Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Remember when the NLCS was the Braves vs. Pirates?

Hello one and all,

I was playing in one of my many Fantasy Football leagues this week, when I took a trip down memory lane with some of my friends. Considering my week of shame (0-4 between 3 NFL.com leagues and my Yahoo money league), I thought I would bring back up a moment in history that will live in my heart, soul and mind forever.

I'm a huge Atlanta Braves fan! It has been disappointing the past 3 seasons watching my favorite baseball team finish the season in a position in the standings other than first. (It was really gut wrenching this year with them having so many injuries and losing 90 games for the first time since 1990.) As I sat back and watched the Philadelphia Phillies win the World Series (gag me), I was compelled to reminisce about the glory days of the Atlanta Braves.

There's no question that from 1991 through 2005, the Braves were a premiere team every single year. They never finished lower than second (and that being because of the strike; as Keith Oberman once said, "The Braves can't come back in the second half, if there's no second half."), they won 100 games six times, had pitchers win 6 Cy Young Awards, 2 MVPs, 1 Rookie of the Year, and 3 Manager of the year awards. They had 5 different pitchers win 20 games in a season (Maddux 2, Glavine 5, Smoltz 1, Ortiz 1, Neagle 1), Javy Lopez set the record for home runs by a catcher in once season (42), John Smoltz holds a tie for the National League Saves record for a closer (55; with Eric Gagne), Andruw Jones is the youngest player to ever hit a homerun in the World Series (2 in Game 1 of the 1996 World Series, IN Yankee Stadium), John Smoltz holds the record for postseason victories (15). During their run, the Braves won 1 World Series, 5 National League pennants and 14 consecutive division titles (1994's 2nd place standing doesn't count folks, sorry).

Some people like to look at the Braves futility, but they did at least win 1 Championship. That's still more than Colorado, Tampa Bay, Detroit, Houston, San Francisco, New York Mets, San Diego, and Cleveland can say since 1991 when the Braves run began. Might I add, that's still more than the Chicago Cubs have won since 1908! (Sorry Cubs fans, couldn't resist! Better luck next year! Ha! However you can always revel in the fact that you're team won the World Series in the same year a meteor or something hit the Siberian Tundra and leveled a lot of trees. No one else can say that!) No matter how many championships they won, no one can deny they were the most consistent team in Major League Baseball during the 1990s. Even their World Series appearances were epic.

They played in the Worst-to-First World Series against the Minnesota Twins, an epic series that to this day is still considered one of the greatest ever played (5 games decided by one run, 4 extra inning games, a complete game 10 inning shutout for Jack Morris, the highest scoring game in World Series history at that time, 14-5). Then the Braves played in the first International World Series against the Toronto Blue Jays, who was hardly as good a team as Atlanta was that year. Unfortunately, the Braves helped the resurgence of the New York Yankees in the 1990s and on into this decade (thank God all that money is not helping them anymore, bout freakin time!). But I'll never forget 1995!

I graduated that year, turned 18, and got to see my favorite team win their only World Series title in Game 6 on October 28, 1995! I was there, underneath the score board, at Fulton-County Stadium cheering them on to victory. It was so amazing, especially when Glavine threw out the first pitch. As he released, so many flashes from cameras went off in the stands behind the catcher, it was like looking at a supernova going off on the other side of the field. It was breathtaking! Not nearly as spectacular as when David Justice hit the homerun that proved to be the decisive factor. There was a humorous moment when Javy Lopez thought he had hit a homerun, only to show us amazing warning track power! But Glavine was stellar and one pitch away from a no-hitter. As it is, the 1 hitter Glavine and Wholhers pitched that night was the fewest hits allowed, second only to Don Larsen's perfect game!

I've had some impressive stats of my own with following the Braves. I started attending games back in September, 1993. Since that time, I've seen my share of Braves success:

October, 1993-- Final game of season, Braves vs. Rockies, 104th win and clinched division over San Franscisco.

October, 1995--Game 4, Braves vs. Reds, clinched National League pennant.

October, 28, 1995--Game 6, Braves vs. Indians, Braves win World Series title.

October, 1996--Game 3, Braves vs. Dodgers, clinched Division Series.

October, 1996--Game 7, Braves vs. Cardinals, clinched National League pennant (final victory for Braves in Fulton-County Stadium history).

I was in attendance for all of these games, so I certainly witnessed some impressive Braves history. Not to mention, as unfortunate as this past season was for Atlanta, I got to get on TV briefly and highlight reels everywhere when Jeff Francoeur hit a game winning homerun in the bottom of the 9th against the Arizona Diamondbacks. I didn't catch the ball, but was about 10 seats from the guy who did. I'm the one in the gray Braves jersey, screaming his head off and hoisting his hand in triumph, with shades on no less.

But with all these memories, my favorite one's to think about were the NLCS matchups between the Braves and Pirates in 1991 and 1992. In particular, Game 7 in the bottom of the 9th inning of the 1992 NLCS. For that reason, and so I can rub it in on my Pittsburgh loving buddy in California, I put together a little satirical depiction of the last moments of the 1992 NLCS. To get you in the mood, it was the bottom of the ninth, 2 outs, a 2 balls and 1 strike count on the hitter as Stan Belinda winds and delivers...

Francisco "who?" Cabrera hit a slow roller past Jay Bell, that an otherwise able bodied shortstop would have fielded, to left field and Barry Bonds who was playing on the warning track. Sid Bream, walker in hand, was moseying around the bases like a choo-choo train about to explode from overheating. Barry Bonds happened to notice some daisies in the outfield and decided to pick them when he got the ball. By this time, Bream was rounding third and heading home, at a record setting speed that would have made Carl Lewis' grandmother envious. As Bream was half way to home, according to the sun dial, Barry Bonds dropped the daisies and threw a lovely rainbow throw to home plate and a waiting Mike LaValliere.

All I have to say is Sid Bream!! What kind of a rag arm must an outfielder have to not throw THAT guy out? No wonder Bonds took steroids! As the catcher moved his tub of lard butt over to field the ball that bounced about half a dozen times before it reached the plate, Bream was still chugging along at break neck speed. Then suddenly, without warning and from shear exhaustion, both men collapsed at home plate. When the dust cleared, a half hour later, and the Earth stopped shaking, the quake jarred the catcher's glove away from Bream's foot to give the appearance he was SAFE! BRAVES WIN! BRAVES WIN! BRAVES WIN!

I'm riveted every single time I think about it. I hope you enjoy it too! ;)

P.S. I know I'm a dork, but here's the final commentary as I remember it from 1992:

Sean McDonough--"He doesn't walk much. Only 17 walks in 300 at bats in the minor leagues this year. He hacked at the 2-0, now the 2-1. LINE DRIVE AND A BASE HIT. Justice scores the tying run. Here comes Bream around third. Here's the throw. Bream, to the plate. And is SAFE, SAFE AT THE PLATE! THE BRAVES GO TO THE WORLD SERIES!"