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Foot Rocker makes his return

Atlanta reliever toes rubber instead of his mouth

Posted: Wednesday, April 19, 2000

ATLANTA -- John Rocker returned to a standing ovation Tuesday night, pitching a scoreless ninth inning in his first game since rejoining the Atlanta Braves after a two-week suspension.

The crowd of 34,903 gave Rocker a big cheer when the reliever sprinted in from the bullpen. One fan held up a sign that read: ''Rocker for President.''

Rocker struck out the first hitter he faced, Philadelphia's Mickey Morandini, walked the next batter and then got two flyouts.

Rocker left with the score tied at 3. When he exited after his one-inning outing, many of the fans left Turner Field, too.

The Braves eventually won 4-3 in 12 innings.

''It's all out of the way,'' said Braves outfielder Brian Jordan, one of the reliever's harshest critics initially. ''Rocker's back. Hopefully, things will quiet down a little bit and we can get back to baseball.''

Perhaps hoping to avoid another misstep, Rocker continued his policy of refusing to speak to the media about the controversy.

''Beat it, media,'' he barked at reporters who surrounded his locker after the game. ''Are you deaf?''

There was hardly a hint of protest before the game, with Rocker hoping fans remember his fastball more than his comments about minorities, gays and immigrants. Overall, it seemed just like another nondescript, midweek contest game for a lot more reporters.

Rocker said he heard only one negative remark while traveling with the Braves last weekend in Milwaukee.

''It's not a big deal,'' Rocker told TBS for an interview that aired before the game. ''I think when the team starts winning and we get the ball rolling, all that will be forgotten.''

His teammates made peace with the reliever during spring training and he had already pitched in Atlanta during an April 1 exhibition game.

''Before the season, I was thinking about this night the whole time,'' catcher Eddie Perez said. ''But once the season started, I didn't remember anything about it until you guys brought it up.''

However, he talked with Braves broadcaster Joe Simpson for the interview with TBS, owned by the same company that owns the Braves.

Most fans arriving at the ballpark on a cool, windy night were ready to welcome the reliever back.

''There's not one person walking who hasn't opened his mouth and said something he regrets,'' said Sandra Seagraves, munching on a snack in the picnic area beyond the center-field stands. ''He picked the wrong time to say the wrong thing. Unfortunately, he got crucified for it.''

Her husband, Charles, added, ''I'm going to stand up and cheer like crazy when he comes in.''

But Larry Lee of New Orleans, in town for a convention, said he wouldn't cheer for Rocker.

''Personally, I'm not going to cheer for someone who seems to be a heck of a lot more prejudiced than he's letting on to be,'' said Lee, who is black. ''I wasn't a big fan of him before and I'm certainly not now.''

The Braves planned to put Rocker right back into his familiar role as closer. A year ago, he had 38 saves -- one short of the franchise record -- and his absence was felt as Atlanta split its first 12 games.

Expos 4, Cubs 3

MONTREAL -- Sammy Sosa and pitcher Kevin Tapani each homered for Chicago, but Montreal came back behind Orlando Cabrera's two key hits.

Tied at 3, Cabrera singled off Tapani (0-2) with two outs in the seventh to drive in Michael Barrett from second with the go-ahead run.

Marlins 12, Pirates 5

MIAMI -- Rookie Brad Penny (2-1) pitched seven innings, and eight players drove in runs to help NL East-leading Florida beat Pittsburgh.

The surprising Marlins (9-6), who had the worst record in the major leagues the past two years, moved atop the division during a 4-3 trip, their first winning road swing since last June.

Giants 13, Reds 9

CINCINNATI -- Barry Bonds scored five times as San Francisco overcame an embarrassing inning and ended a seven-game losing streak.

San Francisco's two errors helped Cincinnati score seven times on only two hits in the third, when the Reds pulled ahead 8-4 with their biggest inning of the season.

Mets 10, Brewers 7

NEW YORK -- Robin Ventura's 14th career grand slam helped Mike Hampton win his first game after three losses.

Hampton (1-3), who lost four games in 26 decisions last year for Houston, again struggled with his control. On a blustery night when the wind chill dipped to 26 degrees, Hampton allowed six hits with seven strikeouts and six walks.

Cardinals 5, Padres 4

ST. LOUIS -- Andy Benes overcame a shaky start for his first victory and Jim Edmonds had three hits and two RBIs for St. Louis.

Edgar Renteria homered and doubled twice for the Cardinals. Al Martin hit three doubles for the Padres.

Diamondbacks 7, Rockies 1

PHOENIX -- Bernard Gilkey and Luis Gonzalez hit two-run homers and Armando Reynoso shut down Colorado for eight innings as the Arizona Diamondbacks defeated the Rockies.

Reynoso (1-2) gave up three hits, walked two and struck out two. He kept the ball low, allowing only three fly balls to the outfield.

Dodgers 5, Astros 3

LOS ANGELES -- Todd Hundley hit a go-ahead two-run homer and Adrian Beltre and Devon White also homered as the Los Angeles Dodgers beat the Houston Astros.

Darren Dreifort (1-1) pitched six innings, allowing three runs and three hits, including Jeff Bagwell's homer. Octavio Dotel (0-2) was the losing pitcher.



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