Braves once again hoping to fulfill October promise

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The signs of age are starting to show. John Smoltz is taking a daily pill to treat his hair loss. Greg Maddux sports a bit more of a paunch. And there are crow's feet crinkling at the corners of Tom Glavine's eyes.

The signs of age are starting to show. John Smoltz is taking a daily pill to treat his hair loss. Greg Maddux sports a bit more of a paunch. And there are crow's feet crinkling at the corners of Tom Glavine's eyes.

These Atlanta Braves know they might be running out of time. "You have to wonder how many more chances you're going to get," Glavine said Friday. "The law of averages are starting to go against you."

The Braves get one more opportunity to make up for lost time, starting on Saturday night in the World Series against the defending champions, the New York Yankees. Glavine will oppose Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez in Game 1.

"This will be our fifth trip," Atlanta manager Bobby Cox said. "We'd like to have a couple out of it."

Atlanta and the Dodgers of the 1950s are the only National League teams to make five Series appearances in a decade. But to many, the perception of the Braves is more defined by their October failures - some call them the Buffalo Bills of baseball - than by their eight straight playoff appearances.

There's the image of Lonnie Smith getting lost on the bases and Atlanta losing 1-0 in 10 innings to Jack Morris in Game 7 in 1991. Or old Dave Winfield driving home the winning run against them in 1992. Or Mark Wohlers serving up Jim Leyritz's home run in 1996.

To Yankees manager Joe Torre, that is not fair.

"Bobby, obviously, so much is made - and you look at (John) Elway and Jim Kelly - he keeps getting criticized every year just because he only won one World Series," he said. "That's not the easiest thing in the world to win."

Of course, Torre and the Yankees can talk with confidence. They're trying to win their third Series title in four year and become baseball's first repeat champion since Toronto in 1992-93.

"Let's admit it - you work for George Steinbrenner, just getting to postseason play is not enough," Torre said. "He's promised the people of New York a lot more than that. And fortunately, we've been able to deliver."

Glavine and Maddux, both 33, and Smoltz, 32, hope for similar success this time around. Not so that they can capture the title of Team of the Decade, but in order to earn that elusive second ring.

"It's not so much that we have to win to validate anything for anybody. I'm sitting here as a player and I'm realistic about the fact that we had an awful lot of chances," Glavine said. "I mean, we're disappointed that we've had opportunities to win more Series and we've won only one."

"I know that my career is not going to last forever. I know this team's not going to stay together forever," he said. "You want to start taking advantage."

The Braves were in great position to do it in 1996 after winning the first two games at Yankee Stadium. But New York came back to sweep the next three at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium on the way to a six-game victory.

A sellout crowd is expected at Turner Field for the opener. In fact, the team with the home-field advantage has won every World Series after 1984 except one - in 1992, Toronto beat the Braves.

Glavine takes a 10-11 career postseason record into Game 1. In July, he pitched the Braves' first game after the All-Star break and beat Roger Clemens at Yankee Stadium 6-2.

Hernandez, MVP of the AL Championship Series against Boston, is 4-0 with an 0.97 ERA in five postseason starts. The high-kicking Cuban with the unusual deliveries has not confused Atlanta, however, allowing nine earned runs in 8 1-3 innings in two interleague starts.

A day after Glavine's win at Yankee Stadium in July, Hernandez served up a career-high four home runs in 4 2-3 innings, including two by Ryan Klesko and shots by Andruw Jones and Chipper Jones.

"We're going to make our best effort to make sure they don't hit us this time," Hernandez said through an interpreter. "What I'm going to do, I'm not going to tell you guys right now."

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