There had been flings, but the series against the Dodgers at Fulco in mid-September marked the beginning of Atlanta’s (short-lived) love affair with the Braves.
Game 1 went to the Dodgers, 5-2, putting LA back in first by a half-game. Game 2 was a classic, played on a steamy Saturday afternoon. It lasted 11 innings, 4 hours and 10 minutes, including an hour and 20 minute rain delay. I watched it at a sports bar in Gwinnett and the Braves, not college football, were shown on most TVs.
”We’ll remember this game,” Braves starter John Smoltz said. ”We’d have put pressure on ourselves to avoid getting swept. We could have been in a bad situation. …
”It was a big game. A swing game. We have more left, but the season would have been a lot more bumpy losing a game like this.”
It was a thriller worthy to be played in October, thanks to an emotional Braves crowd (44,773) that hasn’t experienced such meaningful baseball since 1983.
It began inauspiciously for the Braves when Ron Gant misplayed a line drive by Kal Daniels, scoring two runs. The Braves tied it in the fifth on singles by Jeff Treadway, TP and Justice.
Neither team could manage a run over the next five innings. Mike Stanton, Alejandro Pena and Jim Clancy combined for five scoreless innings in relief in which only three Dodgers reached base. The Dodgers ‘pen was just as stingy, allowing just one run in 8-1/3 innings.
With two out in the 11th, pinch hitter Jerry Willard coaxed a walk from current Braves pitching coach Roger McDowell. Terry Pendleton followed with a bloop double. Justice was walked intentionally, loading the bases.
Up stepped Gant, who was hitless in four ABs and responsible for the Dodgers only two runs. Goat turned hero when Gant lined a single into left, scoring pinch runner Keith Mitchell and putting the Braves back in first by a half-game.
There was no such tension in the rubber game. A Sid Bream grand slam in the first innings off Dodgers ace Ramon Martinez provided all the runs the Braves would need and then some, as Steve Avery went the distance, allowing just one run. Avery owned the Dodgers that year, winning three of his four starts with a 0.85 ERA.