The 1991 Atlanta Braves
The Braves had won three games in Houston and headed into Cincinnati on the evening of September 30th, 1991.
They were now a half game behind the L.A. Dodgers for the N.L. Western Division, their first since 1969.
Then Brett Butler of the Dodgers won that evening's game, so the Braves had to go into the last five games of the season down 1 game.
This was before the days of the wildcard. You had to win the division to get to the playoffs back then. And so, a three game set at Riverfront, they go down 6-0 on a grand slam homerun by Cincinnati catcher Joe Oliver off of Charlie Liebrandt. (Cox, Liebrant, Lonnie Smith, Pendleton, half the 85 World Series was on this team).
But the Braves come back, and in the 9th, down one and Deion Sanders on second, David Justice -- THWACK -- there it goes deep to centerfield, Paul O'Neill's going back, he's at the wall, BRAVES LEAD!!! BRAVES LEAD!!! The Braves took a 7-6 lead into the bottom of the ninth, and Alejandro Pena came on in relief and -- BAAAM -- struck those suckers out. Now with 4 games left, back to a 1/2 game out. They wait patiently for the 10:30 starting time of the Dodgers game. They wait until about 1:00 A.M. DODGERS WIN AGAIN!!!! The Braves remain 1 game out, and it's 4 games remaining.
October 2nd -- the Braves win a pretty unclimactic game, and once again, wait 1/2 game out.
1 A.M. on Friday morning, October 4th -- DODGERS LOSE!!!
The Dodgers lost on Thursday night and now with 3 games left, the Braves and Dodgers were tied for the N.L. West title. The Braves were going back to Atlanta for the final three game set, and the Dodgers were being visited by San Francisco.But for now, they got a good night sleep.
That night in Atlanta, the Braves won because the Astros committed four errors. People are getting excited. And once again, the Dodger game out west turned up bad for Tommy Lasorda and company. They lost, we won, and going into Saturday afternoon, with Fulton County Stadium in hysterics, the Braves were up by 1 game with 2 to play...
WE WON!!!! The Braves clinched a tie for the division!!!!
It was incredible. The Braves had won 9 straight games to get to this point. Now they had to turn on the monitor in the outfield to the Giants-Dodger game in Los Angeles. It was 4-0 Giants but the Atlanta crowd was dead silent. The players and managers all stood out on the field and looked up to hear Jack Buck's take on the action....a ball to Robbie Thompson at second, he throws to first...
YEAAAAHHHHH!!!! BRAVES WIN THE DIVISION!!!! BRAVES WIN THE DIVISION!!!! BRAVES WIN THE DIVISION!!!!!
And it was onto the National League Championship Series for the first time in 22 years. The Braves would have to play the Pittsburgh Pirates who had just come off their 2nd NL East title. The Pirates season had never been in doubt. They were unbelievable in April and pulled far enough ahead of the Cardinals and the like to win the division before it was even September 20th.They had some absolute killers -- Andy Van Slyke and Mike Lavalliere of Cardinals fame, a young Barry Bonds, Bobby Bonila in his prime, Doug Drabek in his prime, second baseman Jose Lind who never created an error, they were real good. And...Game 1 went Pittsburgh's way.
Pirates lead it 1-0
In Game 2, Steve Avery put on a show. He shut down Pittsburgh's bats and tied the series with a 1-0 victory.
Series tied 1-1
Game 3 on Saturday afternoon in Atlanta saw Greg Olson slam a three run homer in the sixth and the Atlanta fans were nuts. Most had never seen a playoff game there.
Braves led 2-1
Game 4 on Sunday evening, Mike Lavalliere won the 10th with an RBI hit.
Series tied 2-2
Game 5 on Monday afternoon was a debacle. The Pirates pitchers were all over the Braves and when they took the lead in the eighth, the run was taken away because David Justice failed to touch third base when he came around. Pittsburgh took a foothold in this series.
Pirates lead 3-2
And now in Pittsburgh, the Braves would continue not to score. Not since early in Game 4. It was something that made the performance of young Steve Avery legendary. This man calmed the nerves of Braves fans everywhere long enough for Atlanta to work their way out of the slump. By the time it went into the ninth, the Braves had gone 26 innings without scoring a run yet were tied and posed to take the lead at 0-0!!!
AND THEY DID!!! Greg Olson knocks the great Ron Gant home, Pena came in in relief, and the Braves tied the National League Championship Series at 3-3 with a 1-0 victory.
Series tied 3-3
Game 7 was different. The Braves immediately took the lead in the top of the first, Brian Hunter hitting a Carlton-Fisk-like 3 run HR that just begged to stay fair in left field. Up 3-0, John Smoltz came on.He didn't relax, he didn't settle. He simply followed up Steve Avery's amazing performance in Game 6.
Then came a problem. Two runners on in the fifth and Andy Van Slyke up to bat. There's two outs, but it doesn't matter. He nails a towering drive to right field -- Justice goes back -- against the wall -- and the ball.........sails back in and lands in David Justice's glove!!!! INNING OVER!!! It had to have been the wind. Even God. But Van Slyke would not tie the game, and more, John Smoltz had more confidence then ever. "At that moment I knew the Pirates were mine", he's quoted as saying.
Sure enough, the bottom of the ninth, the Braves lead 4-0, Smoltz on the mound, and Jose Lind hits a ground ball to Brian Hunter at first base (he did alot in this game)...Hunter tags the bag...
THE BRAVES WIN THE PENNANT!!! THE BRAVES WIN THE PENNANT!!!!! OH MY GOD THE BRAVES WIN THE PENNANT!!!! ATLANTA IS GOING TO THEIR FIRST EVER WORLD SERIES!!!
The 1991 National League Champion Atlanta Braves. Last place a year ago, First in 1991. Amazingly, the team they would meet in the Fall Classic had done the EXACT SAME THING!!! The Minnesota Twins had come from last to first in the American League, and what ensued over the next 8 days was what many national publications and respected veterans and countless fans refer to as...out of the one-hundred-and-ten that have ever occurred...the #1 greatest World Series ever played.
Homer Hankies vs. Fifty Foot Rubber Tomahawks. It all began in Minneapolis on Saturday night, October 19, 1991.
Game 1 was boring and dumb. Charlie Liebrandt pitched a decent game into the sixth inning but was down 1-0. Then he put two runners on in time for Minnesota second baseman Greg Gagne. THWACK!!!!! He puts the Braves down 4-0 and they never recover. Jack Morris of the Twins (Detroit Tigers fame), is awesome.
MINNESOTA LEADS 1-0
Game 2 was highlighted by a controversial call at first base in a tie game. Ron Gant was leading away from first base, then ran back to beat the tag only to be lifted off the base by Minnesota's legendary first baseman Kent Hrbek. The official called Gant out and refused to listen to his arguments. Needless to say the game went into the bottom of the eighth tied. And that's when Atlanta's Tom Glavine gives up a homerun to Scott Leius. 3-2 Minnesota.
MINNESOTA LEADS 2-0
Game 3 was the first World Series game ever played in Atlanta, and Chili Davis of the Twins would tie the game in the eighth on a homerun to assure that we all have to stick around for a while. The game went into the 12th inning. On a school night. It was close to 12:30 A.M. in Atlanta before an opportunity springs up -- with Greg Olson at first base and David Justice at second, little Mark Lemke comes up to bat. Minnesota reliever Rick Aguilara throws a fastball..THWACK!!! -- Lemke hits a line drive past Scott Leius the shortstop. The fans are up and nuts. David Justice comes around as fast as he can. He chucking it he's chucking it Dan Gladden the leftfielder throws it home, Justice is...SAFE!!! He's SAFE!!! And the Braves are back in the World Series in 12 innings!!!
MINNESOTA LEADS 2-1
Game 4 was a nerve-racking experience for John Smoltz. Here he was facing the guy he always wanted to be like when he grew up -- Jack Morris. And they played it long and deep as Twins playoff hero Mike Pagliario #13 hit a two-run homer in the seventh? But in the ninth, utility catcher Scott Willard came up with Lemke on third and one out. The fans waited anxiously...the pitch...Willard hits a pop up to right field that the fans think is deep enough for a win. Jack Buck agrees. Even Tim McCarver agrees and Tim's a f*cking moron. They go nuts as we wait for the ball to land in the outfielder's hand while Lemke tags third and waits patiently...Shane Mack gets it and Lemke screeches from third to home...slides in...it looks like Twins catcher Brian Harper's got him but
NO!!!! HE'S SAFE!!! HE'S CALLED SAFE!!! AND THE BRAVES TIE THE WORLD SERIES!!! LOOK AT THIS CROWD!!!!
Series tied 2-2
With the Atlanta crowd going nuts on Thursday night, Game 5 was never in doubt. A classic rout. The Braves put up 22 hits and 3 of them homers. Mark Lemke had a slugging percentage of close to .700. Light the fireworks. One of the greatest routs in World Series history, it's over -- Atlanta 14, Minnesota 5
ATLANTA LEADS 3-2
Fans were excited. The city was getting ready for the parade. The sports networks were nuts, featuring icons over the top stories of animated tomahawks chopping away at the elevated Twins emblem until it was underneath it. Champagne cooled in the visitors lockerroom at the Metrodome. The cardboard boxes had arrived with Atlanta Braves World Champion t-shirts. All they had to do was take the Twins at the Metrodome.
Terry Pendleton ties the game in the fifth with a two run homer, but Kirby Puckett steals a multi-base opportunity in the sixth, and in the eleventh inning, Charlie Liebrandt would come in. Tie game. The city of Atlanta waited. They waited. Every radio, every bar, every home.
Kirby Puckett hits a solo homer.
Series tied 3-3.
And so, here we are. Game 7 of the World Series. The Braves' John Smoltz, the rematch against his hero. And the two of them would squabble in a performance that remains in the annuls not of baseball, but Wild West duels. 0-0 into the top of the eighth, and for Smoltz, it looks like he's about to end up on top. With Lonnie Smith on first face, Terry Pendleton comes up to bat and he's just been incredible. The pitch -- THWACK!!! -- Pendleton hits the ball into left-center field. It won't leave the park but it's far and it's very very high. So high in fact that YES!!!! Minnesota left fielder Dan Gladden can't see it and it ends up in the gap behind him and rolling to the wall!!! Only one problem...NEITHER DOES LONNIE SMITH!!! The Metrodome is absolute hell for fielders because the ceiling above them happens to be as paper white as the ball. Whenever there's so much as a weak pop fly, even guys like Pendleton and Chuck Knoblach are just like "faaaahck me". As such, the same visual effect that absolutely confused the Twins outfielder confused the Braves runner!!!! He stood there for I kid you not about ten seconds watching Gladden running around trying to see where the ball was. By the time he got to third he had to stay. It remained 0-0.
It looked like it wouldn't matter. Justice was walked to load the bases, and then up came Sid Bream who's a pretty decent hitter. Bases loaded, one out in the eighth, 0-0, Bream could really do something big here...the pitch...THWACK!!! To Hrbek to Gagne to Hrbek!! DOUBLE PLAY!!!! The Braves get nothing!!!
And in the 10th inning with Alejandro Pena on the mound for Atlanta, one out and Dan Gladden on third, Gene Larkin brought home Dan Gladden on a high fly ball deep to left that nobody bothered to catch, for Gladden was on third and nobody was gonna stop him anyway. The Twins were the World Champions in seven unbelievable games 1-0 in the tenth inning, and Lonnie Smith was labelled as the goat.
MINNESOTA WINS THE SERIES 4-3
But the Twins would return to their rightful place in baseball's cellar the next year. And the Braves would learn from old mistakes. Tune in below to see how it went for...
THE 1992 ATLANTA BRAVES