The Braves first two division titles, 13 years apart, wouldn’t have happened without Phil Niekro. When the games mattered most, Knucksie was at his best.
The Braves were involved in tight division races both years, and no one — not Hank, or Murph — was more clutch.
Five games. Five wins. Thirty-nine and one-third IP. Six earned runs. Two shutouts, both of which came when he was 43 years old.
The first came in San Francisco, tied with the Braves in second place, one game behind the Dodgers. Nine innings, no runs and two hits later, the Braves were tied for first.
He was even better four nights later, walking none and allowing just three hits, retiring 17 consecutive batters at one point. Then, with one out in the eight inning and the Braves clinging to a one-run lead, he did this:
Knucksie added four more shutout frames in Game 1 of the ’82 NLCS before the game was called due to rain. Three nights later, the greatest knuckleballer of them all wasn’t at his best but left the game after six innings up 3-2.
If there’s such a thing as “clutch,” and human behavior tells me there is, no Brave epitomized it better than Knucksie.