The 1992 Atlanta Braves
The National League Champion Atlanta Braves hung the pennant high over the crowd at Fulton County Stadium in early April, 1992, and then proceeded to go 9 games below .500 by the middle of June. But that would be the end of it. The Braves were dominant during the summer and would never look back. Otis Nixon, the star Braves centerfielder was back off a drug suspension that kept him out of the entirety of his teammates' glorious 1991 playoff run. Now he was Air Nixon. Who could forget the game where he robbed a Van Slyke homerun in Atlanta by running towards the wall, pressing his foot into the wall, and using it to vault about 5 feet over the top of the wall to catch the homer. This kept a Braves 1-0 lead, and they made it into first place over Cincinnati a week later. Theatrics were common place. Everyone had a game-winning homer in the very least when the game was tied in the ninth, but most commonly when they were trailing and with two outs. By the middle of September they were 90-44 and looked unbeatable...
But then something happened that changed the Braves fortunes the way that Len Bias's coke overdose changed the fortunes of the Celtics.
Greg Olson the mighty Braves catcher who was tiny but could do bench press sets with 400 pounds...broke his leg as Ken Caminiti of the Astros slid into home plate to barrel him over. Out for the season. This would officially be the first member of that miracle Braves team in 91 to go down. Very slowly and surely it would happen to the whole unit.
Of course, it would take a long while for people to figure it out. The Braves replaced Olson with Damon Berryhill and won the division, repeating as N.L. West Champs at the end of September. The TBS commentators were in the Braves lockerroom and when they interviewed Tom Glavine, they kept calling him "Cy" like Cy Young. "So Cy, how you feel, Cy?"
And it would be a rematch against the Pittsburgh Pirates, who were looking at their third straight chance for baseball's biggest prize.The National League Championship Series, 1992.
Game 1 was Tuesday Night in Atlanta. The Braves won easily 4-1 behind John Smoltz's lucky playoff beard.
ATLANTA LEADS SERIES 1-0
Game 2 was Wednesday Afternoon. Ron Gant would hit his first ever grand slam to left to put the Braves up 8-0, and they won 13-4. A bunch of punk teenagers held up a huge sign that read "BARRY-O-METER" indicating that Barry Bonds was now 0-for-8 in this series. Pittsburgh's attempts to tie the series had tripped over itself. And they were going back to Three Rivers Stadium.
ATLANTA LEADS SERIES 2-0
Pittsburgh on Friday night was a madhouse. The fans all held signs reading "WE BELIEVE", and the Pirates would unleash the one weapon that Atlanta couldn't counter -- the vicious, conniving knuckleball. Pittsburgh had a young knuckleballer named Tim Wakefield (later of Boston fame) and he would shut the Braves down with a pitch that went 55 miles per hour, didn't rotate, but still managed to hop around the air on it's way to the glove. Everyone's timing was screwed up. Meanwhile Barry Bonds was getting his stroke back.
ATLANTA LEADS SERIES 2-1
Game 4 was on Saturday night and highlighted the ironman, multi-faceted versatility of Atlanta pitcher John Smoltz. It is Smoltz who put the Braves up 1-0 in the fourth on an RBI single to bring home Ron Gant. As he stood on first base in a warm-up jacket I once owned a replica of, he had to be proud of himself. He would up his record to 4-0 in the playoffs, and the Braves were one win from their second straight World Series.
ATLANTA LEADS SERIES 3-1
But in Game 5, Barry Bonds got things started early. As he knocked in a two-run RBI in the 1st inning, he can be plainly seen lip-synching the words "It's over". And it was. Bob Walk pitched a three-hitter and the Braves were heading back to Atlanta...to face a loaded Pittsburgh gun.
ATLANTA LEADS SERIES 3-2
Game 6 on Wednesday night was a nightmare. In the second inning, Barry Bonds led off a hit parade that didn't stop until it was 8-0. And the next three hours were stupid. Pirates win 13-4, onto Thursday night.
SERIES TIED 3-3
Who would have ever guessed what would have happened that Thursday night in Atlanta? Who would have imagined that something would happen here so incredible, so exciting, so dramatic, it would completely outdo everything that happened in 1991? For some this would have been their defining game as a franchise. For the Braves, such unearthlike dramatics back then were common place. In 1993 they would go on to have even more epic comebacks and victories. But nothing the Braves or any team, Michael Jordan, Joe Montana, none of them...compared to what happened at Fulton County Stadium on this very night.
The Pirates went up 2-0. It was stupid as the rest of the game turned up stranded runner after stranded runner. Doug Drabek was never as good as he was on this night. The Pirates stymed Atlanta time after time, and finally they would go into the middle of the ninth inning of Game 7...up 2-0.
CBS Sports did a masterful job back then of highlighting emotions from people involved. Time and again before the strike and the wildcard, during these wonderful days when only 4 teams made the playoffs, there would be high drama every single September as teams battled it out, and CBS Sports would always provide the money shots -- for example, in 91, Toronto and Milwaukee battled it out until the final weekend much like the Braves and Dodges did. The Blue Jays clinched in a home game against the Angels because with Roberto Alomar at third, Joe Carter hit a base hit to bring him home. At the MOMENT that the final score appeared on the monitor in Milwaukee, CBS would have their cameras on the very faces of the Milwaukee players in the dugout as they looked up at the score to see that they were no longer in contention. Well here during the the 1992 NLCS, CBS would keep track of the reactions of the Pittsburgh fans in a local tavern. It looked like the Cubby Bear in Chicago -- the fans were all packed and huddled in front of the screens, they couldn't believe that this Pittsburgh Pirates team was in this position. First, free agency was going to break them up after the year was over and everybody knew it. Second, they had failed two previous times to get here. And third, they had come down from 3-1 against mighty Atlanta to have them against the ropes, three outs from the World Series. Up 2-0. This was tense, surprising, amazing, and Pittsburgh was on the verge of exploding. Doug Drabek was invincible and still in the game, Smoltz had been replaced long ago. It looked not only good, but as if nothing had been left to chance. Except one very small thing...
The Braves had the heart of the order up.
First Terry Pendleton. THWACK!!! A hard looping drive down the right-field line and...it lands in the field of play!!! Pendleton advances to second on an easy double.
Next, David Justice. THWACK!!! He hits a ball to Jose Lind the shortstop, it looks routine and Lind is a perennial Gold Glove winn--NO!!! He fumbles it!!! And the Braves have runners at first and third and nobody out!!! Only Lind's seventh error all season!!!
And next up, Sid Bream. He gets walked. The fans go nuts. Bream's clapping his hands. And Pittsburgh manager Jim Leyland approaches the mound and takes Doug Drabek out. There goes Drabek. And in comes Stan Belinda the reliever with the bases loaded and nobody out...
Up comes Ron Gant. It could be over right here. The pitch -- THWACK!!! That ball's high and deep to left...the fans are going nuts...but...Bonds catches it for the first out, and Terry Pendleton comes home for the first Atlanta run...2-1 Pittsburgh. One out, runners on first and second.
Up next is Damon Berryhill. HE'S walked!!! Fans wild again, Braves still trail 2-1, but it's bases loaded with one out.
Up next is Brian Hunter. He hits a pop fly. Caught easy. Two outs.
And now coming up, instead of the pitcher, is a guy who batted only 10 times all year. Nobody in the stands or watching in Pittsburgh or Atlanta knows who he is, but the coaches and players remember that he did very good during those 10 at bats. His name is Francisco Cabrera. It's all on him.
He goes up in the count 2-0. Then he hits a hard liner that, goes foul. 2-1.
Pittsburgh players are even seen smirking a bit, laughing, calming themselves down, for that was a close shave. Could you imagine something so crazy? they wonder. This guy getting a hit to--THWACK!!!-
LINE DRIVE PAST THE SHORTSTOP JAY BELL INTO LEFT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
CBS announcer Sean McDonough's voice cracked he was so amazed. The place was completely silent during that very moment, long enough for McDonough to get the entire phrase out--"LINE DRIVE AND A BASE HIT!!!"
Now comes the added heartbreak for Pittsburgh. David Justice is in, that's for sure, it's now 2-2, but here comes the go-ahead runner in Sid Bream. Bream is a former Pirate, Bream is slow as hell, and the throw from Barry Bonds is the most perfect throw ever made in the history of the game. It was dead on, right into Lavalliere's glove, and Lavalliere missed by a hair. a HAIR!!! BRAVES WIN ANOTHER PENNANT!!! BRAVES WIN ANOTHER PENNANT!!! Justice, instead of jumping on Bream to celebration, climbed underneath him to be at the bottom of what turned into a 40-foot high pile of players laying on their stomachs. The stadium almost collapsed from how hard the fans were flipping out. National weather reporters stood at the top of the hour referencing what they saw in Atlanta moments ago on CBS. And Francisco Cabrera...was barely heard from again.
Needless to say the Pittsburgh fans were like wax sculptures. They didn't cry at the point when CBS got their reactions -- they hadn't reached that point. And famously, it would take the city a long time in fact to recover. There were incidents of grave depression, eye infections from tears (swear to God), even family reconcilations that people never thought possible, as if whatever they did couldn't compare to the sadness they now felt over Cabrera's hit. It's been 17 years, and quite possibly a curse harder then the Billy Goat has taken Pittsburgh by the neck. The Pirates have never been competitive again.
ATLANTA WINS PENNANT 4-3
The Braves however...they were going to their second straight World Series to avenge the terrible taste of Gene Larkin's late Game 7 RBI. If anyone understood what it was like to face depression in the post-season, it was these Atlanta Braves. Their opponents would be the Toronto Blue Jays, who had finally reached the World Series after years of embarrassment and disappointment. They had been schooled and toyed with by the likes of Detroit, Oakland, Boston, Minnesota, discriminated as being wussies, and now they were here.
Game 1 of the 1992 World Series was in Atlanta. Tom Glavine was awesome, and Damon Berryhill hit a three-run homer in the sixth inning with two outs to put the Braves up 3-1.
ATLANTA LEADS SERIES 1-0
Game 2 looked like it would go our way. Alomar was called out while trying to steal home when he should have been safe, and the Blue Jays went into the top of the ninth inning down 4-3. Then Ed Sprague hit a two-run homer. Toronto went up and stayed there.
SERIES TIED 1-1
And so the World Series went to Canada for the first time. And Game 3 was pretty good. There was a great play by Toronto centerfielder Devon White who caught a hard deep fly ball against the wall with his back turned, and it led to Atlanta runners passing each other and causing a pair of outs, and were spared a triple play due to Deion Sanders getting back to third in a run down. The umpire called Deion safe, misjudging a Kelly Gruber tag (he got 'em). And in the 9th, Candy Maldonado hit a simple looper into short center to bring home Kelly Gruber for the game winner.
TORONTO LEADS SERIES 2-1
Game 4 was stupid too. I don't even remember what happened, it was just stupid.
TORONTO LEADS SERIES 3-1
But in Game 5, we took it to the Blue Jays, and Jack Morris. A year ago, Morris was the 84 Detroit Tigers Jack Morris. The World Series MVP for Minnesota completely shut the Braves down in three straight appearances. This time he was getting rocked. He had an ERA of 12 and Lonnie Smith would come up against him with the score Atlanta 3, Toronto 2. Three runners on because, like I said, Morris sucked this year. And Lonnie Smith would DECK A GRAND SLAM!!! The World Series goat of a year ago...sticking it to the MVP. Morris looked brow beaten. And the Skydome was silent. They had failed to close out the series. There would be no celebrating in Toronto. Canada's Team would have to leave the friendly, clean confines north of the border...and head back into the hellish urine-laden pit of the old Confederacy where America's Team was worshipped, fed and ready.
TORONTO LEADS SERIES 3-2
Game 6 would go down as one of the greatest games ever played. Down 3-2 in the ninth, down to their last strike, Otis Nixon would THWACK!!! Get a BASE HIT!!! JEFF BLAUSER'S COMING HOME, MALDONADO'S THROW GOES OVER THE CATCHER'S HEAD!!! WE'RE TIED IN ATLANTA!!!
All over Canada, those CBS monitors that featured the disillusioned Pittsburgh fans, now presented a similar picture as the Skydome fans watching on the big monitor in Toronto dipped into silence. They were one strike away. They should have this and their team knew it.
And so they went into the 11th inning, and Atlanta manager Bobby Cox had a sticky situation on his hands. Dave Winfield of the Blue Jays was up to bat with the bases loaded. There were two outs, but Winfield could hit a ton. Winfield was right-handed, which told Cox it was time to bring in a right-handed reliever. Jeff Reardon, the all-time leading reliever in MLB history...choked in the World Series two times already. Game 2 and 3 were won on hits off of Reardon, who was warming up in the bullpen...and would never leave it. Cox went instead with Charlie Liebrandt who gave up the homerun off Kirby Puckett the year before. A weak lefthanded pitcher against 500-HR hitter Dave Winfield. A 3-2 pitch to him -- THWACK -- Winfield slams it down the left-field line, stopping as it pings the corner of the wall four hundred feet away. Two runners come home. Winfield puts the Blue Jays up 4-2 in the 11th inning.
And in the bottom of the inning, the Braves would get another run, but Otis Nixon would be called onto to bunt. It was stupid. Candiotti picks it up easy, throws it to Joe Carter at first base, and the Blue Jays celebrate on the field in Atlanta. They are the world champions four games to two, and the Atlanta Braves are left with the sound of Ray Charles singing "No peace I find/in Georgia".
TORONTO WINS SERIES 4-2
But there would be a parade a few days later. The fans loved this team. Everybody in fact loved the Atlanta Braves.
Tomorrow will be a post that may seem shorter, but it will be even more exciting. Before we get to the NFL and the NBA, we have one more order of business. And that's Part III. Which is all ready below, just give it a click once you get back from the john.
1993 ATLANTA BRAVES