1991 Atlanta Braves Season Retrospective

selmaborntidefan

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May 30, 1991
Atlanta Braves 7 (W: Smoltz, 2-7)
San Francisco Giants 2 (L: Downs, 2-3)
24-19, 2nd place
1/2 game out

BRAVES SOCK FOUR HOME RUNS TO WIN 7-2; SMOLTZ GOES THE DISTANCE FOR WIN


Tonight, so goes the hope of the Atlanta Braves and their recent best starter John Smoltz, things turned around and headed in the right direction for the former staff ace and All-Star who has found nothing but bad luck and bad outcomes for much of the season's first two months. If he pitches well, the Braves don't hit. If he pitches poorly, they don't hit enough. And if he pitches well but leaves trailing, the bullpen firemen turn into arsonists and Smoltz gets saddled with the loss. Candlestick Park of all places saw Smoltz return to form as he scattered just five hits and gave up two runs and striking out three, going the distance in a 7-2 lead that keeps the Braves hot on the tail of the Dodgers in the NL West. The Braves support Smoltz amply as well, drilling four home runs while turning two double plays and making no errors. Smoltz didn't even have his traditional wild pitch tonight. If he can keep it going as he did tonight, the Braves will be there in the end.

The pitchers matched goose eggs through three innings, the only drama coming when catcher Kirk Manwaring was injured by a foul ball off the bat of Terry Pendleton. But the Braves got roaring in the fourth. After Terry Pendleton doubled, the Braves got back-to-back home runs off the bats of David Justice and Sid Bream to put Smoltz out in front, 3-0. A solo shot by Jeff Blauser in the sixth made it 4-0 but as has been typical of his good starts, Smoltz faltered after getting prosperity. With Willie McGee and Kevin Bass on base, Matt Williams tripled to score both and cut the lead in half. But Smoltz quickly recovered and got out of the inning, giving up only two hits the rest of the way. The Braves got those two runs right back as Otis Nixon walked, stole second, moved to third on an error by replacement catcher Terry Kennedy and then scored on a sac fly by Pendleton. Gant socked a solo home run to extend the lead to 6-2. Two singles by Ron Gant and then Justice and a sac fly to center by Bream made the lead 7-2, which is how the game ended. Smoltz got his second win of the season while Kelly Downs was saddled with his third loss.
 
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selmaborntidefan

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May 31, 1991
Atlanta Braves 5 (W: Leibrandt, 4-4; SV: Stanton, 1)
San Francisco Giants 2 (L: Black, 5-5)
25-19, 2nd place
1/2 game out

BRAVES WIN 5TH IN A ROW AND COMPLETE BEST MONTH SINCE 1986


There was much speculation in the off-season about how much the Atlanta Braves may have improved themselves with the addition of five free agents, a young pitching staff with reams of talent, and with Bobby Cox managing his first full season since winning the AL East with Toronto in 1985. It's still early, but the Braves have kept pace with the favored Dodgers to the point they only trail by 1/2 game as May ends. One year ago tonight, the Braves were tied with the Yankees for the worst record in baseball at 17-27. They are eight games ahead of their pace for 1990, though it's fair to note that Atlanta would have been six games behind the "on fire from wire to wire" Reds of last year. Atlanta fans would have accepted this, and the potential of hanging around and possibly being one of the teams chasing a flag this fall has given rise to anticipation throughout the Southeast. Tonight, the Braves turned in another gem, a 5-2 win over the Giants at Candlestick Park that completes a month with a 17-9 record, the best Atlanta has had in one month since they were 18-10 - also in May - in 1986. And it was also the major league debut of Brian Hunter, a 23-year old California native the Braves drafted in the eighth round in 1987.

The Braves gave up a cheap run early when leadoff hitter Mike Felder reached on a bunt single, stole second with two outs, and then went home on a throwing error to first by Terry Pendleton in the bottom of the first. Ron Gant led off the fourth with a solo home run and then a single by David Justice followed by a Jeff Blauser triple scored Justice with the second run to give the Braves a lead they never relinquished. In the seventh, Justice and Blauser teamed up again, this time with Justice hitting a double and Blauser a single to make the score 3-1 Atlanta. Charlie Leibrandt pitched well for 7 2/3 innings but after giving up consecutive singles in the bottom of the 8th that brought the potential winning run to the plate, Bobby Cox went with his new ace, Juan Berenguer, who struck out Giants slugger Kevin Mitchell to send the game to the ninth with the Braves up by two. A single by Gant, who stole second, and a double by Pendleton plus a single by late substitute Otis Nixon put the Braves ahead 5-1 entering the bottom of the ninth. Unfortunately for the Braves, Berenguer was not up to the task he's done so well so far.

The Giants got three straight singles that loaded the bases with only one out. Cox yanked Berenguer and sent in Mike Stanton to put out the fire. Stanton got enough of a grounder to get one out that scored a run and then he got Felder to bounce out 1-3 to end the contest and give Stanton his first save of the season. Bud Black of the Giants fell to 5-5 with the loss
 

CB4

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Man, what memories! It seems like only yesterday. I remember going into that summer of 1991 not necessarily thinking “wow we can win the division” but certainly thinking “wow we can have WINNING season”. And that as a Braves fan was a minor miracle.

Brian Hunter- I actually met the guy in early 1990’s. I was attending a meeting in Philadelphia and the Braves were in town to play the Phillies. The team was staying our hotel. We shared an elevator down to the lobby one morning.

I looked over at him and said “Hey aren’t you Brian Hunter?” He dropped his head, looked down and kinda of muttered “Yeah...” almost like he was about to “melt down”.
As he got off I the elevator I said “Good luck today!” and he replied “Thank you”

It wasn’t until years later that I learned in those early years Brian was extremely, almost painfully shy and somewhat of a introvert .
 
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selmaborntidefan

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June 1, 1991
San Francisco Giants 8
Atlanta Braves 2
25-20, 2nd place
1/2 game out

GIANTS' STELLAR PITCHING EFFORT STYMIES BRAVES IN 8-2 ATLANTA LOSS


A poor hitting effort - or a stellar pitching effort if you prefer - this afternoon at Candlestick Park saw Don Robinson and Francisco Olivares scatter four hits and two runs to gain the win and the save in an 8-2 pounding of Atlanta. Steve Avery was largely ineffective and pulled in the fifth after allowing six runs on six hits with two walks en route to his third loss of the year.

Prior to the game, Avery was in the trainer's room and told Braves pitching coach Leo Mazzone that he didn't feel as he normally did before a game. Mazzone encouraged the 21-year old lefty by pointing out sometimes you feel great and have nothing while sometimes you feel terrible and have no-hitter stuff. Avery's no-hitter ended on his second pitch, and his shutout ended on the second batter as Mike Felder tripled and Robby Thompson doubled, scoring Felder. Kevin Mitchell's single plated Thompson, and the Giants were off and running, 2-0, after the first.

Avery suffered additional damage at the hands of the same three batters the next time around. Felder singled past short and then stole second, Thompson walked, and Mitchell doubled both runners home to make the deficit 4-0. When he faced the same batters the next time, Avery didn't even make it to Mitchell. Although he got Felder to pop out, Avery walked Thompson and then headed to the showers after Will Clark, 0 for 2 against Avery thus far, drilled a two-run homer that put the Giants up by a touchdown, 6-0. The Giants got two more off of Randy St. Clare in the 8th, and the Braves scored some cosmetic runs in the ninth on a David Justice single, a Bream double, and a single by Mike Heath. The loss dropped Avery to 6-3 while Robinson got his second win to bring him to 2-4. Olivares got his second save of the year.
 

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June 2, 1991
San Francisco Giants 2
Atlanta Braves1
25-21, 2nd place
1 1/2 games out

BULLPEN BLOWS STELLAR EFFORT BY SMITH; BRAVES END ROAD TRIP WITH 5-2 RECORD


For the third time in three starts since coming off the disabled list, Atlanta's Pete Smith left the game with a lead or at least tied and watched the bullpen lose it. Though his first start was an intentionally limited effort by Manager Bobby Cox, in his next two starts Smith has pitched 13 2/3 innings, given up six hits, struck out 13 batters, and has no decisions to show for it thanks to shoddy defense and bullpen implosions. Tonight, Smith went seven solid innings and gave up but three hits and one run, and then watched helplessly as Kent Mercker fell victim to Mike Felder and his own wildness as the Braves dropped the final game of a West Coast road trip, 2-1. Giants starter Trevor Wilson matched Smith pitch for pitch and in the end had just enough to leave with his second win of the year.

Once again, Atlanta blew a golden opportunity to blow the game open quickly. Ron Gant led off with a double but was thrown out at third on Terry Pendleton's fielder's choice grounder. A Lonnie Smith single brought up Atlanta's cleanup hitter, David Justice, with a golden RBI opportunity, and the slugger grounded into a 4-6-3 double play to stifle the threat. Pete Smith even helpled himself with the bat, as he followed Greg Olson's single with another that put Olson at third, and Olson scored when Gant singled. Again with runners at 1st and 2nd and one out, this time it was Pendleton who grounded into the double play. The one run stood up until the bottom of the seventh when Matt Williams walked and Dave Anderson doubled Williams home. Then in the bottom of the eighth, the Braves did just enough to wrong to cost them the game.

Kent Mercker came on in relief of Smith and after striking out Kevin Mitchell, he walked Felder, who stole second, went to third on a wild pitch and then scored on a sac fly to center by Willie McGee. Mercker did not allow so much as a hit, but he gave up a run and was saddled with the loss when former Yankee Dave Righetti came on in relief and retired the Braves 1-2-3 to close out the game. Mercker dropped to 2-3 on the year, and the Braves dropped to 1 1/2 games behind the first place Dodgers.
 

selmaborntidefan

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June 3, 1991
25-21, 2nd place
1 1/2 games out

BRAVES DRAFT MIKE KELLY WITH #2 OVERALL PICK; MURPHY'S NUMBER TO BE RETIRED TOMORROW NIGHT


The Atlanta Braves selected Mike Kelly, an outfielder out of Arizona State, with the second overall pick in today's baseball draft. The Yankees selected Brien Taylor, and the Braves followed by choosing Kelly, originally from Los Alamitos High School in California. Kelly hit .376 with 21 home runs and 82 RBIs for the Sun Devils last year, and his overall home run total at ASU is second only to former Brave third baseman Bob Horner. Kelly hopes to crack the Atlanta starting lineup by 1993.

Think of the Braves of the 1980s and one name in particular comes to mind as associated with the team, Dale Murphy. The former catcher and first baseman turned Gold Glove outfielder will have his number retired tomorrow night and in so doing become the first Braves player to have his number retired who played exclusively for the Atlanta era of the Braves franchise (Henry Aaron's number is retired, but he played a larger portion of his career with the Milwaukee Braves). Murphy was traded to the Phiiladelphia Phillies last August, and he returns for his first visit to his old club. Tom Glavine will start the game for the Braves tomorrow night while Terry Mulholland will take the hill for the Phillies.
 

selmaborntidefan

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June 4, 1991
Atlanta Braves 9
Philadelphia Phillies 5
26-21, 2nd place
1/2 game out

BRAVES ROUT PHILLIES ON DALE MURPHY NIGHT; GAME MARRED BY LATE EJECTIONS


The exception to the 1980s futility of the Atlanta Braves, Dale Murphy, returned to the stadium where he starred as a two-time MVP and multiple Gold Glove winner on Tuesday night before a crowd of over 30,000 and received the highest honor a major league baseball team can grant a former player as the Braves retired Murphy's number 3, ensuring the number will never be worn again. Murphy, who alongside Hank Aaron is likely the most beloved player in franchise history, handled the number retirement with his typical classy demeanor. Unfortuntately, the game was marred late by benches clearing brawl that cast a pall over the retirement and a dominating Braves win. Fines, suspensions, and appeals will no doubt follow Otis Nixon and Wally Ritchie, both of whom were ejected for their roles in the fight.

After Tom Glavine got the Phillies out in order to start the first en route to his ninth win of the season, the Braves' bats unloaded, scoring six runs in the first two innings off Phillies starter Terry Mulholland. Ron Gant led off with a double and then opened the scoring on a Lonnie Smith single. A walk to David Justice and a three-run homer from Jeff Blauser had the Braves off and running, 4-0, and the Braves stranded two more runners as they batted through the lineup in the bottom of the first, Glavine making the final out himself. It was Blauser again in the second. After Mulholland retired the first two batters, Lonnie Smith reached on an error by Dickie Thon, Justice singled Lonnie to third, and Blauser drove both home with a double to extend the lead to 6-0, Atlanta. In the sixth, Blauser added to his great night by coaxing a walk with two outs and then scoring the Braves' seventh run thanks to consecutive singles by pinch-hitter Sid Bream and catcher Greg Olson.

But another seemingly forgettable play in the sixth opened the door for the brawl to follow. After Lonnie Smith reached base for the second straight time on an error by Thon, Bobby Cox began to empty his bench, sending in Otis Nixon to run for Smith. Otis promptly tried to steal second with the Braves leading 6-0 and was thrown out. Glavine, meanwhile, was pitching a high-hit gem, scattering the hits and allowing nobody to score. But in the Philly seventh, Von Hayes singled, went to second on a wild pitch by Glavine and then went to third on Mark Lemke's error. With runners at the corners and nobody out, Glavine limited the damage by inducing a grounder from catcher Steve Lake that scored Hayes but got the force at second, and the young lefty pitched through the seventh without further problems.

Then came the eighth inning, and all hell broke loose.

In the eighth, Glavine weakened, and the Phillies got two runs thanks to a fielder's choice that left John Kruk at first, a double by Ricky Jordan that scored Kruk, and a single by Von Hayes. Juan Berenguer came on for Glavine and got Charlie Hayes to line out to Lemke at second. Phils reliever Wally Ritchie came into the game and made only two pitches, which resulted in a hit batsmen and gave up four hits to the side of his head courtesy of Otis Nixon's fist.

Apparently angry over Nixon's attempted steal when the Braves were up 6-0 - although the Phillies didn't exactly lay down in the next two innings - the Phillies opted to hit Nixon. Ritchie's first pitch very nearly hit Nixon, a potentially devastating injury for a man who makes his living stealing bases. Ritchie didn't miss with the next pitch, plunking Nixon on the left knee - and anyone who thought a catcher was going to stop the fastest runner in the National League was not thinking at all. Nixon tore out of the batter's box and headed to the mound. Ritchie was apparently in no mood to fight, ducking as Nixon arrived to knee him in the chest, took him down and drilled him at least four times in the head, possibly more. When Ritchie emerged from the pile, his uniform was torn, and he had spike marks on the side of his stomach. Skip Caray mused that he would give Nixon the decision based on points and after the game, Bobby Cox made the probably going to get him fined comment that, "Otis beat the living daylights out of that guy, and I'm glad he did." Ritchie was ejected for throwing at Nixon, who was also ejected for charging the mound.

Apparently fired up over the brawl, the Braves got the two runs back when - who else? - Jeff Blauser doubled home the slow footed Danny Heep, who had replaced Nixon at first base after his ejection. This made Blauser 3 for 4 with 6 RBIs and 2 runs scored on his two doubles and a home run. But Blauser wasn't perfect, either as Sid Bream drove David Justice home with a sacrifice fly that resulted in a rare double play as the Phillies nailed Blauser at third with the score 9-3 Atlanta.

Berenguer came back out for the top of the ninth, and though he gave up 2 runs on a single, triple, and sac fly, he finished the game in a non-save situation. The Braves picked up a game on the first-place Dodgers as LA blew a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the tenth when former Brave Milt Thompson cleared the bases with a triple.


 

selmaborntidefan

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June 5, 1991
Philadelphia Phillies 12
Atlanta Braves 11
12 innings
26-22, 2nd place
1 1/2 games out

SMOLTZ BLOWS 4-0 LEAD; BRAVES LOSE IN 12; FREGOSI EJECTED


The horrible luck that has been John Smoltz's 1991 season continued Wednesday night, though Smoltz himself avoided consequence for his failure. That's a 180-degree flip from what has happened much of the year, where Smoltz has either been victimized by a lack of offense or defensive failures and a team not quite capable of overcoming getting in its own way. This time it was Smoltz who turned a rout into a contest that the Braves ultimately lost in 12 innings to the Phillies, 12-11.

The Braves have the best first-inning offense in baseball by far and once again, they tore out to a lead quickly in the bottom of the first against Phillies' starter Jason Grimsley. The Braves smacked him for three runs that should have been more (once again). Otis Nixon led off with a single, and Terry Pendleton drew a walk. A wild pitch put runners on second and third with nobody out, and both runners advanced on Lonnie Smith's fielder's choice ground out that put the Braves ahead, 1-0. A double by David Justice scored Pendleton with the second run, and Sid Bream walked. After Jeff Blauser flied out, Greg Olson hit a double that scored Justice but was not enough to score the slow-footed Bream, who was gunned down at home plate to end the inning with the Braves quickly out front, 3-0. That run would loom large as the game progressed.

Pendleton doubled his next time up, moved to third on a Smith fly to center and then scored on Grimsley's second wild pitch. Smoltz cruised through the fourth giving up only 2 hits and no runs and holding a 4-0 lead. Then in the fifth, Smoltz and the Braves came unglued.

Von Hayes began the fifth with a single and after Smoltz retired Ricky Jordan on a fly to center, Hayes moved to third on a single by Darrin Fletcher. A ringing double to left by Dickie Thon scored Hayes to make it 4-1, and so Phillies manager Jim Fregosi tabbed former Cardinal John Morris as a pinch-hitter for Grimsley. Morris made the second out of the inning, so it appeared Smoltz would survive with minimal damage. But the right hander suddenly fell apart, walking leadoff hitter Wally Backman to load the bases. Mickey Morandini then hit a single to left that plated two runs and had runners on first and second with a 4-3 Braves lead. John Kruk then completed the disastrous inning by unloading a three-run bomb into the seats that put the Phillies in a shocking and quick 6-4 lead as Smoltz retired former teammate Dale Murphy to end the carnage. The Braves of Murphy's era - sans Murphy, of course - would have given up the game at this point. One thing different about this team so far is, they're like the Energizer bunny in that they keep going and going and going.

Yet another former Brave, Joe Boever, took the mound for the bottom of the fifth, and the Braves immediately attempted to rally. Danny Heep pinch-hit for Smoltz and struck out, but Otis Nixon then walked, stole second, stole third, and scored on a Smith double. After a walk to David Justice that put two runners on, Sid Bream grounded out to strand two more baserunners, but the score was now only 6-5. Jeff Blauser then unloaded a solo home run to tie the game at six with three ininngs left and then in the seventh, the Braves looked to put the game away.

Former Met Roger McDowell came on to relieve Boever and quickly found trouble. Otis Nixon singled and stole second and then stayed when an error enabled Pendleton to reach first. Smith walked to load the bases and bring up cleanup batter David Justice. The sweet swinger grounded to Kruk at first, who gunned the ball home quickly to force Nixon. Bream continued his forgettable game by forcing Justice at second but getting a run home to give the Braves the lead back. Another Blauser double to left scored Smith, but Bream stayed at third. Olson grounded out, but the Braves were now up, 8-6, at the end of seven.

In the eighth, the Phillies fought back with help from the Braves. Kruk singled and then Murphy reached on a rare Belliard error to put runners at first and second with nobody out. Jim Lindemann came on to run for Murphy, and both runners advanced on another wild pitch by recent Braves acquisition Randy St. Clare. A walk to Ricky Jordan loaded the sacks with one out, and Kent Mercker came on to put out the fire. Mercker walked Randy Ready to force in a run and close the gap to 8-7, so Bobby Cox opted for closer Juan Berenguer, who was masterful, getting Thon to pop out to short and striking out Charlie Hayes. The Braves had a one-run lead heading into the ninth. Cox opted for Mike Stanton to close the game, so right-handed Rick Schu came on and got a pinch-hit single. Morandini was the first out as he bunted Schu to second, and Stanton struck out Kruk. But Jim Lindemann singled to tie the game, so the Braves came up with a chance to win it in the ninth. Although Lonnie Smith led off with a walk, Mitch Williams got the Braves 1-2-3 to close out the ninth and force extras. If only we had known.

The Phillies got runners on 1st and 2nd with one out when Fregosi sent another pitcher, Tommy Greene, in to bat for Mitch Williams and lay down a bunt. Greene succeeded in doing so, but it wound up a double play when Doug Harvey called Thon out for interference at second base. An enraged Fregosi charged onto the field and was quickly ejected by Harvey. Then came the eleventh.

Jeff Parrett, who has been largely ineffective this year, came on and after retiring Schu, walked Morandini. Kruk then grounded to Brian Hunter, who had replaced Sid Bream at first, and he booted it, putting runners at the corners. Parrett then uncorked the fifth wild pitch of the game that scored Morandini and two singles plated Kruk, bringing the Braves up trailing by two in the bottom of the 11th. Brian Hunter responded like a champion, too. With Smith on via a walk and the Phils needing just one out to win the game, Hunter drilled a two-run homer to tie the game and - quite possibly - frustrate a number of Braves fans who were heading to the exits at midnight.

Unfortunately, Hunter gave right back what he'd taken, with a throwing error on a sacrifice bunt that enabled Thon to score all the way from first. Terry Mulholland came on as a pinch runner and scored the second run, and Philly loaded the bases off Parrett but got nothing out of it. Amazing as it seemed, the Braves weren't dead yet. Jose DeJesus took the mound for Philadelphia, and facing the bottom of the order probably figured it was an easy one. But after retiring Olson, he - unbelievably - walked both Belliard and Parrett, a middle reliever who almost never goes to the plate. Nixon came up as the potential winning run, but he forced Parrett at second. With two on and two out and the game on the line, Pendleton singled to left field to score Belliard and put Nixon only 90 feet away from another tie. But Lonnie Smith ended the game at 4 hours and 45 minutes with a groundout to shortstop that gave the Phillies a 12-11 win. DeJesus, despite his erratic pitching, got the save while Darrel Akerfields got his second win of the year. Parrett wound up with the loss, and the Braves dropped to 1 1/2 games behind the first-place Dodgers.

The Braves banged out 12 hits and 11 runs but left 10 runners on base and committed four errors along with two wild pitches. It was the kind of game everyone involved would just as soon forget, but the fans who attended will be talking about this one for a long time.
 

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June 6, 1991
Atlanta Braves 9 (W: Leibrandt, 5-4)
Philadelphia Phillies 4 (L: Combs, 2-5)
27-22, 2nd place
1 1/2 games out


BLAUSER, JUSTICE GO DEEP IN 9-4 BRAVES WIN; ROYALS 18-INNING WIN IS LONGEST IN CLUB HISTORY

Jeff Blauser and David Justice went deep while Charlie Leibrandt scattered six hits and notched four strikeouts in eight innings of effective work as the Atlanta Braves took the series from the Phillies in the rubber game of a 9-4 Braves win that keeps the pace with first-place Los Angeles in the NL West. Just like Wednesday night's game, the Braves tore out to an early lead but unlike the previous contest, the Braves never had a collapse inning or relinquished the lead, adding to it throughout the game to presere the victory.

The Braves clearly love the first inning, particularly against the Phillies. The Braves totaled ten runs in the first inning of the three games, including three in bottom of the first of tonight's game. Pat Combs retired the first two Braves and appeared he would make it through the inning, but after surrendering a single to Lonnie Smith, Combs gave up back-to-back home runs by David Justice and Jeff Blauser to put the Braves out front, 3-0. Philly got a run back in the top of the second when Dale Murphy walked and then came all the way around to score on a single by Ricky Jordan coupled with a Justice error. The error put Jordan at second, and he moved to third on a ground out and then scored when Lonnie Smith dropped a sacrifice fly off the bat of Rick Schu that put Schu at second base and narrowed the margin to 3-2. Shaking off the two errors, Leibrandt got the next two hitters out, and the Phillies were never closer than now.

In the bottom of the second, Rafael Belliard reached on an error, went to second on a bunt by Leibrandt, and scored on an Otis Nixon single. In the bottom of the third, the Braves showed what has unfortunately become their specialty - scoring a single run when presented with a chance to end the game early. This will cost them dearly if it continues. Consecutive singles by Smith and Justice plus a walk to Blauser brought up rookie Brian Hunter with the bases loaded and nobody out. A hard single scored Smith and kept the bases loaded with a 5-2 Atlanta lead, but the Braves then left the sacks filled as Mike Heath, Belliard, and Leibrandt were all retired. It offered the Phillies an opportunity, but Philly wasn't up to the task, their night being symbolized by Rick Schu striking out to end the top of the fourth and then leaving the game with a strained rib cage. In the last of the fourth, Atlanta put the game away.

Nixon reached on an error by shortstop Dickie Thon and then scored on consecutive singles by Terry Pendleton and Smith. Pendleton scored on Blauser's double that put runners in scoring position with only one out, but the Braves again blew the opportunity to score more runs as reliever Joe Boever retired both Heath and Belliard. With a 7-2 lead and Leibrandt pitching well, the game was in the bag. Lonnie Smith scored another run in the sixth when he walked, went to second on an errant pickoff throw, and scored on a Blauser single. Leibrandt cruised until the eighth, when Philly broke through for two runs on a walk to John Kruk, a Murphy single, and a Von Hayes sac fly to Justice in right. With Nixon on second courtesy of a single and a steal, Blauser strode to the plate needing only a triple for the cycle. He settled for a single and yet another RBI - his 12th in the last 3 games. The Braves were now up , 9-4, and Leibrandt gave way to an inning of work to Kent Mercker, who gave up a walk but still got his three guys out with a game-ending double play.

The other big game today was the longest contest in the history of the Kansas City Royals franchise that is now in its 23rd year. In eighteen innings, the Royals and Texas Rangers combined for 29 hits but only seven runs, the Royals winning in the bottom of the 18th when Kenny Rogers threw away an attempted sacrifice bunt by Kurt Stillwell that scored Kevin Seitzer and mercifully ended the game after 6 hours and 28 minutes. The Rangers have followed their 13-game winning streak by losing 7 of the 8 games since their streak was ended by the Minnesota Twins. The Twins, by contrast, have won 8 of 9 since that game, including the last five in a row. The Rangers trail the A's by four and the Twins by five as Oakland attempts to become the first team to win four division titles in a row since the A's themselves accomplished it during the time frame of 1971-1975.

The Montreal Expos come to Atlanta for a four-game series over the weekend. The projected pitching matchups are as follows:

Friday: Steve Avery vs Oil Can Boyd
Saturday: Pete Smith vs Brian Barnes
Sunday: Tom Glavine vs Mark Gardner
Monday: John Smoltz vs Dennis Martinez
 

selmaborntidefan

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June 7, 1991
Montreal Expos 11 (W: Boyd, 3-6)
Atlanta Braves 2 (L: Avery, 6-4)
27-23, 2nd place
2 1/2 games out

EXPOS BOMB BULLPEN AND AVERY IN 11-2 ROUT; BRAVES COMMIT 3 MORE ERRORS IN LOSS


Nobody disputes the Atlanta Braves have some of the best young arms in the game on their pitching staff. The potential of Tom Glavine, Steve Avery, and John Smoltz is apparent to everyone knowledgeable about the sport, and the adequate ability of Charlie Leibrandt, who entered this year with a 101-90 career record compiled with pretty much no stellar seasons but a number of solid ones, give the Braves potential if they can score runs and play defense, both of which they are doing well. But if Bobby Cox does not figure out something to do with his bullpen, the Braves are going to miss opportunities as they lose games they would otherwise win. His closer appears to be former Twins fifth starter Juan Berenguer, but Cox is largely patching together a haphazard tapestry of has beens such as Doug Sisk or future maybes like Mike Stanton and Kent Mercker or as he's done twice in the last three games, held his breath and sent Jeff Parrett out to lose the game. One rumor making the rounds that might solve two problems at once for the Braves is the idea of sending flame throwing righty John Smoltz to the bullpen as a closer. The upside is that Smoltz has demonstrated he can pitch 3 or 4 solid innings and get through the lineup. The downsides are that Smoltz is prone to wildness, which can cost you a one-run game with a runner at third, and the fact Atlanta would then be down to only Pete Smith as a right-handed starter, and Smith likely cannot go enough innings on the year given he just recently returned from major surgery. The Braves would need to get a solid righty as a starter before considering moving Smoltz to the pen.

They sure could have used someone of Smoltz's two-inning effectiveness tonight, though, as the Montreal Expos first ran Steve Avery and then bombed the bullpen for seven runs in the final two innings to turn a close game into a total rout. Oil Can Boyd, whose best days are long behind him, picked up his third win of the year at Atlanta's expense. Boyd entered the game at 2-6 and with a 4.09 ERA at 31 years old but made it all the way into the eighth inning before weakening and giving way to a much more effective pen than Atlanta showed tonight.

The Expos gave the Braves a dose of an Otis Nixon rally by using Nixon's replacement, Marquis Grissom, in the first. With one out, Grissom singled, stole second, stole third, and came home on a wild pitch by Avery. In the bottom of the second, Jeff Blauser reached on a fielder's choice grounder, went to second on a ground out by Mike Heath and then scored on Rafael Belliard's single to tie the game at one. Then in the Expo fourth, the Braves fell apart.

Ken Williams opened the fourth with a double and then quickly scored on a single by catcher Gil Reyes, who took second on a Terry Pendleton error. Boyd, who never swung a bat while pitching in the American League save for the 1986 World Series, got enough of a grounder to move Reyes to third, and the catcher scored when his opposite, Mike Heath, committed a passed ball following a Delino DeShields single that enabled DeShields to move into scoring position, where a Grissom single plated Shields with the third run of the inning. When Ivan Calderon singled, Bobby Cox yanked Avery and sent out the relatively ineffective Randy St. Claire to get the final out of the inning. St. Clare began by wild pitching both runners into scoring position, but a 6-3 ground out kept the score at 4-1 in favor of Montreal. St. Claire, the former Expo, then settled down and pitched well, keeping the score at three runs until the eighth, when the Expos finished both St. Claire and the Braves for the night. And it looked like an almost carbon copy of the fourth inning as well.

Once again, Williams doubled and then scored on a Reyes single. Once again, a runner (Reyes this time) advanced on a bad throw to the plate, this one a wild pitch. When Jeff Treadway, who had just come into the game, made an error, the Expos had runners at the corners with two outs, and the runner at first, DeShields, was fast. Cox pulled St. Claire and replaced him with Mike Stanton, who promptly gave up a stolen base to DeShields, a double to Grissom, who went to third on yet another Braves error (by Justice this time) and retired Ivan Calderon to end the inning with the Expos in a comfortable 7-1 lead.

The Braves did chase Boyd in the eighth by getting two runners on base, but they couldn't do anything with the prosperity. Cox sent out Jeff Parrett to take one for the team in the ninth, and Parrett wound up on the mound long enough to surrender five hits and four runs that put the game for sure out of reach and in favor of the Expos, 11-1. A Tim Wallach single, a wild pitch, a Ken Williams single, a walk to Spike Owen, consecutive doubles by pinch-hitter Eric Bullock and DeShields and a single by Grissom, and the Expos had four more runs on the scoreboard. In what might be the most amazing coincidence, the Braves retired Ivan Calderon to end the inning - the second straight inning Calderon ended a high-scoring Expos rally.

To cap this unbelievable night, Sid Bream got the Braves' final run in the ninth when he singled, moved to second on a walk, third on an infield grounder, and scored on a single by Otis Nixon, making the final tally an 11-2 Montreal triumph.
 

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June 8, 1991
Atlanta Braves 7 (W: Stanton, 2-0; SV: Mercker, 4)
Montreal Expos 6 (L: Burke, 3-3)
28-23, 2nd place
1 1/2 games out

BRAVES HOLD OFF EXPOS' COMEBACK EFFORT; HUNTER GOES DEEP


The Los Angeles Dodgers are one-third of the way to the NL West pennant and on a pace to win 93 games. Behind them - somewhat shockingly - are the Atlanta Braves, who have played fewer games than any other team in baseball thanks to some early rainouts. The bad weather - it has rained a lot in the Southern United States since February - means a backlog of doubleheaders and removed off days that could well make the difference in who prevails in any division. The Braves are keeping pace though a bit erratic but as everyone associated with the organization has noted, it's still early.

Pete Smith took the hill for the Braves, and he continues to show gradual improvement from his early season tendinitis. He gave up a quick run to start the game, retiring the first two batters before surrendering a single and stolen base to Ivan Calderon, who came home on a Tim Wallach single. But the Braves got three runs in the third as the bottom of the order carefully worked Expos starter Brian Barnes. A walk by Smith himself followed a single by Rafael Belliard, and both runners moved to scoring position on Otis Nixon's bunt. Terry Pendleton doubled both runners home, moved to third on an infield ground out and then scored on a two-out Jeff Blauser single to give the Braves a 3-1 lead.

Brian Hunter hit his second career home run - he's now only 754 home runs from passing former Brave and record holder Henry Aaron - to make it 4-0 after four. But Smith immediately weakened when he took the mound for the fifth and didn't make it through. Larry Walker singled to left and then Smith balked him to second. It was at this point that Smith lost control. He then walked shortstop Spike Owen, compelling new manager Tom Runnells (he replaced Buck Rodgers a week ago) to send up a pinch-hitter in place of Barnes. Smith retired Eric Bullock on a sacrifice fly that put Walker on third, but Delino DeShields torched a double into the gap that scored both runners. Smith caught a break when DeShields was gunned down at third thanks to Otis Nixon hitting cutoff man Jeff Blauser at second, whose throw to Pendleton caught DeShields and for a moment it appeared Smith would escape the inning with a lead. But moments after his stellar throw, Blauser's error enabled Marquis Grissom to score from second, where he'd reached through a single and a steal, and the game was tied. Smith left for the showers still responsible for Calderon, who was perched at second. Fortunately for the Braves, Calderon got greedy against reliever Marvin Freeman, and he was caught stealing third to end the top of the fifth. The game stayed that way until the bottom of the seventh.

Nixon singled and stole second and then scored on a throwing error by DeShields to put the Braves back in front. Bobby Cox pulled Pendleton and sent John Smoltz in as a pinch-runner. Lonnie Smith singled Smoltz to second and then both came around when David Justice stung new reliever Jeff Fassero for a triple that plated three runs in the inning and gave the Braves a 7-4 lead. The erratic bullpen was left to finish the job. They did - but in high-wire fashion as usual.

Reliever Kent Mercker immediately found trouble, giving up a double to Calderon and then hitting Wallach with a pitch. Dave Martinez forced Calderon at third, but an infield bunt single by Larry Walker wound up scoring Wallach, and the Braves led, 7-5, entering the ninth. Pinch-hitter Ken Williams tripled, bringing the potential tying run to the plate. When Mercker walked DeShields to put runners at the corners with nobody out, fear gripped the ballpark. But he then struck out Grissom and got a pop up to second from Calderon. But a Wallach single plated Williams, and an infield single by Dave Martinez loaded the bases with two outs and the Expos down a run. Mercker was equal to the task, though, retiring Mike Fitzgerald on a grounder that sealed the deal and enabled the Braves to escape with a 7-6 win. Mike Stanton got the win, and Mercker - drama notwithstanding - got the save.
 

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June 9, 1991
Atlanta Braves 8 (W:Glavine, 10-2; SV: Berenguer, 7)
Montreal Expos 6 (L: Gardner, 1-3)
29-23, 2nd place
1 1/2 games out

GLAVINE BECOMES FIRST MLB HURLDER TO 10 WINS AS BRAVES EDGE EXPOS; SEVEN STRAIGHT WINS FOR MINNESOTA; HERSHISER WINS FIRST GAME IN OVER A YEAR


Stop me if you've heard this one before: the Atlanta Braves have a pair of 3-run innings, enter the last inning of the game leading the Expos (who have scored 5), and the Expos get the tying run to bat but the Braves hold on to win. That was Saturday night, but it was also Sunday afternoon as the Braves assured themselves of no worse than a series split with the Montreal Expos as they prevailed, 8-6, over the Expos and made lefty starter Tom Glavine the majors' first ten-game winner of the 1991 season. The ten wins matches Glavine's total in 33 starts last year. It took him only 12 in 1990, and his sparkling 2.35 ERA as a southpaw in the majors' easiest home run park is further proof of his development. Glavine went eight innings and struck out nine.

Mark Garnder started for Montreal, and he retired the first two hitters. But a single by left fielder Tommy Gregg, starting his first game of the year after spending the last month on the disabled list with a broken hand, set the plate for clean up hitter David Justice, who launched a two-run home run that had the Braves off and running. A Sid Bream single, Jeff Blauser walk, and Greg Olson single plated Bream to put the Braves ahead 3-0 after one. Glavine couldn't hold the lead, however, giving up singles to Ken Williams and Mike Fitzgerald and then a three-run game-tying home run to Larry Walker in the top of the second. It stayed that way until the Atlanta fifth when Gregg again reached base, this time on a walk, and Justice nailed his second two-run homer of the game. Consecutive singles by Blauser and Olson brought home another run when Rafael Belliard's ground out scored Blauser, and the Braves were back on top, 6-3. The Braves tacked on two more in the seventh against Montreal reliever Jeff Fassero on a Blauser double followed by a Greg Olson home run. Cruising 8-3 after seven, Glavine weakened in the eighth.

Ivan Calderon doubled and Tim Wallach tagged Glavine for a homer that narrowed the gap to 8-5. Manager Bobby Cox decided to trust his shaky bullpen in the ninth, opting for Mike Stanton, who immediately gave up a single to Spike Owen. The Expo shortstop then moved to second on a ground out, third on a passed ball by Olson, and scored on a two-out single by Marquis Grissom. Calderon came to the plate as the tying run to face Berenguer, who had taken over for Stanton to face Grissom. Berenguer got him to pop out to center to end the game, and Glavine was in the books as the majors' first ten-game winner.

Glavine is not the only ten-game winner, however, as California's Chuck Finley joined him just hours later with a 7-4 win over the Detroit Tigers. Jack Morris also won his seventh game as the Twins won their seventh in a row as they thumped Cleveland, 9-2. And former Cy Young winner Orel Hershiser won his first game since returning from the torn labrum that had sidelined him since April 27, 1990, going seven innings against the Cubs and winning, 6-3. Hershiser's win helped Los Angeles maintain their 1 1/2 game lead over Glavine's Braves.
 

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June 10, 1991
Montreal Expos 7 (W: D. Martinez, 8-4)
Atlanta Braves 1 (L: Smoltz, 2-7)
29-24, 2nd place
2 1/2 games out

EXPOS POUND SMOLTZ FOR SERIES SPLIT; FORMER BRAVE MAHLER RELEASED


It seems the only three certainties in life are death, taxes, and John Smoltz pitching just good enough to lose, usually with an assist from the erratic bullpen. Once again, the Braves spotted Smoltz a tiny lead, he gave it back but kept the game close, he finally let the gap open a bit wider - and then the bullpen eviscerated his noble attempt and made any potential comeback an impossibility. When the dust had settled, the Expos and Braves had split a four-game series, and Smoltz was saddled with his seventh loss in nine decisions. Granted, the opposing pitcher was Dennis Martinez, aka El Presidente, who is certainly no slouch in the effective pitching department with 167 career wins despite never being much more than a fourth or fifth starter until he was 32 years old - and that was more by default than anything else. But Smoltz has had a combination of bad outings and bad luck that defy reason this year.

Ron Gant led off the bottom of the first with a home run. Nobody could have guessed that the Braves wouldn't score again the rest of the night. The Expos loaded the bases with one out in the third, but Smoltz limited the damage to one run, Martinez himself scoring on a sacrifice fly off the bat of Ivan Calderon. But Smoltz loaded the bases again in the fourth, this time with no outs, by giving up singles to Dave Martinez and Ron Hassey and then a walk to Larry Walker. Smoltz then threw a wild pitch that scored Dave Martinez, but the runners stayed put. They moved up, however, on a single by Tom Foley. Smoltz then walked in a run by walking Delino DeShields, but caught a break when DeShields was ejected for throwing his bat after the walk. Amazingly, Smoltz got out of this one-out bases loaded jam by striking out Marquis Grissom and then getting Calderon to fly out. Despite all the problems, Smoltz was fortunate to only be trailing by a 3-1 score. The game then became a pitcher's duel until Montreal came to bat in the eighth. With one out, Dave Martinez homered off Smoltz, ending his day. Randy St. Clare came in and ended the inning, and the Braves showed signs of life only to fail to get Smoltz off the hook.

In the bottom of the eighth, Mark Lemke doubled and Gant walked, bringing the tying run to the plate on the capable bat of Jeff Treadway. But Tim Burke got a fly out to center that put Lemke on third, Lonnie Smith grounded out 1-3, and new pitcher Scott Ruskin got a ground out from Justice to waste the opportunity. Then in the ninth, the Expos closed the casket on the Braves' night.

Relieving Smoltz, Randy St. Clare struck out Mike Fitzgerald but then gave up a double to Spike Owen, walked Grissom, and then saw Owen come home on a Jeff Treadway error that put Calderon on second. Tim Wallach ended the mystery with a two-run bomb, and the scoring was over and so were the Braves, 7-1. The Braves went in order in the ninth and then headed to the Northeast for three straight series' totaling nine games against the Mets, Phillies, and Expos.

Before the game, word was published that former Braves starter Rick Mahler, currently on the Expos, had been released. Mahler's career is likely over.
 

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June 11, 1991
New York Mets 2 (W: Viola, 7-3; SV: Franco, 15)
Atlanta Braves 1 (L: Leibrandt, 5-5)
29-25 2nd place
3 games out

HARD LUCK LEIBRANDT LOSES ANOTHER EXCELLENT OUTING


Ask one hundred Braves fans the answer to the question, "Which Braves lefty threw a four-hitter while making only one bad pitch but got saddled with a loss," and 95 would correctly say, "Charlie Leibrandt." The other five would name Smoltz, forgetting that Smoltz is a righty. It happened once again as Leibrandt demonstrated himself to be one of the hardest luck pitchers in all of baseball. One bad pitch - a two-run home run to Kevin McReynolds - in a seven-inning out and good time Charlie left with the blues. Former two-time AL Cy Young Winner Frank Viola, a 20-game winner last year, outpitched Leibrandt, giving up four hits as well. Ron Gant drove in the only Braves run with a two-out single that scored Rafael Belliard from second, and that's the game. The most important hit was the one where Jeff Blauser tried to bunt for a hit and ran into the ball on his way to first. The Braves' only hits came from Belliard, Gant, Blauser, and pinch-hitter Otis Nixon.

The game was completed in a rapid one hour and 53 minutes, and John Franco got his 15th save of the season. The idle Dodgers thus now lead the Braves by 3 full games in the West. In other baseball news, the Minnesota Twins won their tenth game in a row (and 13th of 14) with a 5-3 triumph over the Yankees. The Twins have not lost a single game in June thus far. The Braves will throw Steve Avery tomorrow night against Ron Darling in game two of this three-game series.
 

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June 12, 1991
Atlanta Braves 6 (W: Avery, 7-4)
New York Mets 1 (L: Darling, 2-4)
30-25 2nd place
2 games out

AVERY GOES 4 FOR 4 AND THE DISTANCE IN 6-1 WIN OVER METS; TWINS WIN STREAK REACHES 11


The Atlanta Braves began the second one-third of the 1991 baseball season on a pace to win 87 games, a total that would be their highest since their last winning season in 1983. And while the Braves blew a pennant race to the Dodgers that year, you get the idea this year's Braves fans would at least be looking forward to the future with hope if the Braves can just keep it up. Indeed, if John Smoltz was simply performing at his pace from his All-Star year of 1989, the Braves would leading the division right now. The Braves do have some serious problems to address. Their bullpen is an inconsistent nightmare, their defense channels the late 70s infielders at times, and they have five outfielders in a league without a designated hitter. And, of course, Smoltz is his own special problem at the moment.

But the Braves have had a good season thus far, too, and if they can get more performances like Steve Avery's complete game five-hit one-run effort last night, the Braves will be a force to contend with over the next four months. TV ratings likely took a hit thanks to Michael Jordan's crossing the threshold to capture his first NBA championship (the NBC telecast drew a 19.7), but Braves fans were no doubt excited to see the pitcher's duel of the first four innings turn into an Atlanta rout over the middle innings. Avery gave up five hits in a complete game start and got four of them back courtesy of his own bat.

The Braves played the game under protest thanks to a debacle in the first inning. With two outs and Jeff Blauser on first courtesy of a walk, batter David Justice was called out for interfering with Mets catcher Rick Cerone's attempt to catch Blauser stealing second. This was probably an interesting "welcome to the big leagues" notice for second base umpre Jeff Kellogg, who made his debut in the game.

Another Atlanta specialty showed itself: runners left on base. The Braves got at least one runner on in each of the first four innings and had zero runs to show for it. In the third, the Braves loaded the bases with two outs and the team's best base stealer, Otis Nixon, got picked off of second despite everyone knowing there was no way he would try to steal third with Steve Avery already there. But in the fifth, the Braves came alive, and it was the bat of Steve Avery that led the way. His leadoff single - his second hit in two plate appearances - brought up Nixon, who singled. Jeff Blauser's bunt attempt, much like his effort the previous game, went awry as he forced Avery at third and left runners at first and second with one out. But Ron Gant tripled both runners home, scored on a Justice double, and the slugger came home on a Mark Lemke single that gave the Braves a four-spot as Avery went back to the mound.

In the next inning, it was Avery again, this time with a triple and coming home on a Blauser sac fly to put the lefty up, 5-0. In the eighth, Avery singled for the third time, this one with one out, but was retired on a force at second from Nixon. But Nixon went to third on a Blauser double and then scored on a wild pitch to make it 6-0, Atlanta. Avery faltered only once, giving up a solo bomb to Howard Johnson in the ninth to lose the shutout, but he closed the door and walked away with his seventh win this year and the tenth of his two-season big league career.

With a five-run first, the Minnesota Twins got out of the gate quickly and held on for a 6-3 win over the New York Yankees for their 11th triumph in a row. Allan Anderson won his fourth game as Pedro Munoz hit a first-inning grand slam that stood up the rest of the way.
 

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June 13, 1991
Atlanta Braves 3 (W: Smith, 1-0)
New York Mets 2 (L: Whitehurst, 3-3)
31-25 2nd place
2 games out


PETE SMITH CAPTURES FIRST WIN IN OVER A YEAR; BULLPEN HOLDS ON FOR 3-2 BRAVES WIN

The story of Pete Smith runs concurrent with the story of the Atlanta Braves. Smith continued his incredible journey back from injury with his first win since June 5, 1990, a 3-2 gem that helps the Braves keep pace with the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL West pennant race. Smith scattered four hits in six innings and struck out three, giving up two early runs and turning his lead over to an effective Juan Berenguer, who notched another "Rollie Fingers save" (three innings or more) over the New York Mets and Wally Whitehurst. The win gives the Braves 2 of 3 in the short series as they head north to Montreal for a three-game series with the Expos.

Smith began his outing erratically, walking leadoff threat Vince Coleman, balking him to second, and giving up a double to Dave Magadan that put the Mets in front just moments into the contest. A Howard Johnson single scored Magadan, and Johnson stole second. Smith walked Hubie Brooks to put two on with two out, but he got a ground out from Rick Cerone to limit the damage to two runs. As it turned out, Smith would only give up two more hits in the next five innings.

A Mark Lemke triple and an Otis Nixon single got the Braves on the board in the third. The next inning, Whitehurst pitched around David Justice but then surrendered a two-run home run to Sid Bream that wound up being the game-winner. Smith gave way to Berenguer in the seventh, and the former Twin tossed three scoreless innings to gain his eighth save of the year.

The Twins closed to within a game and a half of first in the AL West with a 10-3 rout of the Yankees. It is the Twins' 12th win in a row.
 

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June 14, 1991
Montreal Expos 2 (W: Gardner, 2-3; SV: Ruskin, 4)
Atlanta Braves 1 (L: Glavine, 10-3)
31-26 2nd place
3 games out

GARNDER OUTDUELS GLAVINE FOR 2-1 EXPOS WIN; TWINS WIN LUCKY 13TH IN A ROW WITH SHUTOUT


All Tom Glavine could do was look on in both admiration and frustration at tonight's game in Olympic Stadium in Montreal. The young southpaw went seven innings and gave up only five hits, but it was enough to hang his third loss of the year on him as the Expos were one run better, 2-1. Glavine struck out three batters, but he gave up just as many doubles, and it proved to be his undoing. Mark Gardner avenged his loss to Glavine from five days ago by having just enough to beat the Braves, who rocked him for six runs in Atlanta on June 9.

It appeared the Braves would pick up where they left off against Gardner, as Ron Gant drilled his 12th home of the season, a solo shot with two outs in the first. Gant's tater, however, was the last run the Braves scored all night. Tim Wallach doubled in the fourth, went to third on a wild pitch by Glavine, and scored on an infield ground out to tie the game. With two outs in the seventh, Glavine gave up a double to Spike Owen, and the perfect timing of sending up pinch-hitter Gil Reyes, whose singled Owen home, determined the fate of both hurlers. The Braves got runners at second and third with one out in the eighth against Tim Burke, but after Burke retired Ron Gant on a bounce to the pitcher and Scott Ruskin retired David Justice to end the eighth, the Braves' hitting frustrations were visible to all. A 1-2-3 ninth gave the Expos and Gardner the win.

The Minnesota Twins, meanwhile, have made up five games on the first-place Oakland A's as they continue the kind of roll that hasn't been seen in the Twin Cities for years. Jack Morris won his eighth game of the year, a combined shutout with reliever Carl Willis, 7-0, over Cleveland that puts the Twins winning streak at 13 games, tied for the Texas Rangers as the longest of 1991.
 
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June 15, 1991
Montreal Expos 2 (W: Martinez, 9-4)
Atlanta Braves 0 (L: Smoltz, 2-8)
31-27, 2nd place
3 games out

BRAVES WASTE STELLAR EFFORT BY SMOLTZ; EL PRESIDENTE PITCHES COMPLETE GAME SHUTOUT; TWINS WINNING STREAK REACHES 14 GAMES


Writing summaries of John Smoltz's pitching starts for 1991 has been relatively easy since there are really only two narratives from which to choose: Smoltz either pitches excellently but gets no run support, or he keeps the Braves close and watches the bullpen set his decent start on fire, either of which results in a loss or (at best for Smoltz) a no decision. Smoltz pitched his seventh quality start in 13 appearances this afternoon. In those seven games, he has one no decision and five losses. With just a tad bit of luck, Smoltz would be about 8-3 right now and in the discussion for both the Cy Young Award and the All-Star Game. This afternoon, Smoltz again pitched just well enough to lose, but it was the Braves' suddenly anemic offense as opposed to the bullpen that saddled the young righty with his eighth loss in ten decisions thus far. Make no mistake, Montreal's Dennis Martinez was nothing short of spectacular, but Smoltz deserved better than being on the short end of a 2-0 complete game shutout by El Presidente.

Smoltz was beaten in the first inning by the first batter, Delino DeShields. Smoltz walked the leadoff batter, who stole second, went to third on an infield ground out by Marquis Grissom and then scored on a single by Ivan Calderon. At that point, Martinez had enough to win and did. Montreal aided their starter with an additional run in the fifth, courtesy of a Ron Hassey double, Larry Walker single, and Tom Foley sacrifice fly.

Smoltz left with two runners aboard in the sixth, but this time the bullpen gave him a reprieve, pitching the final 3 1/3 innings and only surrendering two hits, neither of which hurt the Atlanta cause. What hurt the Braves was the suddenly pedestrian Braves batting attack. In the last six games - four of which the Braves lost - Atlanta has scored a grand total of 12 runs, and six of those came in one of the wins. Manager Bobby Cox continues to tinker with his lineup that has no fewer than five decent outfielders, only three of whom can play at one time in the no-DH league.

In the DH league, by contrast, the Minnesota Twins extended their winning streak to 14 games with a spectacular comeback against the Cleveland Indians. After falling into a 6-1 hole after two innings, the Twins erupted with a six-run third that followed Indians Manager John McNamara's ejection for throwing his hat at the umpire after arguing that Shane Mack had trapped rather than caught a fly ball. The victory moved the Twins within one-half game of the three-time defending AL West champion Oakland Athletics. The Twins, like the Braves, finished last in 1990.

The resurgent Cincinnati Reds won their sixth game of the last seven with a solid 3-1 win behind World Series MVP Jose Rijo. The win puts the Reds in a tie with the Braves just three games behind the Dodgers.
 
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June 16, 1991
Montreal Expos 7 (W: Sampen, 4-1)
Atlanta Braves 6(L: Stanton, 2-1)
31-28, 3rd place
4 games out

OTIS NIXON STEALS SIX BASES TO TIE SINGLE-GAME RECORD IN BRAVES LOSS; TWINS CAPTURE FIRST PLACE WITH 15TH WIN IN A ROW


Sunday afternoon's game was a microcosm of the Atlanta Braves' season thus far, a collection of good and bad. The Braves stole seven bases in eight attempts against Expos catcher Mike Fitzgerald, Sid Bream socked his ninth home run of the year, the starting pitcher hit a triple, and the Braves took out to a quick 3-0 lead. The bad, however, outweighed the good as the Braves were swept for the first time since the opening two-games series with Los Angeles by a lackluster Montreal squad going nowhere as the Braves' overall pitching was awful, Rafael Belliard made his tenth error of the season, and the Braves dropped into third place behind the expected pre-season contenders, Los Angeles and Cincinnati. But the focus on Sunday was on former Expo - as in "only joined the Braves in April of this year" former Expo - Otis Nixon, whose record-setting day tied the modern major league record of six steals established by Hall of Fame second baseman Eddie Collins in 1912 with the Philadelphia Athletics. Coincidentally, when Braves third baseman Bob Horner tied the major league record with four home runs in one game in 1986, it also came in a loss against these same Expos. The last big leaguer to steal five bases in one game was Tony Gwynn on September 20, 1986.

Nixon was not even supposed to start Sunday's game, but David Justice was removed from the starting lineup with an unspecified illness, so Manager Bobby Cox moved leadoff batter Ron Gant to cleanup in place of Justice and put Nixon as the leadoff batter. And Nixon set the tone early as in from his first plate appearance. He singled and stole second, stayed there on an infield single by Terry Pendleton, stole third as Pendleton took second on an aggressive double steal that saw Pendleton wind up in a rundown after going past the bag, and scored the first run of the game on Gant's double. An error by starting pitcher Chris Nabholz brought Gant home, and the Braves were off and running, 2-0. In the third, Nixon did it again, bunting for a single, stealing both second and third, and scoring on a Lonnie Smith single that spotted Braves starter Charlie Leibrandt an early 3-0 lead. But Leibrandt couldn't protect the lead. Delino DeShields singled with one out in the third, stole second, and came home on a single by Ivan Calderon. The hurler got it back, though, in spectacular fashion as he tripled home Rafael Belliard from first to give the Braves a 4-1 lead.

Consecutive doubles by Larry Walker and Spike Owen cut the Braves lead to 4-2 in the fourth and also saw the Expos pull Nabholz for the major league debut of Bret Barberie, who made the last out of the fourth a pinch-hitting role. Leibrandt's continued ineffectiveness plagued the Braves, though, as Montreal tied the game in the fifth after Calderon doubled DeShields to third, and DeShields scored on a single while Calderon tied the game on Belliard's throwing error. Attempting to break the Braves out of a funk, Sid Bream golfed a solo shot that put Atlanta back in front in the sixth, but it was short-lived. Mike Stanton took the mound in the bottom of the inning and immediately gave up a walk and a single, enabling Bobby Cox to channel the early 80s Braves by sending recent Montreal release (and Braves former ace) Rick Mahler to the mound. Mahler promptly did his own channeling of the 80s with a wild pitch that moved the runners both into scoring position. The lead runner, Spike Owen, then scored on a Marquis Grissom fielder's choice grounder that left Grissom on first, and the speedy outfielder promptly stole second. A DeShields double scored two runs, although DeShields was then caught stealing third as Montreal apparently decided that if Atlanta was running, so were they.

In the seventh, the Braves narrowed the Expos lead to 7-6 when Terry Pendleton walked and then scored on Jeff Blauser's double. Needing just a run, the Braves went into the ninth, and Nixon singled again. He stole second and third yet again to run his daily total to six and his season total to 32, but Nixon was left stranded 90 feet from tying the game when Ron Gant struck out the end it as a 7-6 win for the Expos.

In the American League, the Twins have yet to lose in the month of June, and they captured first place with a 4-2 win over Cleveland that went 10 innings for their 15th victory in a row. When the Athletics lost to the Brewers, 11-7, Minnesota was alone on top of the AL West. No team has ever gone from last to first in the same season of modern baseball, but the Twins' hot streak might make them the first.
 

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June 17, 1991
Philadelphia Phillies 4 (W: Williams, 1-2)
Atlanta Braves 3 (L: Berenguer, 0-2)
31-29, 3rd place
5 games out

BRAVES DROP FOURTH STRAIGHT AS BULLPEN FAILS; TWINS WIN STREAK ENDS AT 15


The question has begun looming in the back of minds of Braves fans throughout the South: are the Braves really going to be better in 1991 after spending all that money and all those years or are we about to see yet another team make it into June before the coach turns back into a pumpkin? For the first one-third of the season, it looked as though the Braves would at least field a respectable team that might play a little better than .500. The curiosity of the Braves near the top of the division has begun to give way to the pessimism that comes with being a Braves fan: how long until we hit the bottom? The Braves moved to Atlanta in 1966 and won the first-ever NL West flag when the leagues split into divisions in 1969. In the 21 years since then, the Braves have a pennant they pulled out on the final day of a wild season (1982), two second-place finishes (1983 and 1984), and have finished last or next-to-last no less than fourteen times, which is the same number of below-.500 years they've achieved. They've begun one season with a 10-game losing streak that is only not remembered in other locales because the Baltimore Orioles began that same season by losing 21. And twice in the last five years, the Braves had done what it appears is on the horizon as the die-hards can tell you all too well.

On July 3, 1986 almost halfway into the season the Braves were in third place only 1 1/2 games out of the lead. But the Braves hit the skids - against Montreal no less - and suddenly dropped 14 of their next 16 games against the Expos, Phillies, and Mets. Within those three weeks, the Braves were in last place and clung to it like a lifeline, finishing a whopping 23 1/2 games out of first. Just one year later, the Braves were only 2 1/2 games behind the Reds on June 20 and hit the skids again, losing 12 of 15 (including six in a row, five by one run) and sealed another fifth-place finish. The fear beginning to affect the fans now is that 1991 may be another repeat of 1986 and 1987. The Braves did nothing to assuage those fears, either, with the bullpen blowing both a lead and the game and giving the always erratic Mitch "Wild Thing" Williams his first win of the year while Juan Berenguer took his second loss. The fourth loss in a row combined with a Dodgers win put the Braves five games behind the lead after being only 1/2 game out ten days ago.

The Phillies tore out to the early lead against the inconsistent Steve Avery, scoring two runs in the first on a Wes Chamberlain single and a John Kruk home run that came right after Avery got a double play and surely thought he was out of the jam. The Braves recent woeful offense came to life in the fourth as three straight singles plated Terry Pendleton, a Sid Bream single scored Ron Gant, and David Justice came home on a double play that gave the Braves a 3-2 lead. But Philly tied it in shocking fashion in the fifth when Avery gave up a home run to leadoff batter and former Braves pitcher Tommy Greene that tied the contest at three. Avery seemed so shaken after the dinger that he gave up a single to Mickey Morandini and then went to enjoy an early shower as Randy St Claire came on in relief. St. Claire did well, too, taking a tie game into the eighth before giving way to new Braves closer Juan Berenguer, who again faltered. Former Brave Dale Murphy drilled a solo home run off the former Twin, and the Phillies were on their way to a 4-3 win. Just as in the last game agains the Expos, the Braves got the tying run as far as third base in the ninth but couldn't close the deal. Mitch Williams struck out Brian Hunter, and the Phillies were winners.

The Minnesota Twins seemed a sure bet to win their 16th game in a row, entering the bottom of the ninth in Baltimore with a two-run lead and their ace closer Rick Aguilera on the mound. But all of the good fortune that shined on the Twins since June 1 evaporated in a ninth inning for the ages. David Segui singled and was replaced on the base paths by Juan Bell, who took second on a Brady Anderson single. Mike Devereaux bunted the runners into scoring position to play for the tie at home and then Joe Orsulak's sacrifice fly scored Bell to narrow the Twins' lead to 5-4. With two outs and the game on the line, the Twins intentionally walked Cal Ripken, putting the winning run on base. And both Anderson and Ripken scored when Randy Milligan ripped a two-out double that resulted in a blow save for Aguilera and the first loss in June for the Minnesota Twins. The Twins retained first place for another day, however, as the Oakland Athletics likewise lost.