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LOPEZ BLAST PULLS BRAVES TO VICTORY

Hey, Javy Lopez wasn't even supposed to be healthy enough to play in this National League Championship Series.

That's what Braves manager Bobby Cox said while the Braves worked out Monday at Bank One Ballpark. Said the sprained left ankle that had sidelined his No. 1 catcher since Sept. 30 made it highly doubtful he could be activated. The odds were 80-20 against, he calculated.

Lopez was activated Tuesday.

But he wasn't supposed to start Wednesday night. That's what Cox said Tuesday, that while Lopez was getting better, he probably wasn't ready to catch a whole game.

Lopez started Wednesday night.

With the benefit of hindsight, Cox looks downright prophetic. Lopez's two-run homer in the seventh broke open a taut, low-scoring game and launched Atlanta to an 8-1 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks that deadlocked the NLCS at one game apiece.

Play resumes Friday night at Turner Field with Curt Schilling starting for Arizona against Atlanta's John Burkett.

The truth is, though, Cox acknowledged a hint of desperation in his decision. He had to do everything possible to avoid going home down two games and having to face Schilling next in the best-of-seven series.

"We couldn't wait to see if he can make some difference in our run support," he explained. "I just told the coaches we were going to get Javy in there and he might hit a homer, might produce some runs. And that's exactly what happened.

"But we don't know those things," he added with a laugh. "If we did, we could win every game."

Diamondbacks starter Miguel Batista was two outs into the seventh inning having given up just one hit, a leadoff homer to Braves second baseman Marcus Giles on the game's first pitch.

Then he walked Andruw Jones on four pitches.

With the score tied at 1-1, the book dictated Lopez should take pitches until Batista threw a strike. Instead, he swung at the first pitch and knocked it off the rightfield foul pole.

"I figured he'd be coming in around the plate," Lopez explained. "I wanted to be aggressive."

If he had popped up, that wouldn't have looked so smart. But he homered, and that did more than just give Atlanta the lead back. With the pitcher scheduled to bat second in the bottom of the inning, Diamondbacks manager Bob Brenly was forced to pinch-hit for Batista and turn to his bullpen in the eighth.

If the Braves have one decided advantage in this series, it appears to be the matchup of the relievers. And it certainly played out that way Wednesday night, when Mike Morgan, Greg Swindell and Bobby Witt combined to give up five runs in the eighth as Atlanta put the game away.

Brenly was asked if, under the circumstances, he might be tempted to stay with his starters longer for the rest of the series.

"We just have to take that on a case-by-case situation," he said. "There's a lot of variables there. I can't just throw a blanket over the whole thing and say, 'Yeah, we're going to let our starters go deeper.' But depending on the situation, we may do that."

A sellout crowd of 49,334 -- the second-largest paid attendance in Bank One Ballpark history -- showed up, one day after the Diamondbacks played in front of some 11,000 empty seats in their home park. The fans waved white pompoms and were clearly into the game.

Batista ended up allowing just the two hits. He settled down nicely after Giles started the game with a homer, Julio Franco flied out to the base of the wall in right and Chipper Jones walked.

Braves left-hander Tom Glavine, making his record 29th postseason start, was at his masterful best, allowing just one run in his seven innings. Once it was over, he acknowledged this might have been the most crucial game of the series.

"I always feel like Game Two is urgent in any series," he said. "So much can happen one way or the other. To me, it's a huge swing game. You can either go up two or down two or tie a series up. Any of those situations is vastly different from any of the others.

"And in this instance, it's probably magnified a little bit with (Schilling) coming in against us in Game Three. I mean, he's throwing the ball so well, has pitched extremely well in the postseason. So you know we certainly didn't want to go down two with the prospect of facing him next."

They don't face that prospect because Lopez was activated and because he played and because he homered.

"It's kind of amazing," Cox said. "With a high ankle sprain, it generally takes six to eight weeks. The best chance the doctors gave us was that he might be ready for the World Series, and even that was 50-50."

Lopez didn't catch all nine innings. After the Braves broke the game open with those five runs in the eighth, Paul Bako went behind the plate for the final two innings.

Meanwhile, Cox wouldn't say whether he will bring Greg Maddux back on three days' rest to pitch Game Four on Saturday.

The Braves added right-hander Kevin Millwood to the roster for the series against Arizona, but Cox is considering sticking with the three-man rotation of Maddux, Glavine and Burkett.

"He's (Maddux) ready to go," Cox said. "We don't count intentional walks and pitchouts on those pitch counts, so he was under 90, really. He had six days' rest going in, so he'll be ready, you bet."

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