Duane Ward was exactly what the Braves needed in 1992 and ’93. Had he been in the ‘pen Atlanta would’ve likely won the World Series each year.
Then again, those Braves teams would’ve probably not reached the postseason if not for John Smoltz, acquired from Detroit for the same pitcher, Doyle Alexander, received in the 1986 trade that sent Ward to Toronto.
Still, it was hard not to grind your teeth watching Ward make short work of the Braves in the ’92 Series — a match-up essentially decided by bullpens. Toronto’s was outstanding. Atlanta’s was not.
Ward entered Game 2 in the 8th inning with the Blue Jays, down 1-0 in the series, trailing 4-3. Ward retired Brian Hunter on a grounder to third and struck out Jeff Blauser and Damon Berryhill swinging. A half inning later, Ed Sprague went deep off Jeff Reardon and the series shifted to Toronto, tied at one game apiece.
Game 3 was a near facsimile, with Ward entering a tie game in the 9th. After allowing a lead-off single to Sid Bream, Ward retired Blauser on a double play and once again struck out Berryhill swinging. Candy Maldonado singled in the winning run off Reardon in the bottom of the 9th, a loss that pretty much clinched Toronto’s championship.
Ward pitched in all 4 of Toronto’s wins, allowing no runs and one hit in 3-1/3, striking out 6. He was so good the Jays let Tom Henke walk after the season, and the New Mexico native rewarded their confidence, allowing just 49 hits in 71-2/3 IP in ’93, striking out 97 and saving 45.
He likely would’ve finished higher on this list if not for a serious case of bicep tendinitis that ended his career at age 31.