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Rocker Returns In Braves Win


John Rocker pushed opened the bullpen door and sprinted to the mound, just like old times. The crowd at Turner Field rose in a standing ovation, as if all was forgiven.

It was a triumphant return for the Atlanta Braves reliever who offended immigrants, gays and minorities.

Rocker came back to baseball with a scoreless ninth inning Tuesday night and Brian Hunter came through with a pinch-hit homer in the 12th on his way back to the minors, giving the Braves a 4-3 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies.

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  • "Rocker's back," Atlanta outfielder Brian Jordan said. "Hopefully, things will quiet down a little bit and we can get back to baseball."

    Rocker, suspended for the first two weeks of the season, charged from the bullpen with his trademark sprint in the ninth of a 3-3 game.

    Nearly everyone in the crowd of 34,903 rose to their feet on a cool, windy night, welcoming back the closer who had 38 saves for the NL champions a year ago before setting off a national controversy with his infamous magazine interview.

    Rocker was cheered when he pitched in an exhibition game at Turner Field a couple of days before opening day, but the reaction Tuesday night caught even his teammates off guard.

    "I was a little surprised," Chipper Jones said. "I didn't really think it would be quite to that extent. Then again, nothing surprises me anymore."

    There were no organized protests at the park and many held up signs in support, including "Rocker for President" and "Like A Rock."

    Rocker struck out Micey Morandini to begin the inning, walked Desi Relaford on a 3-2 pitch before finishing off the inning by getting Kevin Jordan and Doug Glanville on flyballs to left.

    "No one has ever questioned his stuff," Morandini said. "He was throwing hard."

    Rocker was lifted for a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the ninth and many of the fans left after the Braves failed to score.

    After the game, 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?"

    Hunter led off the bottom of the 12th with a homer into the left-field stands against Carlos Reyes (0-1). After the game, Hunter was designated for assignment to make room on the 25-man roster for Jordan, who comes off the disabled list Wednesday.

    "I knew it coming in," said Hunter, who will be sent to Triple-A Richmond if he clears waivers. "It's not that big a deal."

    Hunter, batting for only the second time this season, hit a breaking ball out of the park on the first pitch.

    "He guessed right," Reyes said. "In that situation, your back's against the wall anyway. They've got the last at-bat. I tried to go right after him."

    The Braves escaped a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the 10th. Rookie Luis Rivera struck out Mike Lieberthal on a 3-2 fastball and got Morandini on a grounder to short.

    Rivera (1-0) pitched 2 2-3 scoreless innings for his first major league win. The Phillies had only one hit after the fifth inning

    Ron Gant homered and Morandini drove in two runs for the Phillies, who took a 3-1 lead to the seventh. The Braves rallied against reliever Amaury Telemaco, who created his own problems with two walks before Chipper Jones hit a two-out, two-run single.

    Rocker began warming up in the eighth while Mike Remlinger retired the Phillies in order. The fans near the right-field bullpen cheered wildly.

    The Braves were also glad to get Rocker back after going 6-6 while he was suspened. In his absence, the makeshift bullpen went 1-4 with a 5.14 ERA and two blown saves.

    The Phillies went ahead with an unearned run in the second after Eddie Perez dropped a pop-up in front of home plate, allowing Rico Brogna to reach second. He came home on Morandini's single against Greg Maddux.

    Gant, who flied to deep left in his first at-bat, reached the stands in the third with his second homer of the season, making it 2-0.

    The Braves cut the lead in half in the bottom of the third. Robert Person walked two before giving up a two-out, run-scoring single to Quilvio Veras.

    But the Phillies restored their two-run lead in the fourth by leading off with three straight hits, including another RBI single by Morandini. Maddux did a good job of damage control, retiring Desi Relaford on a popup, then striking out Person and Doug Glanville.

    The Atlanta starter went seven innings, allowing eight hits and two earned runs while striking out five.

    Person allowed six hits and a run during his six-inning stint.

    Notes

  • The Braves returned home after a 2-4 Midwestern road trip to begin a nine-game homestand, matching the longest of the season.
  • The crowd was bigger than three of the Braves' first six home games.
  • The Phillies began a seven-game road trip.
  • Philadelphia has committed only two errors in its first 12 games.

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