Baseball: Braves bearded by Maldonado

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FOR Jeff Reardon, the Atlanta Braves relief pitcher, it was a case of deja vu all over again. In game two of the World Series, he had conceded the winning two-run homer in the ninth inning, and on Tuesday, in the first Series game to be played outside the United States, Candy Maldonado stroked the third pitch from the bearded Brave over the drawn-in outfield in the ninth inning to give the Toronto Blue Jays a 3-2 victory.

The win in their SkyDome gave the Blue Jays a 2-1 lead in the best- of-seven series going into last night's fourth game, when Tom Glavine, the winner of game one for the Braves, was due to pitch against Jimmy Key of Toronto.

Reardon came into the game with the bases loaded after the Braves bullpen had again shown its inability to protect a lead. Steve Avery, the Atlanta starter who had kept the game close through eight innings, left after giving up a base hit to Roberto Alomar at the start of the ninth. Alomar then stole second. Joe Carter, who had put Toronto ahead with a solo home run in the fourth inning, was intentionally walked, as was Ed Sprague, and with one out Reardon was called in to pitch to Maldonado.

'He made me look bad with two great sliders, so I figured he'd try again and I was waiting,' Maldonado said of his hit, which drove in Alomar for the winning run.

The 37-year-old Reardon again offered no excuses. 'I haven't done the job I would have hoped to,' he said. 'I just have to come out tomorrow or the next day and do the best I can.'

Atlanta, who had struggled against the Blue Jays starter Juan Guzman, levelled the score in the sixth after Deion Sanders doubled for his third hit of the night and scored on Dave Justice's single. The Braves took the lead in the eighth after an error by Kelly Gruber. But the Toronto third baseman, who had just set a post- season record for going hitless in his previous 23 at-bats, came up in the bottom of the inning and atoned in a big way, hammering a solo homer over the left-field wall.

The Braves' frustration boiled over in the top of the ninth when their manager, Bobby Cox, was ejected for throwing a helmet on to the field. Perhaps he knew what was about to happen to Reardon.