It was not David Wells' kind of night.
"Oh, man, I was getting light-headed out there," Wells said after throwing a six-hitter as the New York Yankees cruised to a 6-0 victory over the Atlanta Braves Thursday night. "But I had a shutout going, so I wanted to give it a go."
Wells, who has wilted in the heat before, managed to pitch a complete game for the first time since his perfect game May 17. This performance was nearly as impressive, coming against the NL's best team in a 93-degree sauna known as Turner Field.
" I was dead out there ," admitted Wells (10-2). "I guess that's why they call it Hot-lanta. That heat really takes a toll on you."
The only thing hotter than the night was the Yankees. The team with the best record in the majors sent a clear message there's nothing fluky about that gaudy 53-19 mark by taking three of four games from the Braves, who have the top record in the NL.
"I think we've won enough games that when we do win, we don't surprise ourselves," New York manager Joe Torre said. "It makes you feel good to beat the team with the best record in the National League, a team that's been winning year in and year out. It's a feather in your cap."
The summer showdown was a decisive victoy for New York, which swept two games at Turner Field by a combined score of 16-6 after splitting two at Yankee Stadium. It was similar to the 1996 World Series, when the Yankees lost the first two games at home, then swept three straight at Atlanta-Fulton Stadium en route to a six-game championship.
The rock music-loving, tattoo-covered Wells didn't allow more than one runner in any inning except the sixth, when the Braves put together two hits after two outs.
Torre ordered pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre to the mound, but he had barely gotten out of the dugout when Wells waved him off with a disdainful flick of the glove.
"I had a game plan. I had pretty good zip on the ball," Wells said. "Sometimes, we don't need the pitching coach. Sometimes, we've got to battle through things ourselves."
A sweeping curve froze Andruw Jones, who was called out on strikes to end the threat. Wells went on to pitch his second complete game and only the second shutout against the Braves this season.
For good measure, Wells chipped in with one of New York's four hits, in addition to a drive that was caught against the right-field wall.
The Braves are in their worst slump of the season, losing six of eight, and Denny Neagle (8-6) lost for the fifth time in six starts, a victim of his own wildness and the opportunistic New York batters.
After escaping a bases-loaded jam in the fifth -- walking three before he struck out Wells for the third out -- Neagle walked two more leading off the sixth. This time, the Yankees delivered the knockout blow.
Paul O'Neill drilled a 3-2 pitch to the wall in right-center, both runners scoring while he chugged all the way around to third, flopping into the bag with a weary slide and sitting with a dazed grin on his face until he was pulled up by coach Willie Randolph.
Tim Raines slapped a run-scoring single to right against the drawn-in infield for a 3-0 lead. When Neagle threw a ball to the next hitter, Chad Curtis, pitching coach Leo Mazzone went to the mound trying to settle his left-hander.
Two pitches later, though, Curtis hit his seventh homer deep into the left-field seats, a two-run shot that sent Neagle to the clubhouse.
"It's frustrating, but I've said that a couple of times already, haven't I?" said Neagle, who started a day earlier than usual so he could attend a funeral on Friday. "I'm always around the plate, but it seems recently in big situations, I don't get the calls."
Neagle walked five in a game for the first time since July 25, 1995, when he was with Pittsburgh. He had been averaging only 1.9 walks per nine innings.
Wells struck out four nd didn't walk anyone -- the 10th straight start in which in has walked one or none. He has gone 30 innings without a walk.
"He's a strike-throwing machine," fellow New York pitcher David Cone said. "He's been our best pitcher. Clearly, he's deserving of going to the All-Star game."
New York added an unearned run in the eighth when Atlanta right fielder Gerald Williams dropped a fly ball.
"They're tough," Neagle said of the Yankees. "They have great starting pitching, great relievers and a tough lineup."
© 1998 SportsLine USA, Inc. All rights reserved