A recurring series celebrating the 25th anniversary of the ’91 Braves.
It’s widely assumed that the ’91 Braves got back into the NL West race right after the All-Star break, but that’s not entirely correct. Yes, the Braves did make up 6 games in less than two weeks, closing to within 2.5 games on July 22. They entered play a week later 6 games back of the Dodgers. Worse, the Pirates, with the best record in baseball, were in town for a four-game series, starting with a doubleheader. It’s not a stretch to say the season hung in the balance.
I was there for the twin bill, along with 32,000-plus, huge for a weeknight back then. It had been eight years since the Braves played a game at Fulco that meant so much.
Game 1 featured aces Doug Drabek and Tom Glavine, but neither was at their best. Brian Hunter struck the decisive blow, blasting a deep homer to left to give the Braves a 7-4 lead. Glavine pitched into the 8th, with Marvin Freeman retiring the final four batters for his first save.
A split was the best any Braves fan could’ve hoped for, considering Rick Mahler was starting Game 2. Acquired from Montreal in June, Mahler was mostly awful in his return to Atlanta. Six days earlier, he allowed four runs in 2-2/3 IP vs. the Bucs.
But the pitcher no one wanted, Braves fans in particular, ended up with one of the biggest wins of the season, holding the Pirates to two runs in 6 IP. In the bottom of the 8th, with the Braves holding a 3-2 lead, catcher Francisco Cabrera faced off against a pitcher with whom he’ll forever be linked. As he would more than a year later in Game 7 of the NLCS, Big Frank got the best of Stan Belinda, homering to left for what turned out to be the winning run.
A Dodgers loss brought the Braves within 4.5 games of first. The race was on.
Mahler would appear in only two more games. CD and I were at his last one, a start against the Giants. He lasted only two innings, allowing four hits, three runs, two walks and one hit batter, Kevin Mitchell. We encouraged Mitchell to charge the mound, hoping he would take Mahler out of the the game.
We should’ve been more appreciative of the longtime Brave, who helped make the ’91 miracle possible, if only for one night.