MORE ON THE HARDLUCK BRAVES
Before I get back to what I wanted to write about next (the Phillies of the early 30's, and Willie McCovey's homerun chase) I just had to go into more detail on the Braves. Sorry Atlanta fans, you may not want to read this as it is not very pretty and seems to mirror real life a little to well.
As mentioned a couple of posts above the Braves are winless in 8 World Series appearances through 1993 and have blown some big leagues. Well, they finally did win one in the final decade of the HOB3 but they also let some more get away.
The Braves won the NL East 7 times between 1994 and 2003 and earned a wildcard berth in one of the 2 seasons they didn't finish first. Making the playoffs has not been a problem for Atlanta. What they do when they get there has been the issue.
1994 - With a 94-68 record the Braves finish 1 game behind the Mets but promptly lose the wildcard series in 4 games to the Dodgers.
1995 - A 99 win season earns the Braves the best record in the National League. This is the year Braves fans can always look back on with a smile whenever any of the many playoff collapses a brought up.
The Braves lineup featured Jacy Lopez (.278,15,47) behind the plate. The infield consisted of Ryan Klesko (.322,41,135), Jeff Blauser (.254,20,88), Chipper Jones (.310,21,96) and Gary Templeton (.255,5,51). The outfield featured David Justice (.275,61,156) who should have been MVP but wasn't, Kal Daniels (.283,23,94) and Jerome Walton (.310,40sb). Tom Glavine had left for Toronto as a free agent but the rotation was solid with Pete Smith (21-7,2.90), Rusie Award winner Steve Avery (21-4, 2.76) and Bob Tewksbury (13-10, 4.25). Closer Kent Mercker had 46 saves.
The divisonal playoff pitted the Braves against San Diego. The Padres scored 5 runs in the final 3 innings to win the opener 7-5 but Atlanta overcame a 4-0 deficeit to take Game 2 8-4. The Braves bats exploded with 20 hits in a 13-7 Game 3 victory but San Diego stayed alive taking Game 4 by a 3-2 count. How many times before had the Braves had their opponent on the brink of elimination only to collapse? When San Diego jumped out to a 5-0 lead in the second inning of game 5 most felt it was time for another painful playoff exit for Atlanta. It was 7-3 heading into the bottom of the 8th when Atlanta did something no Braves team had ever done in the deciding game of a series - they rallied, scoring 5 times in the eighth and won the game 8-7. Herm Winningham's pinch hit 3 run homer was the key blow.
Next came the NLCS and a matchup with Philadelphia, who had beaten Cincinnati in the maximum 5 games. Atlanta took the series in 6 games and the Braves were ready for their 9th World Series appearance.
Toronto and ex-teammate Tom Glavine were the Braves opponents. The Jays had plenty of power in Cecil Fielder and Geronimo Berroa who had combined for 99 homers. Like the Braves, the Jays were looking for the first World Series title but this was Toronto's first trip to the Fall Classic. The Braves took the first two games before Glavine stopped his old mates in a 10-2 Toronto win in game 3. The Braves won the fourth game and then clinched their first World Series title when David Justice homered for the only run in a 1-0 victory in Game 5. The curse that haunted the Braves in deciding games all these years was finally over.....or had it just taken a year off.
1996 - A major league best 106 wins...easy series victories over Houston and Los Angeles and the Braves, having tasted victory once looked ready to belly up to the bar for another round of victory champagne. When the White Sox took game 1 of the series it was viewed as merely a minor setback. Jeff Blauser 2 run homer in the 8th inning gave the Braves game 2 by a 3-2 margin. A tremendous effort from closer Kent Mercker preserved a 6-5 victory in Game 3. Pete Smith pitched a 3-hitter in a 3-1 victory in game 4. The series was now 3-1 Atlanta and the Braves were confident.
Chicago took game 5 at home 5-3. Just a last gasp from the White Sox thought confident Atlanta rooters. They'll wrap it up in Game 6 at home. No they won't. Doc Gooden tossed a 6-hit shutout as Chicago hammered Atlanta 8-0 to force a 7th game.
You can guess what happened here. Jack McDowall and a pair of relievers allowed just 4 hits and the White Sox won their third straight game to snatch the series away from the Braves.
1997 Another first place finish in the east but the Braves lose the NLCS in 5 games to the Dodgers.
1998 First place again and the Braves survive a 3-2 deficeit in the NLCS by winning games 6 and 7 from Philadelphia. Oakland is the World Series opponent and Atlanta wins the first two games and leads the series 3 games to 2 heading home to Turner Field. Guess what happens. The Braves get 2-hit in game 6 falling by a 3-0 score. Game 7 has Roger Clemens on the mound for Oakland and the A's build a 2-0 lead for the Rocket. Atlanta scratches out runs in the 4th and 6th inning to tie the game but Mark McGwire's solo homer in the 8th stakes Oakland to a 3-2 lead. The A's add a run in the 9th and win the game 4-2 to give Atlanta fans yet another bitter World Series memory.
1999 Perhaps mercifully for Braves fans, Atlanta finishes third in the east and misses the playoffs.
2000 Best record in baseball with 106 victories. Round one opponent is Los Angeles and the Braves take the opener of the best of 5 series 3-1. The Dodgers win the second game but the Braves respond in fine fashion in game 3. Trailing 5-1 Atlanta gets 3 in the 8th and a run in the 9th to tie the game. Rafael Furcal singles in the game winner in the 10th and the Braves lead the series 2 games to 1.
Ismael Valdez and a pair of relievers combine on a 6-hit shutout as LA takes game 4 3-0. In game 5, Mike Piazza hits his 3rd homer of the series and Pedro Martinez is brilliant in a 3-1 Los Angeles win. It wasn't the World Series but it was still another postseason collapse for the Braves.
2001 Stop me if you have heard this one before. First place in the east and a matchup with Houston in the divisional series. Atlanta wins 2 of the first 3 but drops game 4 to the Astros. Game 5 has the Braves ahead 2-1 entering the top of the ninth. Kent Mercker on to earn the save. Mercker had 38 saves during the season but this is the playoffs and Atlanta fans know what that means. 3 straight singles and the Astros tie the game. The Braves escape the jam and we head to extra innings. Atlanta leaves runners in scoring position in the 10th and 12th innings. The Braves have a runner on third with one out in the bottom of the 13th but they still can't score. Houston, quiet until the 13th, loads the bases with two-away in the 13th but Chad Fox escapes by fanning Mitch Meluskey. Once again the Braves have a runner in scoring position in the bottom of the 14th but can not cash in. Top of the 15th and Houston takes the lead thanks to a Russ Johnson rbi single. Johnson had also singled in the tying run way back in the 9th inning. The Braves go quietly in the bottom of the 15th and another postseason ends in heartbreak.
2002 First place yet again. The Braves beat Houston in 4 games and prepare for San Diego in the NLCS. Leading 3-2 Atlanta drops game 6. The 7th game pits young Adam Eaton against Braves ace Pete Smith. Smith was on the losing end of games 1 and 4 in the series but he pitches a 4-hit gem as the Braves win 2-0. Hey, a 7th game victory for Atlanta. Unbelievable.
The momentum carries over in to the World Series as the Braves beat the New York Yankees by identical 3-2 scores in games 1 and 2. The series shifts to the Big Apple and the Atlanta offense shifts into high gear in a 9-5 victory. Could it be a sweep?
Nope. Game 4 goes to the Yankees 4-1. Game 5 is knotted at 1 until the bottom of the 8th when the Yanks explode for 6 runs thanks to a pair of homers from Ellis Burks and Lee Stevens. Back to Atlanta for game 6 and again the 8th inning haunts the Braves as New York scores 5 times to win 5-1.
There 3-0 series lead erased the Braves are in tatters. New York waltzes to a 10-2 victory in game 7 and the Braves have blown their second 3-0 World Series lead in a decade.
I am sorry Atlanta fans but all of this is true. I do not consider myself a Braves fan but I by no means dislike the club. However, I can't help but chuckle at the bad luck this franchise endured in postseason play throughout the HOB3. And it all started with 4 Babe Ruth homers in games 6 and 7 of the 1924 series. 82 years later Ruth's Yankees do a number on the Braves once again.