If you’re old enough to remember the ’91 Braves you know what a series in Chavez Ravine once meant. Three times over a 10-year period — 1982, ’83 and ’91 — the Braves and Dodgers were involved in pennant races that weren’t decided until the final week. In ’82 and ’91, the race went down to the final weekend.
There’s been two playoff series since between the two teams– ’96 and 2013 — but neither matched the intensity of those NL West clashes.
Three stand out in my mind:
On Thursday, Aug. 5, 1982, the Braves limped into LA losers of 6 of their last seven. Four of those losses had come the previous weekend at home to the Dodgers. Still, the Braves held a 5-1/2 game lead over LA heading into the series and had their hottest pitcher, Pascual Perez, on the mound.
Pascual was dominant and left the game after 8 innings with a 2-1 lead. Closer Gene Garber, solid in ’82, replaced him in the 9th. With 2 outs, 2 strikes and a runner at second, pinch hitter Rick Monday dribbled a grounder to second base right to, and under, Jerry Royster’s glove. The Dodgers won 3-2 in 10 and went on to sweep the four-game series, winning Games 2 and 3 in extra innings. After leaving LA the Braves lost 9 out of their next 10 but recovered to win the division on the season’s last game. (Thank you, Joe Morgan).
R.J. REYNOLDS’ DRAG BUNT
The Braves still had hope as they took the field on Sept. 11, 1983 for the finale of a three-game set with the Dodgers. 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 a golden opportunity to silence critics of 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 studs 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 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 textbook bunt down the first base line, scoring Guerrero to win the game. The Braves would drop seven out of their next nine games, erasing any hopes of repeating as NL West champions.
On Sept. 20, 1991, Steve Avery effectively clinched the division for the Braves. Five days earlier at Fulco he held the Dodgers to one run in 9 innings. But he saved his best for that Friday night in Chavez Ravine, with the Dodgers holding a 1/2 game division lead.
Avery and Tim Belcher matched zeroes through 6, when Gant — stuck on 29 HR for weeks — scored Justice on a two-run bomb to left. It was all the 21-year-old southpaw would need. I remember Sutton marveling at the youngster’s composure as he mowed through the heart of the Dodgers order, retiring the last 8 batters he faced to preserve a six-hit shutout. It appeared at that point he was the best of the Braves’ young arms. Tommy G. deserved the Cy Young Award that year, but Avery was the guy you wanted on the mound in a big game.
The Dodgers would win the last two games of those series but would end up losing the division by one game. Avery’s starts made the difference.
It’s safe to assume few will remember this weekend’s series 25 years from now, although if Clayton Kershaw is ever to pitch a perfect game, Saturday night seems opportune. He’s never pitched better and rarely, if ever, faced a more feeble line-up.
Tonight’s line-up hasn’t been posted but we know it’ll suck. Hopefully Juley can overcome his woes against the Dodgers, against whom he’s 0-5 with a 6.75 ERA in 6 career starts. He’s 0-3 with 9.60 ERA in three starts at Chavez Ravine, including a forgettable outing in the 2013 NLDS.