Time for the silly four-day, two city series against this year’s “natural” rival, the Blue Jays, a team the Braves once had a rivalry with, 25 years ago.
Toronto-Atlanta was a better World Series than remembered, with four of the six games decided by one run. Game 1, in Atlanta, was decided by two and came against Jack Morris, who a year earlier had authored the Game 7 masterpiece for the Twins. Tom Glavine, shelled for eight runs in Game 6 of the NLCS, rebounded to allow just one run in a complete game four-hitter. Damon Berryhill provided all the offense the Braves would need with a three-run homer in the 6th.
I was there the following night when the Braves entered the 9th with a 4-3 lead and baseball’s then-all-time saves leader Jeff Reardon on the hill. After walking Derek Bell, reserve third baseman Ed Sprague launched a homer over the left field wall to give Toronto the lead. It was the first chapter in what would become a recurring story for the Braves in October. Bad bullpens cost the Braves titles in ’92 and ’96 and a chance at another in ’93, when Greg McMichael and Mark Wohlers were the losing pitchers in two of the four losses to the Phils.
Reardon gave up the game-winning hit — a long single by Candy Maldonado — in Game 3 of the ’92 series as well, his last appearance in the Fall Classic. As the Braves bullpen faltered, the Jays received stout work from former Brave Duane Ward and Tom Henke. And that was the difference in the series.
Toronto took a 3 games to 1 lead with Jimmy Key outpitching Glavine, who tossed his second complete game of the series.
Facing elimination after Jimmy Key silenced Atlanta’s bats in Game 5, the Braves called on John Smoltz, just as he did the last time they faced elimination in the World Series. And, as in Game 7 of the ’91 classic, Morris toed the slab for the opponents. The similarities ended there, with Morris unable to make it out of the fifth inning. The game turned on Jays manager, and former Brave, Cito Gaston’s decision to intentionally walk David Justice, loading the bases for Lonnie Smith, the goat of the ’91 Series.
Gaston learned a lesson that day: Don’t dis’ Lonnie. Feeling slighted, Lonnie hit a bomb into the Braves’ bullpen in right field for a grand slam and a 7-2 lead. It was the last World Series grand slam until Addison Russell connected on a bases-clearing homer against the Indians.
Game 6 was another nail-biter. Trailing 2-1 in the 9th, Gaston called on Henke, who, along with four other Toronto relievers, had not given up an earned run in the previous 77 postseason innings. Jeff Blauser led off with a single and advanced to second on a bunt by Berryhill. Bobby then called on Lonnie to pinch hit for Mark Lemke. After two quick strikes from Henke, Lonnie battled back to work a walk, setting the stage for NLCS hero, and ex-Blue Jay, Francisco Cabrera. On the ninth pitch of his at bat Francisco lined a shot to left that Candy Maldonado misjudged but somehow recovered to the second out.
It was up to Otis, forced to miss the ’91 Series after his suspension for drugs, to keep the season alive. Down to his last strike, Otis lined a single to left, scoring Blauser thanks to an errant throw by Maldonado. That brought up Ron Gant, who entered the game as a defensive replacement for Deion — a move that Bobby probably shouldn’t have made. Gant was struggling mightily at the plate while Deion had eight hits in 15 AB. Predictably, Gant hit a harmless fly and the game would go to extras.
Otis’ next at bat would be the last of the season for the Braves. Down 4-3, Otis tapped a bunt toward first and was thrown out by a step. The loss would go to Charlie Leibrandt, just as it had in Game 6 of the ’91 Series. This time, Leibrandt was victimized by a two-run double by Dave Winfield, misplayed by, you guessed it, Gant. Bobby had an alternative to Leibrandt, but it was a poor one. Guy with the initials J.R.