Atlanta's downward spiral

On July 30, the Atlanta Braves led the Los Angeles Dodgers by 101/2 games in the National League West, They had yet to experience any pressure and boasted a bullpen so solid that it resembled an insurance policy. Since then the Dodgers have swept two four-game series against the Braves -- one in Atlanta, the other in Los Angeles. Asked what he has planned for the slumping Braves now, Manager Joe Torre replied: ''Not panicking is the whole thing. You can't have doubts about yourself and win. Sure, things aren't as easy as they were last week, but we're still the team to beat.''

The thing that makes you wonder about the Braves, of course, is how quickly they blew their edge -- losing 10 games off their lead in just 11 days. When the Dodgers squandered a 131/2-game cushion they had built up in August 1951 over the old New York Giants, it took them six weeks to do it. In 1964, when the slumping Philadelphia Phillies led the St. Louis Cardinals in September by 61/2 games with 12 to play, they hung on for another two weeks before being overtaken by the Redbirds.

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