1991 Atlanta Braves Season Retrospective

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April 27, 1991
Atlanta Braves 2
Houston Astros 1
13 innings
8-7, 2nd place
1.5 games out


Better to talk about an ugly win than muse poetically about a great performance in a loss. The 17,000 fans who came out on Saturday night to see a fine early-season pitchers duel between Braves youngster Steve Avery and new Astros acquisition Pete Harnisch, and the teams did not disappoint, providing fans with four innings of what Braves announcer Skip Caray fondly (and sometimes not so fondly) refers to as "free baseball." Houston scored a run in the top of the first, and the Braves pitching staff shut them out for the next twelve innings en route to a satisfying 2-1 win over the Astros under the dome.

Steve Finley tripled with one out in the bottom of the first and then scored on Craig Biggio's sacrifice fly to center field. And Houston spent the rest of the night like a "player" at the local strip joint - they kept threatening, but they never could score. Avery settled down and pitched six solid innings, surrendering only one other hit during his time on the mound. But Pete Harnisch was up to the task, scattering seven hits and striking out seven before giving way to the bullpen in the eighth inning. Harnisch, too, was undone by his offense, most notably when Eric Yielding was picked off of second base in the bottom of the sixth by Jeff Treadway. That play may well have saved the game for the Braves as it prevented the Astros from having a runner at second with one out and the power hitters coming up.

It wasn't until their final swings that the Braves finally broke through against the bullpen. In fact, the Braves got down to their last out against Astros closer Curt Schilling, and it was a walk to Deion Sanders that did in the Astros. Perhaps becoming unsettled by walking the speedster, Schilling promptly gave up a deep triple to Treadway that scored Sanders and kept the Braves' hopes alive. Although Schilling retired Ron Gant to close out the ninth, the game was still tied.

But the Braves dodged a huge bullet in the bottom of the tenth with the new pitching battery of Juan Berenguer and Francisco Cabrera. Jeff Bagwell led off with a double and went to third on an infield grounder by Ken Oberkfell. Needing only one deep fly in two chances, the Astros watched helplessly as the Braves intentionally walked the next two hitters to set up the force play at home and then struck out Mark Davison and got Yielding to pop to second base, wasting the opportunity and preserving the tie.

In the top of the 11th, it was the Braves' turn to waste a chance when Cabrera was gunned down at home plate with a perfect throw by rightfielder Tuffy Rhodes. But it was Houston's night to waste chances as once again in the bottom of the 11th they got the winning run to third and - once again - they went back out to start the next inning when the Braves retired the hitters. This time, it was Biggio getting aboard with a one out walk, moving to second on a single and then third on a fly out. This time, Cox called on Doug Sisk to save the Braves with the bases loaded, and he did with an easy grounder on Casey Candelae.

It was at this point the game got even weirder.

Tom Glavine came in as a pinch-hitter for Doug Sisk and promptly drew a walk. Pendleton bunted the pitcher over to second and then Cabrera lined a single to center that scored Glavine and put the Braves in their first lead of the night, 2-1. It probably should have been more as a Jeff Blauser single moved Cabrera to third, but Blauser ran the Braves out of the inning when he was caught stealing to end the top of the 13th.

As Glavine wasn't properly warmed up, Cox put Jeff Parrett in to close out the game. Parrett promptly gave up a single to Biggio to start the inning, and he got to second on a sacrifice bunt. But Parrett buckled down and got the next two hitters on infield pop-ups to close out a truly remarkable come-from-behind win for the Braves that pushed them a game above .500 and into second place early in the season. Sisk got his second win of the season while Parrett brought home the save. While the game was infuriating, it was also fun - unless, of course, you're a fan of the Astros.
 

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April 28, 1991
Houston Astros 2
Atlanta Braves 1
8-8, 4th place
1.5 games out


Maybe it was the game running so late last night that affected the Atlanta Braves hitters. Of course, it didn't seem to affect the Astros hitters, and if anyone should be frustrated it's the team that lost as opposed to the winner. The Houston Astros weren't overly iimpressive, but they were just good enough to avoid a sweep by the Braves thanks to a sequence of hitters in the seventh inning that scored two runs and wasted yet another great effort by Tom Glavine, sending the Braves right back to .500 less than 18 hours after they climbed above that mark for the first time this season.

Tom Glavine was excellent, going eight innings, striking out eight, giving up eight hits - and going home the losing pitcher thanks to Houston's Jimmy Jones pitching even better - five hits but no runs seven innings - and giving way to a bullpen that did just enough to prevent the sweep. But two singles and a double in the seventh inning scattered among the outs gave the Astros two runs and enough to win. The Braves never made a serious threat, and catcher Mike Heath came up as the tying run in the ninth but grounded into a game-ending double play that ended the series. The Braves head to St Louis for a three-game series while the Astros head to Chicago for a series with the Cubs.
 

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April 29, 1991
St Louis Cardinals 4
Atlanta Braves 3
8-9, 4th place
1.5 games out


Poor John Smoltz. If he pitches well, his team doesn't hit, and if his team hits, he doesn't pitch very well. Or games turn out like they did tonight, where just as Smoltz is given a little bit of prosperity, he falters and gives it right back. Smoltz wasn't around for the final decision, a 4-3 Redbirds win over the eccentric Atlanta Braves, but he bears a lot of the blame for the Braves failing to cash in on what looked like a Braves victory right up until a few moments after the seventh-inning stretch.

Cardinals starter Bob Tewksbury is sorta like Smoltz, but he doesn't seem to have quite the talent that Smoltz appears to be wasting. Both pitchers had one bad inning tonight, but Tewksbury's team left with the "W", a win that ensured the Braves' streak of losing months will extend to at least 23 months (the Braves last completed a month with a winning record in May 1987, a time so long ago it's when Presidential front-runner Gary Hart dropped out of the race after being exposed as a philanderer).

Nothing of note happened until the top of the fifth when Sid Bream doubled and moved to third on a Terry Pendleton ground out. After a walk to Mike Heath, Rafael Belliard, the light-hitting shortstop, once again made a team pay for facing him with a single to center that scored Bream. Smoltz attempted to bunt and didn't do a very good job, forcing Heath at third and putting Belliard at second and Smoltz at first with two outs. But consecutive singles by Deion Sanders and Jeff Treadway scored both runners, and the Braves were sitting happy with a 3-0 lead that lasted until right after "Take Me Out to the Ballgame." Smoltz made the final out of the seventh, and Braves manager Bobby Cox soon realized he'd made a mistake sending Smoltz back to the hill. Felix Jose doubled and then scored on a Todd Zeile single to cut the score to 3-1. Cox quickly pulled Smoltz, but it was too late. Mike Stanton came on and walked former Brave Gerald Perry to load the bases and after retiring Bernard Gilkey on a short fly to right that didn't score the runner, Stanton gave up a two-run scoring single to Ozzie Smith that tied the game at three. Although Stanton retired Ray Lankford to end the inning, the game was now tied and the frustrating early part of 1991 again settled in on John Smoltz.

Despite four innings of swings against the Cardinals' bullpen, the Braves got but one hit, a David Justice single in the ninth that they wasted. Finally, in the bottom of the 11th, the slow-running catcher Tony Pena walked against reliever Doug Sisk, stole second, went to third on an infield hit and then crossed the plate with the game winner on a sacrifice fly by Ozzie Smith. Sisk wound up the losing pitcher while Cards reliever Lee Smith took home the victory.
 

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April 30, 1991
St Louis Cardinals 5
Atlanta Braves 3
8-10, 4th place
2.5 games out


Tonight's game looked so much like last night's game that save for one additional run and four fewer innings, you would have thought as Yogi Berra said that it was deja vu all over again. Once again the Braves scored three early runs and once again the starter couldn't hold the lead - and of course, once again, the Braves came up on the losing side of the ledger for the eighth time in 18 games. If any positive to the Braves season can be observed thus far, it is that the Braves have only been absolutely blown out one time. In most games, in fact, the Braves have been close enough to have the tying or winning run at the plate late in the contest. Improvement is there, but the results are not yet showing it.

But the Braves are still wasting good starts as either the starter falters with a lead or the middle relief simply isn't up to the task. The Braves are also leaving an extraordinarily high number of runners on base in most games, enough to make the difference in a close race. They stranded another six runners tonight when scoring only half of them would have won the game.

The Braves jumped on Cardinals starter Jose DeLeon after a lackluster first inning. Sid Bream walked, Terry Pendleton doubled Bream to third, and both scored on catcher Mike Heath's single. Heath later came home on an infield out, and the Braves were again off and running with a 3-0 lead. Charlie Leibrandt tore through the Cards lineup the first time without allowing a runner to reach base while striking out three batters, but in the fourth, St Louis came alive, and Leibrandt did himself in. Rex Hudler singled, followed by an Ozzie Smith single. When Leibrandt attempted to pick Hudler off second, he threw the ball into center field, which scored Hudler and put Ozzie at third base. "The Wizard" came home on Bernard Gilkey's single to center, and though Leibrandt got through without further damage, he'd already offset much of the team's early success. Manager Bobby Cox then added to the faux pas with a truly insane choice in the top of the sixth.

Walks to Sid Bream and Terry Pendleton put runners on first and second, so Cox wisely opted for a sacrifice bunt by Heath against new Cardinals pitcher Cris Carpenter. Both runners moved along, so the Braves were sitting pretty right up until Sid Bream, slower than bread mold, attempted to steal home and was thrown out, Pendleton going to third. Belliard struck out to end the inning, and the Braves inflicted no damage on St Louis despite the walks. In the bottom of the sixth, a single and stolen base by Ozzie Smith followed by a Pedro Guererro single to center tied the game. Leibrandt got out of it without further damage, but it was clear he was faltering. Clear, it seems, to everyone except for Bobby Cox.

Cox sent Leibrandt out to hit to start the seventh, and the Braves went in order. Leibrandt then took the mound and gave the game way. Two singles and an error by Deion Sanders followed by another single that former Brave Milt Thompson tried to stretch into a double scored two runs and the put St Louis in front to stay, 5-3. That's how the game ended, although the Braves once again brought the tying run to the plate with one out in the ninth and failed to move the runner along, making a winner of Cris Carpenter and giving Lee Smith his eighth save of the season. The Cardinals are now 9-3 in their homestand, remarkable for a team that had the worst home record in the majors last season. The Cards currently sit one-half game behind the Pittsburgh Pirates.
 

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May 1, 1991
Atlanta Braves 5
St Louis Cardinals 4
10 innings
9-10, 4th place
1.5 games out


It was a day of the new, a day of the old, and a day where the new seemed like the same old, calling to mind a variation of the old song from "Sesame Street" where singers muse, "One of these things is just like the others." The "new" is the new stolen base champion as Rickey Henderson finally completed his decade-long quest and passed Lou Brock with his 939th steal today against his old team, the New York Yankees. In typical fashion, Henderson praised himself as "the greatest of all-time" as far as stolen bases. The "old" is the whopping record extending SEVENTH no-hitter by Texas Rangers pitcher Nolan Ryan, who blanked the Blue Jays, 3-0, and added to his inevitable Hall of Fame resume. And in the "new seems like the same old," the Atlanta Braves and St Louis Cardinals' final game of a three-game series looked so much like the previous two that you would have sworn you were watching a recording of either of the earlier games at least up until the point where the Braves snuck away with an extra-inning win to prevent the sweep in Busch Stadium tonight.

Steve Avery started the game and managed to do his best imitation of John Smoltz and Charlie Leibrandt - get an early lead, give it back, and then watch the bullpen. Avery was spotted a 4-0 lead in the third inning, and he pitched just long enough to give it all back with one bad inning. The Braves once again managed by their aggressiveness to run themselves out of an early big inning, reckless enough to keep Cardinals starter (and Marietta, Georgia native) Bryn Smith around for seven innings.

Otis Nixon led the game off with a single, but he was caught trying to steal second. After a fly out to left by Jeff Treadway, Smith hit Braves outfielder Lonnie Smith with a pitch and gave up a single to David Justice before retiring Sid Bream. Without the out due to Nixon getting caught, the Braves would have been off and running, but the game stayed scoreless until the third. This time it was the pitchet, Avery, helping himself with a single. With two outs and Avery at second due to a fielder's choice, Smith unleashed a wild pitch that moved Avery to third, and the hurler scored on a single by Lonnie Smith, who promptly stole second. After Bryn Smith walked David Justice, it was Sid Bream who golfed a three-run bomb into the stands and the Braves were out front quickly, 4-0. Avery made it to the bottom of the fifth before the Cards flipped the script on him.

Todd Zeile led off with a double, moved to third on a Tony Pena single, and everyone came around when Tom Pagnozzi did his best Sid Bream impersonation with a three-run homer that cut the lead to 4-3. Consecutive doubles by Ozzie Smith and Bernard Gilkey tied the game, but Avery got out of the inning without further damage.

Juan Berenguer replaced Avery in the seventh and ran into immediate trouble as he loaded the bases with nobody out. Two singles and yet another Rafael Belliard error loaded the bags for Ozzie Smith, but Berenguer got out of the tight jam by getting Ozzie to hit into a 5-2-3 double play. After walking Gilkey to load the bases a second time, Berenguer got Felix Jose to ground out to first and survive a precarious situation.

The game stayed scoreless until the tenth. The Braves loaded the bases with one out, and a grounder by David Justice that the Cards couldn't turn into a twin killing allowed Otis Nixon to cross the plate with what proved to be the winning run against Cardinal reliever Mike Perez. Kent Mercker, who had been called on in the 9th went back out and pitched a 1-2-3 tenth to secure a Braves win. The win gave the Braves a 5-4 overall record on their nine game road trip as they had back home to Atlanta for a six-game homestand that will start with the pre-season NL favorite Chicago Cubs over the weekend. Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, and Charlie Leibrandt will get the starter's call for the upcoming series.
 

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May 3, 1991
Atlanta Braves 5
Chicago Cubs 2
10-10, 4th place
0.5 games behind


The Atlanta Braves may not have played a perfect game, but they did play a solid and complete game tonight in a 5-2 win over the Cubs that raised Tom Glavine's record to 3-2 on the year and saw Juan Berenguer pitch two scoreless innings of relief before letting Kent Mercker come on and close it out with a 1-2-3 ninth inning that must have felt good to the over 30,000 fans who came out to the stadium tonight rather than watching the series finale of the long-running 80s prime time soap opera, "Dallas." Glavine gave up only three hits and made only one bad pitch all night - one that George Bell sent flying into the bleachers - while striking out four in a solid six-inning effort.

The Braves were once again quick out of the gate. Otis Nixon reached first on a bunt single, moved to second on a Jeff Treadway single, got to third on a walk to Lonnie Smith and then came home on a sacrifice fly to center by David Justice. Sid Bream hit another sac fly to right that scored Treadway, and the Braves were off and running with a 2-0 lead. Bell's homer in the top of the second sliced the lead to 2-1 Atlanta, and a Ryne Sandberg double and then a single by Bell scored Sandberg to tie the game at two. But the Braves manufactured two more runs in the sixth when Justice and Bream reached on a walk and a single, both moved up one base on a Terry Pendleton infield ground out, and Greg Olson drove both runners home to make it 4-2, Atlanta. In the seventh, Nixon doubled to left, stole third, and came home on the throwing error trying to nail him at third, and the scoring was done for the evening with the Braves out front, 5-2. Shawn Boskie took the loss for the Cubs.

One positive note at this point is the Braves have scored 14 runs more than they have surrendered. One year ago today (5/3/90), the Braves were not only 7.5 games out and in last place, they had also given up 36 more runs than they had scored. This is a net gain of +50 for the Braves, and a difference in the standings of +3 in the win column. Maintaining the current pace would net the Braves their first .500 or above finish since 1983 and only their third in the last 18 seasons.
 

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May 4, 1991
Atlanta Braves 4
Chicago Cubs 2
11-10, 2nd place
0.5 games behind


It's only one game, but it could be a huge one for the psyche of Atlanta's top pitcher in 1990, John Smoltz. Bitten by hard luck and having trouble producing when he does get runs, Smoltz and his teammates did just enough for the young fireballer to walk away with his first win of the 1991 season in a 4-2 Braves win at Fulton County Stadium tonight. The bad? Smoltz only had one strikeout in his six innings of work. The good? Smoltz prospered for once for a lead, and the bullpen didn't fail him this time.

Otis Nixon has begun to step up and fill a sort of Rickey Henderson role for the Braves. Since taking over as leadoff hitter for Deion Sanders, Nixon is hitting .333 with 8 stolen bases in 11 tries and has scored 10 Braves runs, 11% of the team total so far. Once again, Nixon made the Cubs pay early as he singled, went to second on a balk by Cubs starter Rick Sutcliffe, then moved to third and scored on consecutive ground outs by Jeff Treadway and Lonnie Smith. The Cubs responded with a run in the third and also managed to run themselves right out of an inning and may have helped Smoltz.

With one out, Jose Vizcaino singled and then moved to second on a successful sacrifice by Sutcliffe. Leadoff batter Doug Dascenzo singled Vizcaino to third with the power section of the Cubs lineup heading to bat. Future Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg singled home Vizcaino, and with Mark Grace batting, Dascenzo attempted to steal home and was out by a mile, ending the inning with the score tied at one.

In the Atlanta fifth, the Braves conducted a textbook two-out rally when Treadway doubled, Lonnie Smith walked, and consecutive doubles by David Justice and Sid Bream scored two runs and sent Sutcliffe to the showers. This being John Smoltz, however, he promptly gave up a bomb home run to Dascenzo that sliced his lead to 4-2. After retiring the heart of the Cubs order with no further damage, Bobby Cox sent up a pinch-hitter when Smoltz came to the plate and turned the game over to the bullpen.

The combined efforts of Doug Sisk, Mike Stanton, Kent Mercker, and Juan Berenguer, who got the save, gave up four hits but no runs, leaving a Smoltz a winner for the first time in the young season. Sutcliffe, the former Rookie of the Year and Cy Young winner, fell to 1-3 on the season. The win moved the Braves into second place behind the Reds and Padres, who are tied for first.
 

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May 5, 1991
Chicago Cubs 9
Atlanta Braves 6
11-11, 4th place
1.5 games behind


The Chicago Cubs avoided a three-game sweep at the hands of the Braves after spotting them an early lead and then belting out three home runs to not fall further behind the NL East leading Pirates in a year where the Cubs were the consensus favorite to win their division. The Braves fell back to .500 yet again, and Charlie Leibrandt fell to 2-3 on the year with some of his most ineffective pitching to date.

The Braves got the scoring started in the first off Cubs starter Mike Bielecki when David Justice and Sid Bream singled to start the bottom of the second. Terry Pendleton's sacrifice bunt put both runners in scoring position with one out. Justice scored on a Mike Heath infield grounder but the slow-footed Bream held his base at second. Moments later, Bream was on third when Bielecki's wild pitch moved him over, but no further damage ensued. Leibrandt held his 1-0 lead for only four batters. After striking out Bielecki, a Jerome Walton single, a Ryne Sandberg double, and a three-run blast by Mark Grace put the Cubs in front, 3-1, and the Braves were never even so much as tied again.

They gave it a good effort, though. Jeff Treadway opened the bottom of the fourth with a walk, went to third on a Justice single, and scored on a Bream double. With runners at second and third and nobody out, Atlanta's inconsistent offense failed to capitalize. Pendleton flew out to short center but not enough to score Justice. Mike Heath popped out to the infield, so the Cubs walked Rafael Belliard and struck out Charlie Leibrandt to end the threat. Apparently exhausted from his failure to hit the ball, Leibrandt went right back and gave the Cubs the run back and another one to go with it. A single to Walton and a homer by Sandberg - followed by a single for George Bell - spelled the end of the night for Leibrandt as Marvin Freeman came in to relieve.

Trailing 5-2, the Braves got both runs back quickly. Otis Nixon walked and stole second, Deion Sanders also walked, so Chuck MeElroy came in and promptly watched the Braves execute a double steal that put fast runners at second and third with nobody out. Jeff Blauser came in to pinch-hit for Treadway, and his ground out scored Nixon while a Justice single plated Sanders to reduce the margin to 5-4. Having succeeded with the double steal, the Braves paid the Cubs back with a double out when Bream struck out and Damon Berryhill gunned down Justice on a "strike out and throw him out" to end the inning with the Braves still down by one. The in the eighth, the Cubs put the game away thanks to a dropped third strike.

Jeff Parrett came on in relief and immediately gave up a home run to George Bell. After walking Andre Dawson, Parrett was pulled for Mike Stanton (Chico Walker), who struck out Shawon Dunston but watched him go to first - and Dawson to third - on a passed ball by Mike Heath. Heath then made another mistake when he tried to pick Dawson off third and threw wildly, scoring both Dawson and Dunston. The high cost of the error was immediately made clear after pinch-hitter Francisco Cabrera singled, scored on a Pendleton triple, and Pendleton then scored on a single by pinch-hitter Mark Lemke to make the score 8-6 Cubs. Three straight singles plated Sandberg and ended the scoring in a 9-6 Cubs win. The Braves have a scheduled short two-game series series beginning in Atlanta after one day off.
 
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May 6, 1991
Day off
11-11, 4th place
1.5 games behind


There are only five MLB games scheduled today as no fewer than 16 teams get an early season day off to rest from injuries and prepare for the longer grind ahead. The Atlanta Braves are 8.5 games ahead of their 1990 pace thanks to stellar starting pitching. Prior to last evening's game, the 4-man starting rotation has a 2.97 ERA in the last 14 games. At this same time last year, the team ERA was over 5.00. Atlanta's backup catcher and sole 1990 All-Star Greg Olson credits the new free agent signings of Terry Pendleton, Sid Bream, and Rafael Belliard bringing much better defense to the Braves. It's been known since 1988 that the Braves have some good arms, nicknamed "the Young Guns," but until now they don't have much to show for their talent.

Braves announcer and Hall of Fame candidate Don Sutton says he thinks the newest baby face, Michigan-born Steve Avery, is the most talented of the bunch, saying that when he first saw Avery at 18, "he's the best looking young left-hander I've ever seen." When you remember that Sutton was a teammate with all-time great Sandy Koufax, this is an incredible comment. But Sutton insists Avery has the talent to be not just good but a great pitcher.

The Braves today traded minor leaguer Kevin Castleberry to the Chicago White Sox for 33-year old Danny Heep. It is hoped that Heep that can provide some relief as both a utility player and pinch-hitter. In eleven big league seasons, Heep has played on four pennant winners, including two World Series champions, the 1986 Mets and 1988 Dodgers. Heep's 1990 Red Sox won the AL East last year before being swept in the playoffs by Oakland.
 

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May 7, 1991
Atlanta Braves 9 (W: Avery, 3-1)
St Louis Cardinals 2 (L: B Smith, 3-1)
12-11, 2nd place
1.5 games out


The Atlanta Braves acquired free agent Rafael Belliard to provide strong defense but a few more games like tonight and they may have to move the shortstop higher in the batting order. Belliard almost single-handedly beat the St Louis Cardinals tonight with one of the finest offensive efforts of his career, going 3 for 4 with 5 RBIs and needing only a home run to complete a cycle. The Braves scored early and often, running out to a 9-2 lead by the end of the fifth and giving the mid-week crowd in Atlanta an early season win.

Starter Steve Avery went eight innings and allowed seven hits and only two runs while striking out three. The Braves decided to play aggressive early when Otis Nixon singled but was caught stealing in the bottom of the first. Undaunted. Jeff Treadway singled and promptly stole second himself and then scored on a single by David Justice. Justice then stole second as well, but Sid Bream struck out. It isn't often you'll see a team attempt three steals in one inning of a one-run game, but the Braves were indeed "off and running." Terry Pendleton's third homer of the year leading off the second put the Braves up 2-0 and then in the third it appeared for all the world we had again migrated back to the 1970s Braves of "jump on them early then go flat." Felix Jose walked and then 3 straight singles scored two runs and put the Braves in trouble. But Avery induced an inning-ending double play that kept the score at 2.

In the bottom of the fourth, Bream singled and Pendleton walked and with two outs and the runners in motion, Belliard ripped a double that scored both and put the Braves back out front, 4-2. Then in the bottom of the fifth, it all but ended.

Consecutive singles by Nixon and Treadway put runners on first and third, and a double by Justice scored Nixon. Joe Torre replaced Bryn Smith with middle reliever Scott Terry and intentionally walked Bream to load the bases. But then Terry couldn't find the strike zone, and his walk to Pendleton forced in a run and left the bases loaded with only one out. Terry struck out Heath and likely felt he was out of the inning. But the light-hitting Belliard smashed a triple that cleared the sacks and gave the Braves the 9-2 lead that wound up being the final score. The Braves infield made two harmless errors, one in the 8th by Mark Lemke and one in the 9th by closer Jeff Parrett. Avery's win was his third of the year while Bryn Smith was saddled with his first loss.
 

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May 8, 1991
Atlanta Braves17 (W: Glavine, 4-2)
St Louis Cardinals 1 (L: Hill, 2-2)
13-11, 2nd place
1/2 game out


The Atlanta Braves had one of those games teams dream about so often tonight, a night when almost everything seemed to go right for them while nothing went right for the Cardinals. Because they're at home, the Braves only went to bat eight times; six times, they scored at least one run and four times they scored at least two, including one-half inning when the Braves unloaded a barrage of eight runs on eight hits and sent 12 men to the plate en route to a 17-1 pasting of St Louis. With run support like that, almost any pitcher is going to win and after seven quality innings where he gave up but one run and made one bad pitch, Tom Glavine headed for a nice evening's rest and his fourth win of the year, dropping his ERA to 2.29. The Braves even overcame having to replace a starter their first time at-bat.

Glavine got through an easy 1-2-3 first, but second baseman Jeff Treadway dove for the ball that ended the inning and injured himself in the process. When the Braves came to bat, Mark Lemke, the second baseman who fields better replaced Treadway, the second baseman who hits better. By the time Lemke took his wings, though, the Braves already had enough runs to win. Otis Nixon led off with a single and Ron Gant homered to give the Braves all the runs they would need. Cardinals starter Ken Hill struck out both Justice and Bream to end the first, and it appeared for all the world a pitcher's duel would unfold.

In the third, the Braves played small ball as Nixon singled, stole second, went to third on a throwing error and then scored on a Gant double. Lemke bunted Gant to third and after a walk to Justice, Gant scored on an infield out by Bream to put the Braves up, 4-0. Glavine immediately gave one run back with his one bad pitch of the night as Bernard Gilkey homered, but the Cards were done. The Braves notched single runs in the fifth and the sixth, the former on a home run by Greg Olson. Leading 6-1 and facing new reliever Juan Agosto, the Braves unloaded with their biggest inning of the year.

Gant singled past Ozzie Smith at short, and Lemke walked. A Justice single scored Gant and then a Bream single scored Lemke. Agosto then retired Terry Pendleton for the first out of the inning, but the hits kept on coming. A single by Olson and three straight doubles by Rafael Belliard, pinch-hitter Francisco Cabrera, and Nixon, and the Braves were up 13-1. The lead went one run higher when Nixon scored on a Lemke single. Wanting to use the huge lead to get his pitchers some work, Bobby Cox opted for closer Juan Berenguer in the 8th and Kent Mercker in the 9th.

But the Braves weren't yet finished scoring. Indeed, it was so bad that Cardinals utility player Jose Oquendo came to the mound to take one for the team. New acquisition Danny Heep went in for Bream and singled. Oquendo than walked Jeff Blauser, pinch-hiting for Pendleton, and Olson to load the bases with nobody out. Belliard, who has been on fire the last two nights, hit yet another double (his third in just over 24 hours) to drive in another two Braves. Just to show how ridiculous things had gotten, Oquendo then struck out pinch-hitter Deion Sanders. A Nixon ground out then scored Blauser (because who cares at this point?), and Oquendo got Gant to fly out for the last Braves at bat of the game. Mercker worked a 1-2-3 ninth, retiring Oquendo for the final out. The Braves swept the Cards in a brief two-game series by a total run count of 26-3. The Braves might want the Cards to become a permanent opponent if they can continue to get this production from the lineup.

After a day off with only one NL game scheduled, the Braves head to Pittsburgh for a homecoming for Sid Bream and Rafael Belliard against the NL East leaders.

PITCHING MATCHUPS:
Game 1 - John Smoltz vs John Smiley
Game 2 - Charlie Leibrandt vs Doug Drabek
Game 3 - Steve Avery vs Vicente Palacios
 

selmaborntidefan

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May 9, 1991
off day
13-11, 1st place
.006 ahead


It's early folks, remember that. It's early.

San Diego's 9-6 loss to Philadelphia today moved the Atlanta Braves into first place by mere percentage points as the Braves fly to Pittsburgh to face the defending NL East champion Pirates in a three-game series that may reveal whether the Braves are to be taken seriously or just peaking too soon.

Just one year ago today, the Braves sat at 8-17, a full 10 1/2 games behind the eventual world champion Cincinnati Reds. The Braves have not had a winning record on May 9 since 1983, when they were 19-8 and 1.5 games behind the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Dodgers and Reds, both one game behind, are expected to be the primary contenders in the West this year, but the Braves so far have given a very solid performance. Six of Atlanta's 11 losses have been by 2 runs or less, and they are 1-2 in extra innings so far.
The starting pitching save for John Smoltz is mostly solid, and while he has been erratic, he has also been incredibly unlucky. The bullpen has been likewise erratic but undeniably improved.

The biggest improvements are the defense, with the addition of Terry Pendleton at third, Rafael Belliard at shortstop, and Sid Bream at first base (and a re-designed infield by the king of all turf, George Toma), and the offense with leadoff hitter Otis Nixon as the catalyst. For the first time since trading Milt Thompson or - for you older fans - Brett Butler, the Braves have a bona fide base-stealing threat. If Deion Sanders can improve his hitting, the Braves could have the smoothest infield and fastest outfield in baseball.

It's early, folks. But there's a slight buzz of excitement permeating the hearts of Braves fans coast to coast.
 
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selmaborntidefan

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Mar 31, 2000
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May 10, 1991
Pittsburgh Pirates 5
Atlanta Braves 2
13-12
1st place


Only under the circumstances evident tonight would the Pittsburgh Pirates ever cheer a home run by former first baseman Sid Bream. Bream, a popular player in the Steel City who left to the Atlanta Braves via free agency last winter, is beloved, and his home run tonight was cheered as loudly by Pirates fans as it was by Braves partisans. Of course, that's because it was meaningless as the Pirates won, 5-2, as John Smoltz came unglued and beat himself once again. The 1989 All-Star has suffered through a weird beginning to this campaign, and his 1-4 record with an acceptable early season 3.59 ERA does not show how well he has pitched. But if he does not learn to manage crises, the Braves may well send him down to Richmond.

Last year, the Pirates had a pitcher named Neal Heaton who got off to a rock solid start. This year, John Smiley is now 5-1 after his 5-2 win tonight. Three scoreless innings were in the books when the Braves struck first in the top of the fourth. Terry Pendleton doubled and then came home on consecutive ground outs that advanced him. The Braves are doing much better at playing "small ball" than they have for about a decade now. Smoltz promptly gave the lead right back by giving up a single to Barry Bonds, who went to second on a walk to Gary Varsho, third on a Mike Lavalliere infield out and then scored when Smoltz threw a wild pitch. Orlando Merced homered in the fifth to give Pittsburgh the lead and in the sixth, a Bobby Bonilla double that moved him to third on Smoltz's second wild pitch scored him on a fielder's choice to make it 3-1, Pittsburgh. Smoltz pitched an effective seven innings, but his wildness hurt him badly. In the eighth, reliever Mike Stanton gave up a single to Bonds, who stole second and then scored on Lloyd McClendon's two-run bomb that iced the game. In the ninth with Francisco Cabrera due to face Stan Belinda, Manager Bobby Cox sent Bream up to swing the bat before his old fans, and Bream came through with a deep solo shot that ended the scoring at 5-2. Belinda got the save and Smoltz the loss.

Although the Braves lost, they remain in a first place tie with San Diego and Los Angeles. The Pirates, meanwhile, have the best record in all of baseball.
 

selmaborntidefan

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May 11, 1991
Atlanta Braves 3
Pittsburgh Pirates 2
14-12
1st place


Doug Drabek won the NL Cy Young Award last year by notching a league-leading 22 wins while throwing 9 complete games. Drabek went the distance tonight in Pittsburgh against the surprising Atlanta Braves, and he pitched just well enough to lose despite surrendering only five hits. Charlie Leibrandt evened his record at 3-3 while Kent Mercker, this week's star in Bobby Cox's "bullpen by committee" got his third save. The Braves came back to win despite the trauma of having their new star acquisition, Terry Pendleton, ejected from the game for arguing balls and strikes in the top of the very first inning.

When Pendleton popped off to umpire Greg Bonin to end the top of the first, Jeff Blauser moved from second base to play third, and Mark Lemke replaced Blauser. Blauser then hit a two-out double and scored on Greg Olson's single to short, going to second on the throw home that failed to get Blauser, and the Braves were quickly ahead, 1-0. Consecutive singles and two errors on the same play - by Greg Olson and Ron Gant - scored both Bobby Bonilla and Barry Bonds to put the Pirates ahead, 2-1, and the pitchers duel continued. In the top of the eighth, Lonnie Smith pinch-hit for Leibrandt and moved to second on an infield out by Otis Nixon. Gant smacked a 2-run homer off Drabek, and Leibrandt now was safe from the loss with a 3-2 lead. Juan Berenguer pitched the eighth and after giving up a two-out double to Bonilla, induced Bonds to ground out to second to end the eighth. Mercker worked a 1-2-3 ninth, and the Braves tied the series at one apiece, setting the stage for the rubber game tomorrow.
 
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selmaborntidefan

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May 12, 1991
Atlanta Braves 6 (W: Avery, 4-1, SV: Berenguer, 3)
Pittsburgh Pirates 1 (L: Palacios, 2-1)
15-12
1st place


As a 20-year old rookie last year, Steve Avery suffered the typical knocks and problems of a first-year major league player on a last place team, going 3-11 with a 5.46 ERA. Five decisions into 1991 and Avery has already more wins than he did in 21 starts last year. And while he (like John Smoltz) has been given to bouts of inconsistency, he pitched a gem through six innings tonight and then turned it all over to new free agent Juan Berenguer, who got a "Rollie Fingers" type save by pitching 3 innings effectively. Avery ran his early season record to 4-1 and gives Braves fans hope that the never-ending search for a great lefty that the Braves have embarked upon since Warren Spahn left may soon be over. The fresh-faced youngster scattered three hits and permitted only one run as the Braves took the series from the Pirates with a solid 6-1 win that keeps the Braves in first place in the NL West.

Avery had all the runs he would need to win after two batters as Otis Nixon singled and Ron Gant drilled a two-run homer for a quick Braves lead before several hundred fans even had their nachos handy. And then nothing happened. And still nothing happened. In the top of the sixth, Terry Pendleton singled and David Justice homered, and the Braves were out to a 4-0 lead. Avery was cruising when Pendleton's first error of the year rattled both him and the Braves enough to narrow the gap. Andy Van Slyke reached on the error, went to second on Bobby Bonilla's infield single, third on Barry Bonds's fielder's choice ground out, and scored on Don Slaught's single. With runners at first and third and one out, Avery bore down and got Lloyd McClendon to ground out, 1-3, and Curtis Wilkerson to end the inning with a 3-1 ground out. Despite Avery having surrendered no earned runs, Bobby Cox pulled him for pinch-hitter Lonnie Smith in the seventh. The Pirates gave up nothing then but in the eighth, Ron Gant singled off reliever Bob Kipper, stole second, and then went to third and home on consecutive ground outs. Sid Bream singled and then got a break when Jeff Blauser's triple was enough to score the slow-footed Bream all the way from first, running the Braves lead to 6-1, which is where it ended. Vicente Palacios got his first loss of the year. The Braves head to Chicago for a three-game series with the Cubs before returning to Atlanta for a nine-game homestand.
 
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81usaf92

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Apr 26, 2008
22,586
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187
South Alabama
May 13, 1991
Atlanta Braves 5
Chicago Cubs 3
16-12
1st place


History was made today in Wrigley Field. Okay, that's not hardly surprising given the ballpark has been around since 1912. Not the fact that the Atlanta Braves rose to four games over .500 for the first time since August 15, 1984, which was three days after one of the most famous brawls in baseball history against the San Diego Padres. There wasn't a no-hitter or a perfect game or a 500th home run, but there was a historic milestone: today, for the first time in baseball history THREE GENERATIONS of broadcasters in the same family all broadcast the exact same baseball game. Harry Caray, the grandfather, is well-known as "Cubs fan and a Bud man." His son, Skip, who is in his 16th year with the Atlanta Braves, called the game for WTBS. And Chip Caray, the third generation, called the game for the Atlanta Braves Radio Network. Two of the three left the ballpark happy about the result, which gives away the ending. The Braves, showing the steady play they've shown through the first 28 games of the season, got timely hitting and excellent pitching, a complete game gem from lefty Tom Glavine, who moved to 5-2 on the year. Glavine surrendered only three runs - two with the Cubs down to their final out - and won, 5-3, to keep the Braves on top in the NL West. Glavine even helped himself, doubling in Rafael Belliard with the first run of the game and then stealing third. A Ron Gant double and a Terry Pendleton single put the Braves up, 2-0, in the third. In the bottom of the sixth, doubles by Jerome Walton and Mark Grace cut the lead in half. But Terry Pendleton launched his fourth home run of the year, a solo shot that chased Cubs starter (and game loser) Shawn Boskie. Then in the eighth, the Braves scored two runs that looked to be unnecessary but wound up saving Glavine at the end.

Rafael Belliard - yes, once again - got on with a walk and then moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Glavine. After Otis Nixon walked to put runners on first and second with one out, Les Lancaster came in along with new catcher Damon Berryhill as part of a double switch. Gant hit into what for most players would be an inning ending double play, but he beat the throw to first, leaving runners at the corners with two outs. After Gant stole second and Pendleton walked, David Justice singled against Steve Wilson to score two runs and give the Braves a 5-1 lead. Glavine remained in control and on the hill until two outs in the ninth. With Ryne Sandberg on with a leadoff single and two outs, Glavine served up a gopher ball to Andre Dawson. A Chico Walker single brought the tying run to the plate in the form of Shawon Dunston. But Glavine induced a pop out to Lemke at second, ending the game with the Braves as winners, 5-3. The only bad news for the Braves was it shouldn't have been so close as they had left 12 runners on base despite the win. Glavine scattered eight hits in the triumph
 
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81usaf92

Hall of Fame
Apr 26, 2008
22,586
13,013
187
South Alabama
May 14, 1991
Chicago Cubs 5
Atlanta Braves 4
16-13
1st place

If you had ten Atlanta Braves fans standing around in a group and said, "The Braves got great starting pitching tonight, pulled the starter who got a no decision, and the bullpen blew the game. Who was the starter," ten out of ten fans would have said "John Smoltz," and ten out of ten would be correct. Poor John Smoltz. He pitched about as well as Steve Avery did against the Pirates a few nights ago, but Avery has a "win" next to his name and Smoltz has stories about why the Braves can't win when he's pitching. Smoltz has started eight games and has a 3.33 ERA. Five times he's given up 2 runs are less. And all it has gotten him is a 1-4 record, and the Braves are 1-7 in the games he's started. He has pitched effectively six of the eight times, and all he has to show for it is grief.

Smoltz went six innings tonight and left with a 2-1 lead, the run scoring after yet another one of his wild pitches on strike three let Damon Berryhill load the bases in the sixth with one out, and Mark Grace scored on a sacrifice fly to center. The Braves got single runs in the fourth and fifth. Terry Pendleton doubled to left and then Mike Heath, in a 4 for 37 slump, drove him home with a single. The Braves' hottest hitter, Jeff Treadway, singled in the fifth, moved to second on a ground out and then scored on a David Justice single. But the surprise was the ejection of the normally unfailingly polite Rafael Belliard after he grounded out to end the top of the sixth. In the seventh of the 2-1 game, Danny Heep pinch-hit for Smoltz and drew a walk. Deion Sanders went in for Heep as a pinch-runner and then scored on an infield ground out, an infield single, and a sacrifice fly. Mark Lemke then stole second and scored after Justice hit a single into the outfield that Dwight Smith booted for the error that scored the run. Justice was thrown out at second, but Mike Stanton game on to protect the 4-1 lead. He gave it back in the most improbable manner.

After Doug Dascenzo reached first on a fielder's choice, Ryne Sandberg doubled him home but was thrown out trying to stretch it into a triple on a perfect relay from Otis Nixon to Jeff Blauser to Pendleton. Neither Cubs basher - George Bell or Andre Dawson - started the game because they were a lifetime 1 for 20 against Smoltz. With two outs, Stanton gave up a single to Mark Grace then watched in stunned amazement as Chico Walker slammed his first home run since September 7, 1986 into the Wrigley Field seats to tie the game at four. Stanton later told the media his biggest frustration was that he had wasted Smoltz's outstanding outing. With two outs in the bottom of the eighth, Zimmer sent Dawson up to bat against reliever Kent Mercker, and the future Hall of Famer uncorked a bomb into the seats that wound up winning the game for the Cubs, 5-4. The Braves went in order and former Brave Paul Assenmacher got the win for 1.3 innings of work. Dave Smith got his ninth save, and John Smoltz was left to ponder what he has to do to win one of these games. The Braves remain tied for first in the West, mere percentage points ahead of the Dodgers.
 
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selmaborntidefan

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May 15, 1991
Chicago Cubs 6 (W: Assenmacher, 2-0)
Atlanta Braves 1 (L: Berenguer, 0-1)
16-14, 2nd place
1 game behind

FORMER BRAVE ASSENMACHER GETS 2 WINS OVER FORMER TEAM IN LESS THAN 24 HOURS


Middle relievers may not get the recognition or glory of starters or closers but that does not mean they are not important. Former Brave Paul Assenmacher, traded to the Cubs in the heat of the 1989 pennant race that they won, got his second win in two nights over his old mates thanks to some timely pitching and the collapse of the Braves bullpen against the heart of the Cubs batting order. The two losses gave the Cubs the series, 2-1, and knocked the Braves out of first place in the NL West.

Charlie Leibrandt hooked up in a pitcher's duel with 1984 Cy Young winner Rick Sutcliffe, the two pitchers scattering a combined eight hits through six innings. One of the three Leibrandt surrendered was a solo home run by Ryne Sandberg that had Leibrandt trailing in the top of the seventh when the Braves rallied to tie it. A Terry Pendleton single, a Lonnie Smith double, and a single by Francisco Cabrera while pinch-hitting for Sid Bream tied the game. A walk to Jeff Blauser loaded the bases with nobody out, but the Braves got nothing as Assenmacher struck out Gerg Olson, induced Belliard to ground to third forcing Smith at the plate, and pinch-hitter Mike Heath struck out.

The Braves offense died for the rest of the game at that point. At the same time, the Cubs' offense came alive. Closer Juan Berenguer got the call early and after two quick outs, he hit Andre Dawson with a pitch then gave up a two-run homer to Luis Salazar that was enough to win the game for the Cubs. Just to make sure, however, the rest of the Braves' bullpen also collapsed when Marvin Freeman gave up three runs on four straight singles and two sacrifice flies in the eighth. After one week on top of the NL West standings playing like the 1950s Braves, tonight's game looked a lot more like the vintage late 80s Braves that kept games close for six innings and then watched the firemen turn to arsonists. The loss knocked the Braves out of first place, one game behind the preseason favorite Dodgers. The Braves head home to Atlanta with an off-day followed by a three-game return series with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
 

selmaborntidefan

TideFans Legend
Mar 31, 2000
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May 16, 1991
16-14
2nd place, 1 game out


Last weekend, the Braves took 2 of 3 from the Eastern Division-leading Pirates. This weekend, Pittsburgh heads to Atlanta for the return engagement. The Braves have lost two in a row while the Pirates have won two in a row. The projected pitching matchups are as follows:

Game 1: Steve Avery vs Vicente Palacios
Game 2: Tom Glavine vs Zane Smith
Game 3: John Smoltz vs John Smiley