position of the '96 Braves.

The Yankees, cautious about undermining themselves, have not fired up the Braves with any disparaging remarks.

"We know the Braves are a great team and an experienced team, and with their pitching they're capable of putting teams away, so we don't need any reminders of 1996," said New York shortstop Derek Jeter.

The Braves, though, need a lot of reminding.