Pittsburgh, who lost the 1990 NLCS to the Reds, were the favorites when the series started. A lackluster effort by the Braves offense and Tom Glavine in Game 1 seemed to confirm expectations. But the Pirates didn’t have Steve Avery.
The 21-year-old southpaw was the Braves’ best pitcher down the stretch, posting a 2.25 ERA in his last 7 starts. Two of those games came against the Dodgers. Avery pitched 18 innings, allowing only 1 run. That’s 1 more run than the Pirates would score in two games vs. Avery.
The youngest player on either roster set the tone in the first inning. After a lead-off walk to Gary Redus he retired Jay Bell, Andy Van Slyke and Bobby Bonilla on strikeouts looking.
Unfortunately the Braves bats remained ice cold. Zane Smith matched zeroes with Avery through 5. With 2 outs in the 6th and David Justice at second, Mark Lemke hit a ground ball to third that took a bad hop over Steve Buechele and into left field. In the 8th, the Pirates put runners at 1st and 3rd with Van Slyke at bat. A harmless grounder to Rafael Belliard preserved the shutout.
Bobby Bonilla led off the 9th with a double, bringing up the game’s most imposing hitter. Barry Bonds worked the count to 3-1 before popping up to deep short. Bobby brought in Alejandro Pena to get the last two outs but a wild pitch sent Bonilla to third. A fly ball would tie it, but Big Al bore down and retired Buechele on a grounder to first and struck out pinch hitter Curtis Wilkerson on three pitches.
The series returned to Atlanta but didn’t go as planned. After thumping the Pirates 10-3 in Game 3 the Braves lost by one run in Games 4 and 5. Down 3 games to 2 and on the road, the Braves had only one thing going for them: Avery in Game 6.