Braves/Dodgers: The rivalry that was (1983)
I was not among the 48,556 fans at Fulco on August 13, 1983, but I should’ve been. While my parents and a cousin enjoyed the best game of that season from field level seats behind first, I was participating in pious sing-a-longs at a Christian retreat. “God said, to No-ah, there’s gonna be a flood-y, flood-y …”
I had no idea what happened in Atlanta until returning home the next day. I was pissed I missed it but ecstatic with the win.
The Dodgers beat Pascual Perez to open the series, closing to within 5-1/2 games of the first-place Braves. Saturday night’s match-up favored the Bums, with a young Alejandro Pena facing journeyman Pete Falcone.
You forget how good a starter Pena was. In his first two complete MLB seasons, Big Al posted ERAs of 2.75 and 2.48, with 24 wins and seven shutouts.
On this night he coasted through the first five, allowing only one hit and one unearned run. Falcone struggled, failing to make it out of the fourth.
The Braves came to bat in the sixth trailing 6-1. Singles by Brett Butler and Rafael Ramirez stirred hope. Next up: In Claudell We Trust. Boom! Braves within two.
Enter Dave “Lucille” Stewart. After retiring Horner and Murphy, rookie Gerald Perry drilled a single to left. Glenn Hubbard followed with his 7th home run. 6-6. It stayed that way until the 9th.
Steve Bedrosian had struck out six of 10 hitters faced, allowing only a single and intentional walk. Up stepped rookie Greg Brock and his .220 BA. Bedrock grooved one, and Brock numbed the Fulco faithful.
The Dodgers took a 7-6 lead into the bottom of the 9th, with southpaw Steve Howe on for the save. Following a duck snort by Raffy, #8 strode to the plate.
There wasn’t a better pinch hitter that year. Bob Watson, acquired from the Yankees in 1982 for pitcher-turned-actor Scott Patterson (see, John Mullen wasn’t all bad), hit .407 off the bench, with two homers and 13 RBI.
One of those homers came 30 years ago tonight. Braves 8, Dodgers 7. The lead was 6.5 games.
Watson’s blast proved to be the highlight of the ’83 season. The local nine fell to Fernando Valenzuela in the rubber game of the Dodgers series, en route to a devastating 5-14 stretch.
Though struggling, the Braves were still in the hunt for the NL West. The night before they beat the Dodgers in extra innings, 6-3, to close L.A.’s lead to two games. In the series finale, Len Barker took the mound with the opportunity to ease doubts about the trade that brought him to Atlanta. His mound opponent? Rick Honeycutt, the pitcher the Braves had hoped to acquire before settling for Barker.
It didn’t start well. A double by light-hitting catcher Jack Fimple plated 2 to break a scoreless tie. The lead didn’t last long. In the third, Honeycutt allowed two runners on in front of the reigning MVP. Murph responded like MVPs do, slugging a three-run homer. One inning later, Jerry Royster scored on an errant throw by Fimple and Brad Komminsk of all people stroked a two-run single to left off Rich Rodas. 6-2 Braves.
The Braves clung to a 6-3 lead going into the 9th. Pinch hitter Jose Morales doubled off Donnie Moore, who then walked Steve Sax. Manager Joe Torre turned to Gene Garber, who had been so good in ’82. Geno had struggled in ’83, however, and came into the game with 6 blown saves and an ERA above 4. He produced accordingly, allowing a single by Dusty Baker to load the bases. All three runners would score on a walk to Pedro Guerrero and a double by Mike Marshall. Garber remained in the game, now tied at 6.
Up stepped light-hitting rookie R.J. Reynolds, a Sacramento product like our blog’s namesake. Reynolds, hitless in three previous at bats, dropped a perfect bunt down the first base line scoring Guerrero to win the game. The Braves would drop seven out of their next nine games, ending any hopes of repeating as NL West champions.