1995 Atlanta Braves Retrospective

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October 6, 1995
Seattle Mariners 7 (W: Johnson, 1-0; SV: Charlton, 1)
New York Yankees 4 (L: McDowell, 0-1)
Yankees lead series, 2-1

JOHNSON'S 10 KS KEEP M'S ALIVE


What remains to be seen is whether Randy Johnson delivered the turning point for Seattle tonight or if he merely delayed the inevitable. After waiting 19 seasons for a post-season game, the Kingdome was rocking with hungry and desperate fans who wanted just one playoff win from their hometown team and had their ace on the mound, albeit with only three days' rest. But Johnson on three days is better than most pitchers on four, and the tall lefty went seven innings and struck out ten as the Mariners won their first playoff game in history with a 7-4 triumph over New York that saw Don Mattingly strike out three times in a row for only the sixth time in his career. Johnson, who threw 126 pitches in his three-hitter that clinched the division title on Monday, threw 116 pitches (65 strikes) before his shoulder stiffened in the seventh inning and Lou Piniella yanked him. Seattle chased six runs across the plate in the middle innings and cruised to the win, setting up tomorrow night's game of Scott Kamienecki versus Chris Bosio.

Cleveland Indians 8 (W: Nagy, 1-0)
Boston Red Sox 2 (L: Wakefield, 0-1)
Indians win series, 3-0

TRIBE WINS FIRST POST-SEASON SERIES SINCE 1948, BOSOX NIGHTMARES CONTINUE


Forty-seven years after the Cleveland Indians swept the city of Boston by taking a one-game playoff from the Red Sox to clinch a berth in the 1948 World Series and beating the then-Boston Braves in the World Series in six games, the Tribe finally got to celebrate in the post-season for once. Thankfully for all the heartache the Red Sox have endured since 1918, this one was relatively painless. A two-run Jim Thome home run off of Tim Wakefield was all Cleveland needed to win the game, but they made sure to leave no doubt as they clobbered the Boston bullpen for five runs in the seventh inning to turn a close game into an 8-2 rout. Charles Nagy went seven innings and gave up only four hits and one run as he got the victory.

Cleveland awaits the winner of the Seattle-New York series before opening play in the ALCS on Tuesday night. And wouldn' t you know it? The Reds have the lesser record and open at home while the Indians have the best record in baseball and have to open on the road. And it's worth noting that Cleveland was only 5-4 against the Mariners and played the Yankees to a 6-6 draw in games. The ALCS could be as interesting as a Cincinnati-Atlanta matchup in the NLCS appears to be





HIGHLIGHTS BELOW:

1) Reds vs Dodgers - start of video
2) Mariners vs Yankees - starts at 1:00
3) Braves vs Rockies - starts at 2:13
4) Indians vs Red Sox - starts at 3:08

 

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October 7, 1995
Atlanta Braves 10 (W: Maddux, 1-0)
Colorado Rockies 4 (L: Saberhagen, 0-1)
Braves win series, 3-1

BRAVES BLOW OUT ROCKIES, 10-4, TO ADVANCE TO NLCS


Of all sports, baseball is the one most associated with being a game of inches. (Well, okay, the long jump, but I digress). Tonight, the Atlanta Braves moved inches closer to their first-ever world championship in the city of Atlanta, and it took a few close calls that had they gone another way would have set up a do-or-die Game Five for both teams in Atlanta tomorrow night.

Ten years ago this month, Al Michaels, Tim McCarver, and Jim Palmer called the 1985 World Series for ABC, boring their audiences with endless droning about Bret Saberhagen's kid about to be born (the child arrived the night Don Denkinger kept the Royals alive; Bret pitched a complete game shutout in Game 7 for the title) and making references to Buddy Biancalana's given named of Rolando Americo Biancalana. Tonight, the three old geezers again gathered together on ABC as part of the loosely affiliated and cluelessly designed Baseball Network to talk about Chipper Jones's given name, Larry Wayne. Chipper, like Saberhagen in 1985, managed to give them something else to talk about before the night was over. Chipper, however, did it at Saberhagen's expense.

Greg Maddux got his second post-season win, but Maddux the post-season pitcher is light years removed from the soon-to-be four-time Cy Young winner. And when Dante Bichette was behind a Maddux delivery but got out in front of it enough to drive the ball over the right field wall for an opposite field home run that lifted the Rockies to a 3-0 lead, fright came over the nervous fans in Fulton County Stadium as they contemplated the terrifying spectre of another game against a team the Braves have owned a bit too much. Braves fans worred - for all of about 12 minutes. That's all it took.

Saberhagen took the mound in the bottom of the third with a three-run lead, and got the first two hitters out, bringing up the only Brave to reach base against him the first time through the order, Marquis Grissom, who came to bat at 7-for-18. Grissom blooped a two-out single to left field, bringing up Mark Lemke. Lemke drilled a shot off of Andres Galarraga at first, but Saberhagen was late departing the mound for the throw at first. Galarraga made the toss, but Lemke was safe by a half-step. Chipper came to the plate and after working the count to 2-2 and fouling off the next delivery, the rookie pushed a tailing away bloop to left field. Bichette dove for the ball with his best effort but came up short, and just like that the Braves were only down by a single run, 3-2. A game of inches for Lemke, a game of inches for Chipper. Moments later on a 2-0 delivery, Fred McGriff's "excuse me" swing lofted a ball to left field that landed just over the wall in front of the Chevron sign for a home run. Just like that, the Braves were leading, 4-3, just 12 minutes after falling into a perilous whole.

The Braves put the game away just an inning later. Ryan Klesko led off with a single, and Charlie O'Brien fouled off five straight 3-2 pitches before drawing a walk that put runners at first and second. That's when Don Baylor's tendency to overthink a situation (and McCarver's, too) cost the Rockies. Rafael Belliard strode to the plate with everyone except maybe Belliard and Bobby Cox just knowing he was going to bunt. None other than Jim Palmer seemed to rhetorically wonder why Cox would sacrifice an out with the pitcher coming up. Belliard swung away at the first pitch and laced a grounder to Eric Young at second. Because the Rockies were in an alignment playing for a bunt, Young had to race to second to force O'Brien. Young is fast and made it - but he then threw wildly in a desperate attempt for a double play on Belliard at first, sending Klesko home to give the Braves a 5-3 lead while Belliard raced to second. Grissom then doubled Belliard home with two outs to extend the lead to 6-3, and with Maddux on the mound, the game was as good as over. Former Brave Vinny Castilla did drill a solo shot off of Maddux, but the Braves added three runs in sixth and ended the inning with the bases loaded, closing out the scoring at 10-4. Maddux gave way to allow Alejandro Pena to get some work in, and he retired six of the seven batters he faced to close out the game. The Braves are thus in the NLCS for the fourth straight time, which opens in Cincinnati on Tuesday night (October 10). We will have a full breakdown of the Reds-Braves series along with a prediction on Sunday.

The entire game may be viewed by clicking the link below.

 
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October 7, 1995
Seattle Mariners 11 (W: Charlton, 1-0)
New York Yankees 8 (L: Wetteland, 0-1)
Series tied, 2-2

EDGAR' S 7 RBIS RALLY SEATTLE TO SET UP DO-OR-DIE TOMORROW


Raise your hand if you had the Seattle-New York series setting up as the most exciting in the first round on your Bingo card. The Mariners, woeful since way back when the Bee Gees were just barely "Stayin' Alive", have adopted a motto: "Refuse To Lose." Rallying from 13 1/2 games down in a month no doubt helps as does the fact they obliterated the Angels in a one-game playoff. Tonight, the Mariners rallied in the most dramatic fashion imaginable. Naturally, baseball TV contracts being what they are, half of the country was forced to watch the Braves finish blowing out the Rockies. The other half witnessed a game they will be talking about for the ages.

Or until tomorrow night perhaps.

By the time Vince Coleman stepped into the batter's box for Seattle as their first hitter, the Mariners were in a 3-0 hole in a must-win game. Wade Boggs led off the game with a double and then moved to third on a Bernie Williams single. After Paul O'Neill walked to load the bases, Ruben Sierra lifted a sacrifice fly behind third base that scored Boggs to give the Yankees a quick 1-0 lead. Don Mattingly then drove home Williams and O'Neill with a single to center, and the Yankees led, 3-0, with Donnie Baseball on base. Chris Bosio settled down and got the next two hitters, but he wouldn't be around for much longer. Bosio got through the second without any further damage, but after he walked Williams to start the third, O'Neill drilled a home run that gave the Yankees a 5-0 lead and Bosio an early exit. That's when Seattle first began to refuse to lose.

Joey Cora led off the bottom of the third with a single, and Ken Griffey followed with another. Edgar Martinez then got Seattle back in the game with an electrifying three-run homer that brought the crowd into the game. Tino Martinez singled to center, Jay Buhner walked, and Mike Blowers - grand slammer that he is - bunted both runners ahead a base to set up a possible tie. Luis Sojo flew out to center, scoring Tino, and the Mariners ended the inning down by one, 5-4. Seattle tied it two innings later when Buhner and Blowers singled, and Mattingly's error enabled Buhner to go home.

Ken Griffey Jr's solo shot gave the Mariners their first lead in the sixth, but a walk, a single, and a wild pitch by Norm Charlton tied the game at six in the seventh. With a chance to close out the series and a fully rested David Cone available tomorrow, Yankee Manager Buck Showalter decied to bring in his closer an inning early and hope to rally against Seattle's bailing wire and duct tape bullpen. John Wetteland got off to a terrible start when he walked Coleman to begin the bottom of the eighth. Cora attempted to bunt Coleman over - and wound up on first with a single himself. Trying not to give up another long ball, Wetteland hit Griffey, loading the bases with nobody out and bringing up Edgar Martinez again. Edgar crushed his second home run of the game, a grand slam just to the right of the 405 sign in center field, to thrust the Mariners into an 11-6 lead and only three outs short from tying the series. The Yankees, however, had no intention of going easily.

Bobby Ayala came on to close out the contest after Mattingly singled to open the inning against Charlton. Darryl Strawberry grounded out, sending Mattingly to second, and Mike Stanley scored the longtime first baseman with a single. Tony Fernandez singled and when Randy Velarde walked, the Yankees had the tying run at the plate with only one out in the form of future Hall of Famer Wade Boggs. Seattle skipper Lou Piniella then yanked Ayala and replaced him with Bill Risley. Boggs forced Velarde as Stanley scored to cut the margin to 11-8. Pat Kelly ran for Boggs and stole second due to defensive indifference, but Williams flied out to center to end the contest and set up the winner-take-all Game Five tomorrow evening. The Yankees will send David Cone to the mound while Seattle counters with Andy Benes.

Best of all - everyone will get to see what promises to be an exciting game.
 
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October 8, 1995
Seattle Mariners 6 (W: Johnson, 2-0)
New York Yankees 8 (L: McDowell, 0-1)
11 innings
Mariners win series, 3-2

EDGAR'S 10TH INNING DOUBLE SCORES GRIFFEY TO WIN NLDS FOR M'S;
JOHNSON SAVES SEATTLE ON ONE DAY'S REST


Four times in the last week the Seattle Mariners have shown up at the Kingdome knowing that if they lost that day's baseball game, their season was over. So far, they're 4-0, and tonight's escape will be talked about decades from now as the night that Seattle, for at least one evening, became a baseball town and knocked off the mighty New York Yankees. Their "reward" for the win? A series that opens on Tuesday night against the mighty Cleveland Indians, who have their own history of bad baseball, and who will be ready with a set rotation to determine who goes to the World Series. Seattle is simply happy to be playing again. Such is likely not true for Yankee 80's legend Don Mattingly, who leaves having never - surprise of surprises - played in a World Sereis. Neither have the Mariners, but they still have a dream in 1995.

The dream became a step closer to reality in the third inning when Joey Cora hit a solo shot that gave Seattle a 1-0 lead. Starter Andy Benes only held the lead for three batters as he walked Bernie Williams in front of a two-run homer by Paul O'Neill. Benes would up pitching 6.2 innings, and while he only gave up four hits, he walked six batters, which is why he left the game trailing, 4-2. Trailing 2-1, the Mariners got a run back in the fourth when Tino Martinez doubled, moved to third on a wild pitch by David Cone, and scored on a single by Jay Buhner. But Benes fell linto the 4-2 hole when he walked the bases full in the sixth before giving up a double to Mattingly. After Benes walked Williams with two outs in the seventh, he got the hook in favor of Norm Charlton, who ended the inning by getting O'Neill to fly out. In the eighth, Ken Griffey Jr. homered to cut the lead to 4-3, and Seattle rallied when Cone suddenly lost the strike zone and walked three batters behind a Tino single that tied the game at four and brought up Mike Blowers with the bases loaded and two outs. Yes, the same Mike Blowers who drilled three grand slams during the regular season. Buck Showalter pulled a tiring Cone and brought in rookie Mariano Rivera, who struck out Blowers to end the inning and leave the game tied. But whe the Yankees got the first two hitters on in the ninth, the entire Kingdome erupted in prolonged cheers when they saw the tallest player in MLB history, Mariners ace Randy Johnson, stroll to the mound in the do-or-die situation. He got Wade Boggs to strike out and then got Williams and O'Neill to pop up, ending the top of the ninth and setting the Mariners up to win it with a run.

Coleman singled off Rivera to start the ninth and Cora bunted him to second. The Yankees walked Griffey, leaving runners at first and second with one out, and knowing the game may go long, Showalter opted for former Cy Young winner Jack McDowell. McDowell was up to the task, too, striking out Edgar Martinez and getting rookie Alex Rodriguez to force Griffey at second, which also forced extra innings. Johnson retired the Yanks in order in the top of the tenth, and the Mariners got runners on twice and McDowell forced fielder's choice ground outs. Then in the 11th, the tired Johnson weakened just enough.

Mike Stanley walked to open the inning, and Pat Kelly came on as a pinch-runner. Kelly moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Tony Fernandez. Kelly then scored the potential winning run when Randy Velarde singled him home and went to second on the throw. Johnson then struck out Jim Leyritz, hitting for Boggs, and walked Williams before he induced an inning ending pop up, but the Mariners were only three outs away from elimination and down by a run. And that's when one of the feel good underdog stories of baseball lore manifested itself.

Cora tried to bunt for a hit and was successful, winding up at first with nobody out. The ever dangerous Griffey came up with a chance to win the series with a homer, but he instead hit a single through the infield that sent Cora to third and put runners at the corners with nobody out and Edgar Martinez, the 1995 batting champion at the plate. After taking the first pitch on the outside corner for a strike, Martinez laced a sinking liner into left field far away from Gerald Williams. Cora easily scored to tie the game, but the 57,000 fans and millions across the country had their eyes riveted on the young superstar from Donora, Pennsylvania, the man with all the endorsements and the smile as wide as the mountains. Ken Griffey Jr bolted around second and never broke stride, racing all the way home and sliding in just ahead of the throw from the outfield, winning the game and sending fans all across the country into ecstatic celebration. Had it been possible to blow the roof off of the Kingdome, it no doubt would have gone. The upstarts who nearly left Seatte just three years ago and were easily baseball's worst franchise in the 1980s knocked off the most prestigious franchise in all of American sports.

Baseball at it's best is sports at its best, and we now await the next chapter in each league’s championship series. Previews and matchups tomorrow with game coverage beginning Tuesday.




12F39B08-EBA6-48AF-978F-053B648F32BD.png
Ken Griffey Jr. races towards third on his way around the bases as part of the greatest moment in the history of Seattle baseball. Griffey scored, winning the series.
 
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October 9, 1995
ATLANTA BRAVES VS CINCINNATI REDS NLCS PREVIEW


And this is exactly what it should be: the NL teams with the two best records in the league squaring off in a best-of-seven series to determine the league champion and representative in the World Series. We have a team that has won the World Series recently (the Reds in 1990) against a team that has lost it twice recently (Atlanta in both 1991 and 1992). And the series could go in several directions, some of which we will cover.

Overview: the strength of the Atlanta Braves can be reduced to one word, pitching. Whatever problems the Braves have - and they have many - pitching and particularly defense are two problems they do not have. But the pitching may - or may not - present a problem because Atlanta Manager Bobby Cox is being coy about whether he's going with a three-man starting rotation or a four-man starting rotation that includes the seemingly revived Steve Avery. It may depend on whether the Braves win, split, or lose the first two games at Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati.

The Braves have - BY FAR - the best ERA in baseball (3.44), and their starters have an ERA of 3.28; it's the bullpen that is questionable and has caused a lot of Atlanta's post-season heartache. One way the Braves get around that in the regular season that is generally not easily done in the post-season is complete games, and Atlanta was second only to Baltimore with 18 complete games on the season; don't look for any in this series. Atlanta's entire pitching staff allowed fewer runs than any in the NL and despite playing in the easiest home run park this side of Coors Field for half their games, the entire staff permitted only 107 home runs in 144 games (the next closest was the Dodgers at 118 - who play half their games in a pitcher's park). At the same time, Atlanta's pitchers led the league in strikeouts and, top to bottom, have the best control in the league.

The Reds have already announced they're going with a three-man all lefty rotation, and this is a smart strategic move: Atlanta's power hitters are largely from the left side of the plate (Fred McGriff, David Justice, Ryan Klesko). Chipper Jones is switch hitter better from the right side, and it might be a smart move if Bobby Cox stuck Chipper in between the lefties somewhere to prevent a reliever from being able to go very long. It's also a smart strategic move because Mark Portugal, who improved in September, simply doesn't look like he's capable of pitching for very long without tiring or getting knocked around. The closer role is a bit of a push - maybe. Mark Wohlers finally moved into the job this year, but despite his capacity for 100 mph heat and even a large amount of success, Wohlers had many a high wire moment where he put two runners on base before knuckling down the save. Jeff Brantley, who had 28 saves on the season, is adequate, but this is not the Nasty Boys of 1990 in the Reds' pen, either.

But the Reds have their own advantages as well, starting with the fact Cincinnati scored more runs than any other team in the NL (747), tied with Houston atop the league. Atlanta scored only 645 runs on the season, a total that has them ranking with the worst teams in baseball as far as offense. Every team except the Los Angeles Dodgers (634) that had as remotely a poor an offensive output as the Braves did had a losing record, a tribute to Atlanta's starting staff. The Reds also led the NL in doubles (only the Dodgers were worse than the Braves - in all of baseball), and despite the fact the Braves GENERALLY play an old American League-style of baseball where you wait for the three-run home run, the Braves had only 7 more home runs on the season than the Reds did despite Atlanta playing in an easy hitter's park and the Reds in a difficult home run park. The Reds also hit 20 points higher than the Braves did (.270 to .250), but that may turn on a question of whether the high chop base hits potentially available on the artificial turf at Riverfront Stadium inflated the batting average to a large degree.

And there's also the elephant in the room: the Reds stole more bases (190) than any team in the majors while the Braves stole only 73 on the season. To give you an idea how much this shows Atlanta's approach has changed, Otis Nixon of the 1991 Braves stole 72 all by himself despite missing the last three weeks of the season due to a drug suspension. Combine Cincinnati's willingness to run with Atlanta's poor ability to hold runners on base, and the series could turn on aggressieveness and whether or not Javy Lopez or Charlie O'Brien can gun some base stealers and limit the Reds's willingness to run. The Braves were tied with Philly for worst in the NL in caught stealing (22%), but the Reds aren't much better (25%). Of course, as noted, Atlanta doesn't run much. The advantage in speed also comes into play when it comes to avoiding double plays, and the Reds were third in all of baseball avoiding the twin killing.

The Braves beat the Reds in 8 of 13 contests during the year, splitting six games at home and winning five of seven on the road, including a stunning three-game sweep less than a month ago. Whether that sweep was a foretelling of what is to happen or merely a case of two teams who had already clinched experimenting and not focusing on the task may be validated depending on the outcome.

Position by Position Analysis (Braves Players Listed First)

Catcher
– Javy Lopez/Charlie O'Brien vs Benito Santiago - O'Brien will catch the Greg Maddux games and relieve when a game goes long. Lopez is likely to have the best career of the three, but he's still young. None of the catchers is very good at holding runners on, but Santiago has more experience. Edge: Cincinnati

First Base – Fred McGriff vs Hal Morris - McGriff is the only player to lead both leagues in home runs and while not a stellar fielder plays an adequate first base. Morris is a solid player who is a bit of a hot-head at times. Edge: Atlanta.

Second Base – Mark Lemke vs Bret Boone - Lemke has an established reputation as a good fielder. Despite perceptions however, Boone was far better at turning double plays without the advantage of Atlanta's ground ball inducing staff and is clearly the better hitter. Edge: Cincinnati.

Shortstop – Rafael Belliard/Jeff Blauser vs Barry Larkin - it appears Blauser may be somewhat limited, which turns this most one-sided category in Cincinnati's favor even more so. Larkin is the best all-around shortstop in the game today, and while Blauser hits okay, he'***** .211 in a forgettable season. Belliard is an excellent fielder, but who would you want to start if you had the choice? Big Edge: Cincinnati
 

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Braves-Reds Preview Part II
Third Base
– Chipper Joes vs Jeff Branson - it isn't often that a rookie can come in and actually win the head-to-head matchup, but Jones isn't any ordinary rookie, either. Branson hit .260 with 12 home runs while Chipper hit .265 with 23 bombs. Yes, Chipper made 25 errors while learning a new position this year while Branson made 7, but much as with Larkin, who do you take? Edge: Atlanta.

Left Field – Ryan Klesko vs Ron Gant - Klesko is a slugger who plays below average defense and is pulled in late innings while Gant is a solid contributor, a 30-30 man, who brings incentive to show Atlanta they made a mistake by releasing him after his own mistake of riding a motorocycle in the off-season. Edge: Gant.

Center Field – Marquis Grissom vs Thomas Howard - Grissom is the best all-around center fielder in the NL (all of MLB according to Tim McCarver), most folks outside Cincy don't even know who Howard is, which tells you all you need to know. Big Edge: Atlanta.

Right Field – David Justice vs Reggie Sanders - if you told most folks that Sanders hit more bombs than Justice (28 to 24), it would shock some people unless they remembered Justice takes a vacation with injury every year. Justice has come up big in the post-season previously, and his power hitting and experience in the playoffs give him a slight edge. Edge: Atlanta.
.

Starting Pitching – Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine appear well on their way to the Hall of Fame, and John Smoltz on his best days is right there with them. It depends on which Steve Avery appears as to how big the advantage is, but this category is not particularly close. Pete Schourek had a career year, but Atlanta clobbered him when they met. John Smiley had a good year, too, but Atlanta clobbered him in the 1991 NLCS despite his 20-game winner status that year. And David Wells is a decent pitcher whom Atlanta didn't face this year. In all honesty, 1991-93 Avery would be the #1 starter on the Reds staff now that Jose Rijo is out with injury. Edge: Atlanta.

Relief Pitching – each team has a bona fide closer (Wohlers on Atlanta, Brantley on the Reds) and patchwork middle relief. Greg McMichael is often feast or famine, and one would think removing Portugal to relief along with Dave Burba would give the Reds an advantage. That thinking is mostly correct - unless Avery is in the pen and his September revival is an actual turnaround. Edge: Cincinnati.

Bench – Atlanta's bench is slightly better because: a) their bench consists largely of platoon players; b) Devereaux and Polonia could start if necessary without too much affect to the game plan. Edge: Atlanta.

Manager – Bobby Cox vs Davey Johnson - Johnson has won a World Series, Cox has come close. Cox has also blown not one but two 3-1 leads in the LCS only to rebound against the Pirates in 1992 and take the game at the end. Both have managed teams that bungled the LCS. Only one is going to be back with his team next year, so you give it to him. Edge: Atlanta.

How the Braves Win – keep the Reds off base, limiting attempts to play the running game. Starters will have to go deep into games - at least through 7, maybe 8 innings - and then hand off to the bullpen. Take a few aggressive shots with Grissom stealing and pop a few long balls. The earlier the Braves can get the game to the bullpen, the better their chances.

How the Reds Win – Thomas Howard and Jerome Walton (the CF platoon) absolutely must get on base in front of number two hitter Larkin. Change it up, bunt Larkin at times, swing away at others with runners on, setting up Gant and Sanders for base hit and RBI opportunities. Don't throw much into the meat of the plate. When you have men on base, be aggressive. I realize I'm not a manager, but it seems to me that moving Larkin into the leadoff spot - he's a much better chance to get on base than Walton or Howard or anyone else in the lineup - would open up opportunities to be aggressive and not waste outs. With Gant's reputation under pressure, Cincy will have to be aggressively seeking bases until he shows the old Gant is gone. And don't hesitate to imitate former Reds Manager Sparky Anderson and yank a guy quickly - because your middle relief is better than Atlanta's, and you cannot get too far behind the Braves' starters because it's difficult to come back.

Favorite: the Braves are a slight favorite to win the NLCS

Prediction:
The key for the Reds is to do no worse than a split at home. Beating Tom Glavine in Game One (13-1 lifetime even when his teams were lousy) is going to be very difficult, but the Reds drew the advantage of Maddux not pitching until Game Three. But if they lose both games at home, the series is pretty much all but over. Even a split at both venues would set up the Reds to have to beat Maddux in Game Seven. And while his post-season struggles are well-documented, they consist mostly of an inflated ERA due to his very first start in 1989 when Will Clark rocked Maddux for six RBIs in three innings. While this may be a good series, I honestly think everyone is over-reading the last series with recency bias when they pick the Reds. Sure, they battered LA's stellar pitching; it's still not Atlanta's.

Braves in six
 
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October 10, 1995
Atlanta Braves 2 (W: Wohlers, 1-0; SV: McMichael, 1)
Cincinnati Reds 1 (L: Jackson, 0-1)
11 innings
Braves lead series, 1-0

FIVE DOUBLE PLAYS, NEWCOMERS LEAD ATLANTA TO 2-1 WIN IN GAME 1


If the pitcher's best friend is the double play, the Atlanta Braves' pitching staff had enough friends to host a small party tonight at Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati. And not to be morbid, but if they'd had just one more friend, that's enough to serve as pall bearers, which may wind up being a fitting metaphor. The Braves turned five double plays, including one that ended the game and sealed the victory in a 2-1 triumph over the Reds to give Atlanta a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven series. The only thing missing was about 20,000 fans, the number of empty seats on a 69 degree and clear school night along the river.

Tom Glavine has absolutely owned the Reds during his career to the tune of a 13-1 record, and he scattered seven hits across seven innings while striking out five batters. But he also left the game trailing, 1-0, because Pete Schourek was even sharper, allowing just four hits and no runs through the game's first eight innings. It was only when he went back to complete the contest in the ninth that the fickle finger of fate turned on Schourek and the Reds, but the Braves had survived a number of early frights that might the victory all the more exciting.

Ron Gant, whose post-season woes have been well documented here, got the first base hit of the series when he singled in the first with two outs off his former mate, Glavine, but Gant was forced at second by Reggie Sanders, ending the inning. Benito Santiago led off the second with a single but was also forced at second by Hal Morris, who himself was retired on Atlanta's first double play of the evening off the bat of Bret Boone. The Braves got their first hit in the fourth when rookie Chipper Jones singled, but he was stranded as the Reds came to the plate in the bottom of the inning.

That's when Barry Larkin, Cincinnati's top candidate for the MVP award this year, led off the inning with a triple that he straddled the left field line and rolled all the way to the wall. Gant then showed his single was no fluke by driving in the game's first run, scoring Larkin with a single when he beat out Rafael Belliard's throw to give the Reds a 1-0 lead. Gant moved to second on a fielder's choice grounder by Sanders, and that's when Glavine briefly lost control, walking Santiago and hitting Morris with a pitch, loading the bases with one out. With the Reds poised to blow the game open, Glavine got Boone to ground into a 6-3 double play, ending the rally and keeping the margin at one. An inning later, Mark Lewis led off with a single and Jerome Walton bounced into a 4-6-3 double play after Glavine struck out Schourek. In the sixth, the Reds hit into their third double play in three innings after Larkin led off with a double, Gant returned to post-season choke form and struck out, Glavine walked Sanders, and Santiago bounced into a 5-4-3 double play. The game, however, was not one-sided in the field, either. The Reds made several fielding gems that prevented Atlanta from scoring, but the game moved to the ninth with the Reds only three outs away from winning the opener.

The Braves have become one of the great comeback teams in baseball over the last five years, and Reds Manager Davey Johnson pulled Gant for defensive purposes in the ninth, putting Darren Lewis in center and moving Walton to Gant's position in left. Chipper led off the inning with a single, and McGriff then singled the rookie to third, putting runners at the corners with nobody out, and David Justice at the plate. Justice hit a hard shot to Boone at second sure to score the tying run. Boone fielded it cleanly but a poor throw forced only McGriff for one out, leaving Justice perched at first. Luis Polonia, one of Atlanta's late-season acquisitions, came on to pinch-run for Justice and quickly moved to second on a wild pitch. Javy Lopez lined out to center for the second out, so the Reds walked the power-hitting Ryan Klesko intentionally and then Jeff Blauser unintentionally, bringing pinch-hitter Dwight Smith to the plate. With the chance to give Atlanta the lead and perhaps the win, Smith flied out to left. Needing the game, Bobby Cox brought in Mark Wohlers with the score tied for the bottom of the ninth. Atlanta's newfound closer retired the Reds in order, setting the stage for a familiar site for Braves fans, extra innings.

Since the Braves began their ascendancy in 1991, they have played 36 previous post-season games, of which ten have gone extras and also which the Braves are a next-level awful 2-8. Their 11th extra inning game - and third in the last four - saw both closers retire the side in order in the tenth. McGriff walked leading off the inning against the Reds' new pitcher, Mike Jackson, and Polonia bunted him over to second. After Jackson retired Lopez on an infield grounder, newcomer Mike Devereaux laced a single into centerfield that scored McGriff and gave Atlanta their first lead of the game. Blauser popped out to end the inning, but with Wohlers having already worked two innings, Braves skipper Bobby Cox opted for Brad Clontz to close the game. He immediately found trouble as Thomas Howard, pinch-hitting for Walton, doubled to lead off the inning, the sixth time in 11 innings the Reds leadoff batter reached base (fourth where the leadoff hitter got into scoring position). The dangerous Larkin batted with a chance to win the game, and he moved Howard to third with an infield out. Steve Avery came on in relief and walked pinch-hitter Mariano Duncan, leaving runners at the corners with one out. As the tension built, on came Greg McMichael, who induced Sanders to bounce a 1-0 pitch to Belliard, who fielded it, stomped on second, and threw to McGriff for Atlanta's fifth double play to end the game as a 2-1 Braves win. Both teams played well, and in the end the Braves were one swing of the bat better than the Reds. Atlanta has clinched at least a split with tomorrow's game projected as a rematch of Game Seven of the 1991 NLCS, the battle of the Johns, Smoltz (Atlanta) versus Smiley (Cincinnati).

Braves highlights are at the start of the video in the next posting.
 
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October 10, 1995
Seattle Mariners 3 (W: Wolcott, 1-0; SV: Charlton, 1)
Cleveland Indians 2 (L: Martinez, 0-1)
Mariners lead series, 1-0

M'S REFUSE TO LOSE EVEN WITH ROOKIE IN 3-2 TRIUMPH OVER TRIBE


When the Seattle Mariners wore themselves out first by chasing and catching the California Angels and then by recovering and beating the New York Yankees, they put themselves in serious trouble regarding any hopes to win the ALCS, particularly against the powerful Cleveland lineup. With their pitchers absolutely worn out, the Mariners had to send someone to the hill, and that someone turned out to be rookie Bob Wolcott, who has all of six major league starts and is 22 years old. Wolcott had a mandate to go out there and keep the game close through three or four innings and then turn it over to the bullpen if it was close. As it turned out, Wolcott delivered far above what the Mariners ever dreamed.

The nightmare began early, though, as Wolcott took the mound and promptly loaded the bases with Indians, bringing up home run champion Albert Belle with a chance to put the game away before Seattle took their first swings. Wolcott struck Belle out, got future Hall of Famer Eddie Murray to pop to third ,and retired the side without damage when he got Jim Thome to ground out to first, setting off cheers and probably more belief than their success has already given them among the crowd. Then with two outs in the bottom of the second, Wolcott got some help when Jay Buhner walked and Mike Blowers golfed a two-run bomb into the seats to give the Mariners a 2-0 lead against Dennis Martinez. But Wolcott found more danger in the third but navigated it with minimal damage.

Carlos Baerga singled, and Belle walked. Murray lined out to third, but Thome's single scored Baerga to cut the lead to 2-1 and when Manny Ramirez singled to center, the bases were loaded again with only one out. But Woolcot induced Paul Sorrento to bounce into a rally killing double play, and the Mariners kept their lead despite all the Cleveland baserunners, 2-1. It wasn't until the seventh when Woolcot finally had to pay as Belle drilled a solo home run to center field tying the game at 2. Facing the prospect of Jose Mesa, Seattle had six outs with which to take the lead; they only used one. Buhner doubled with one out, and Blowers attempted to bunt him over, but a Thome error put Blowers on first while Buhner remained on second. Luis Sojo then doubled to center, scoring Buhner and giving Seattle a 3-2 lead. Julian Tavarez came in and got the next two Mariners out, and Lou Piniella sent out Jeff Nelson for the eighth. He retired the first two batters before giving up a single to Sandy Alomar Jr, which forced Piniella to make his next move one out early: he brought in former Nasty Boy Norm Charlton, who gave up a single to left by Kenny Lofton but got Omar Vizquel to pop out to end the inning. The Mariners loaded the bases with one out in the eighth but failed to score, setting the stage for the game's end. Charlton made it look easy, striking out Baerga and Bell and getting Murray to ground out to clinch a 3-2 Seattle win that nobody - including Wolcott - could have imagined.

All year long, the Indians have been a dominant team on their way to a 100-win season, but the Tribe are now in the most must-win of games: a fully rested Randy Johnson will take the mound in game three at Jacobs Field, and you do not want to be facing him this year in a 2-0 hole. The Indians send Orel Hershier tomorrow against his former 1988 Dodgers teammate, Tim Belcher. For the first time all year, the Indianas are in a must-win game; Seattle has been in that mode for ten days now. It remains to be seen if the roles will change.



 
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October 11, 1995
Atlanta Braves 6 (W: McMichael, 1-0)
Cincinnati Reds 2 (L: Portugal, 0-1)
10 innings
Braves lead series, 2-0

LOPEZ BOMB LIFTS BRAVES TO TAKE 2-0 SERIES LEAD AS TEAMS HEAD SOUTH;
REDS STEAL HOME, 1ST EVER IN LCS


After the upper deck in fair territory in Riverfront Stadium was completely empty last night for Game One of the NLCS between the Braves and Reds, "The Cincinnati Post" ran a story with the headline "No-Show Fans Disgrace Our City." Perhaps it was the motivation from the media that lifted the attendance by about 4,000 more than last night, but it might have been another reality: the Cincinnati Reds have very likely played their last home baseball game of the 1995 season. While we should never get ahead of the story, let's face it: would you like your team's chances if you were down 2-0 in a best-of-seven series and about to face the best pitcher of the last 75 years on his home mound with five day's rest while your own team has stopped hitting?

John Smoltz took the hill against John Smiley tonight, a rematch of the final game of the 1991 NLCS, were Smiley failed to get through the first inning. And let's be crystal clear: the Reds starters are not doing too badly, they're just not quite getting the breaks they need. Smiley left after the fifth trailing, 2-0, but the Reds rallied so that Smoltz likewise did not get the decision, and it became a battle of the bullpens just like last night. Just like last night - and for the fourth time in the last five games - Atlanta went to extra innings. Just like last night Atlanta won, but this time they put an exclamation point on it that the Reds managers and coaches wore on the faces with the thousand yard stare.

Smiley was trailing when he came to bat because Marquis Grissom led the game off with a single, moved to second on a fielder's choice grounder and scored when Chipper Jones singled and Reggie Sanders, who is having a forgettable post-season, made an error. But Smiley knuckled down and kept the game close, and Smoltz, who tends to be a far superior pitcher in the post-season to his regular season record, settled into a rhythm. He gave up two hits in the first but pitched around them, and the Reds didn't get another hit until the fifth. By that time, Fred McGriff and Mike Devereaux had both doubled, scoring McGriff and increasing Atlanta's lead to 2-0.

But in the fifth, Benito Santiago executed a perfect bunt to third and beat out Chipper's throw. So the Reds tried it again with Bret Boone, whose bunt Smoltz bungled on the throw, putting runners at the corners with nobody out. Jeff Branson then ripped a shot that McGriff fired home ahead of Santiago, preserving the 2-0 lead. With runs at a premium, Cincinnati Manager Davey Johnson pulled Smiley and sent up pinch-hitter Lenny Harris, who singled Boone home, putting runners at the corners with one out. That's when the Reds' aggressiveness paid off. Harris took off on a steal of second, and Lopez opted to try to throw him out. Big mistake as Branson bolted for home, and when Belliard couldn't get the throw off, the Reds had a double steal, including home, and tied the game at two. Smoltz walked Harris, putting two on for Larkin, but the superstar grounded out to end the inning. Neither team could score over the next four innings, but the Reds did get the winning run just 90 feet away from home with two outs in the ninth, pinch-hitter Mariano Duncan grounding out to end regulation.

Realizing the game might go on for several innings, Johnson opted to go with Mark Portugal, who was largely a disaster upon his arrival in the Deion Sanders trade. This was Atlanta's fourth extra inning game in the last five, so the Braves appeared calm as even a loss left the series tied at a game. Mark Lemke singled to lead off the inning and moved to second on a ground out by Chipper. The Reds walked McGriff intentionally, bringing David Justice to the plate. He singled hard to right, but Lemke could not take home. With the bases loaded, Ryan Klesko had a chance to be hero. Instead, Portugal became the goat. He uncorked a wild pitch, sending Lemke home with the go-ahead run. But Portugal battled back to retire Klesko on a fly to second. With two on and two out, Lopez came to the plate and drilled Portugal's first pitch down the left field line off of the foul screen for a three-run homer that gave Atlanta a 6-2 lead and sent Cincinnati fans scurrying to the exits. Wohlers came on and gave up a single, but he then got his three outs, and the Braves headed home ahead, 2-0.

With Greg Maddux in the offing, and the Reds unable to score runs, this one has a feeling of inevitability to it now.


1EA3AC1E-6303-4C04-8682-E83ECCCE3014.jpeg
Javy Lopez watches his game-clinching home run leave the yard in the bottom of the 10th inning against the Reds. The win gives the Braves a 2-0 series lead.
 
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October 11, 1995
Cleveland Indians 5 (W: Hershiser, 1-0; SV: Mesa, 1)
Seattle Mariners 2 (L: Belcher, 0-1)
Series tied 1-1

CLEVELAND WINS A MUST WIN AS SERIES SHIFTS EAST TIED AT 1


It sure felt a lot like 1988 out there tonight.

There was Orel Hershier, who in 1988 had one of those seasons most pitchers can only dream about, going eight innings while striking out seven and making just one bad pitch that Ken Griffey Jr. drilled into the bleachers for a solo home run. There was Tim Belcher, who was the number three starter behind Hershiser on those world champions, facing his former teammate. There was even Lou Piniella, who took over the Yankees in 1988 and fell just short at the end and got his first look at a rookie outfielder named Jay Buhner, who now plays for Seattle. There was even Kenny Lofton, who played for Arizona's 1988 NCAA Final Four basketball team. It felt a lot like 1988.

For four innings, the pitchers matched up evenly, and while Hershiser would have won if we were scoring points like in boxing, Belcher kept the Indians at bay until he had to face Lofton the third time. The centerfielder went to bat with a runner on first and two outs and singled to center. When Omar Vizquel walked, Carlos Baerga laced a single to center, scoring lead runner Paul Sorrento and Lofton to give the Indians a 2-0 lead. Belcher got out of the inning, but a three batter sequence in the sixth netted the Indians two more runs and Belcher a shower. Manny Ramirez homered with two outs, extending the lead to 3-0. Then Sorrento singled and Sandy Alomar Jr tripled to left, scoring Sorrento and giving the Tribe a 4-0 lead, which with the way Hershiser was pitching was going to seal the game. Griffey did homer leading off the bottom of the sixth to give Seattle one last hope, but Ramirez slammed his second homer to make up the gap, and Seattle had to face Jose Mesa, the 46 save closer, and despite Buhner's solo home run, the Mariners were never a threat as the game ended in Cleveland's favor, 5-2. The series now moves to Cleveland for the first ALCS game in franchise history. Charles Nagy gets the honor of facing a rested Randy Johnson in a series that is close to even so far.
 
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October 13, 1995
Atlanta Braves 5 (W: Maddux, 1-0)
Cincinnati Reds 2 (L: Wells, 0-1)
Braves lead series, 3-0


HOMERS BY O'BRIEN, CHIPPER TAKES BRAVES TO DOOR OF ANOTHER SERIES;
COX GOES WITH AVERY FOR GAME 4

Yogi Berra
is credited with saying "it's not over until it's over," but you can take this one to the bank: the Braves may need to actually win one more game to close out this series, but this series is as good as over. It may as well be over. Sure, there's the formality of another game, maybe two, but this series is as good as over. That's not to slight the Reds, a very good team, only to point out the Braves are that much better of a team - maybe better than anyone else this year.

To pull off a comeback for the ages, the Reds must:
a) win four games in a row
b) against a team that has beaten them 7 times in a row, the last 5 in Cincinnati
c) by winning two games on the road in Atlanta and
d) winning two more at home that will require
e) them to beat Greg Maddux in game 7 while
f) scoring more than the 2 runs per game they're averaging and
g) getting Reggie Sanders off the schneid after 10 strikeouts in the first three games
h) on a team with a lame duck manager running things while his designated successor coaches third
i) and if all that wasn't enough, Atlanta's pitchers will be on regular rest thanks to the 3-0 lead

That is simply not going to happen against the Atlanta Braves. When you're giving up home runs that put the game out of reach to the likes of Charlie O'Brien, you're simply not going to make that level of comeback. That's no slight of O'Brien, but even he will tell you that while his dream came true tonight, he's not in the pantheon of Braves sluggers like Fred McGriff or David Justice...or Chipper Jones, although he was in Game Three.

Maddux squared off against David Wells, the third lefty in as many nights for Atlanta's heavily left-handed batting lineup, and while it appeared a pitcher's duel if you were merely looking at the inning scores, Wells got into immediate trouble by giving up three hits in the bottom of the first but no runs thanks to a double play sandwiched around the hits. In the second, O'Brien singled with one out as did Rafael Belliard. In this obvious bunt situation, Cincinnati played it perfectly. Well, almost. Jeff Branson fielded the bunt and cleanly got Belliard at second, but the usually reliable Barry Larkin threw wildly at first, and only a heads up play by Brett Boone to allow Maddux to take first and catch the ball prevented the Braves from taking the lead then. Marquis Grissom popped up to end the inning, and game remained scoreless.

The post-season woes of both Ron Gant and particularly (this year) Reggie Sanders came to the fore an inning later. Gant got hits in his first two at-bats (including the first hit of the series for either team), but he's 0-for-the-Series since then. He batted in the third with two outs only because Wells, a career American League pitcher until August, singled off Maddux. To be fair, Gant was hit by the pitch, loading the bases for Sanders, who promptly struck out as he's been doing all post-season, even after batting practice with Hal McRae. Then with two outs in the fourth, the Reds had a chance to flip perspectives on the series. Boone hit a sinking liner for a single that Grissom misplayed, and the ball went all the way to the wall. Boone raced well around third but was - probably wisely - stopped by third base coach Ray Knight. Branson grounded to Maddux, and the inning was over. In the fifth, the Reds decided to get aggressive after Larkin singled with two outs and tried to steal second. As shocking as this sounds, O'Brien was having the game of his life and gunned down the shortstop to end the inning and another Reds threat. It was all the more maddening for Cincinnati because Wells had retired seven Atlanta hitters in a row. But after Maddux navigated Gant and Sanders yet again in the sixth, the Braves took control of the game.

McGriff led off with a double, and after Justice flied to right, Mike Devereaux drew a walk, bringing up O'Brien with one out. The burly catcher golfed a 2-2 inside fastball over the left field wall for a three-run home run, which with Maddux pitching was like saying the game was over. Wells look shell-shocked but to his credit, he retired Belliard and Maddux to prevent any further damage. Amazingly enough, the Reds got yet another opportunity in the seventh - but unsurprisingly as this series has shown, they wasted it.

After Maddux struck out Benito Santiago, he also struck out Boone, but a wild pitch on strike three gave the Reds the dreaded extra out. Maddux got Branson to pop out to center, but pinch-hitter Lenny Harris used the extra out to single Branson to third. If Thomas Howard could have reached base any way, whether by RBI or walk, Larkin would have come to the plate as the go-ahead run. Naturally, he bounced out to end the inning, and the Reds were done for the night. Well, not exactly.

In the bottom of the seventh, Mark Lemke singled with one out and Chipper Jones slammed a two-run shot that extended the Braves lead to 5-0. Now, it was over, although the Reds would add cosmetic runs in the eighth and ninth. The Reds put together a mini-rally that actually saw both Gant and Sanders single in a series of three (Hal Morris was the third) that scored Gant with Cincinnati's first run, but Maddux got the next two outs to end the inning. Mark Wohlers game on in a non-save situation and gave up a leadoff double to Branson, who scored when the next two players bounced out to infielders, but Larkin ended the game with a pop out to Belliard, and the Reds were in a 3-0 hole as they prepare to face possible elimination on Saturday night.

The Reds have the look of the inevitable, and it can hardly be said they got a reprieve when Atlanta Manager Bobby Cox announced that Steve Avery will be the pitcher for Game Four. Avery, who has had trouble the last two years, holds the NLCS record of 22.1 consecutive scoreless innings set against the Pirates in 1991-92. Though his record was poor this season, Avery pitched well in his last three starts even though the Braves lost two of those games (Avery did not) because of shoddy run support. If the Reds are fortunate enough to ride Pete Schourek to victory tomorrow night, they face a well-rested Tom Glavine on Sunday. The odds, quite simply, are not in their favor.

 
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October 13, 1995
Seattle Mariners 5
Cleveland Indians 2
11 innings
Mariners lead series, 2-1

JOHNSON, BUHNER LEAD M'S TO EXTRA INNING SHOCKER OVER TRIBE


There are two things (at least) that have been an ongoing story this baseball season:
1) the Seattle Mariners coming back from the dead time and again
2) the Cleveland Indians' unbeaten record in extra innings

The latter finally fell tonight thanks largely to the bat of Jay Buhner, who went 2-for-5 with both hits home runs and drove in 4 of Seattle's five runs, including a game-winning three-run bomb off of Eric Plunk with two outs in the 11th that thrusts the Mariners into a 2-1 series lead over the Indians and assures that even if Seattle loses the next two games, the series will return to the Kingdom as the Mariners "refuse to lose."

Randy Johnson finally got a start in the LCS, but he was clearly tired after every game meaning so much lately. Johnson struck out six and walked only two in eight innings, but a lack of run support and the reliability of Norm Charlton took Johnson out of the game with the scored tied at two in the ninth. Seattle took the early lead in the second when Buhner led off the inning with a home run off of Charles Nagy and added a run in the third when Ken Griffey Jr singled with two outs, stole second, and wound up scoring on a wild throw to first by Alvaro Espinoza that gave Seattle a 2-0 lead. After retiring the first nine batters without one reaching base, Johnson gave up a triple to Kenny Lofton leading off the fourth. Lofton then scored on an Omar Vizquel sacrifice fly, cutting the lead in half, but Johnson took a 2-1 lead into the eighth having surrendered only three hits when his defense betrayed him.

After Sandy Alomar Jr popped out to Buhner in right, Espinoza lifted a deep fly to the warning track in right field that Buhner misjudged and bounced off the wall, putting Espinoza at second with one out. The much faster Wayne Kirby came on to run, and he scored the tying run when Lofton laced a single to left. With Seattle reeling and Johnson not having a good pickoff move, Lofton stole second but was stranded as the "Big Unit" retired both Vizquel and Carlos Baerga, but his stellar effort was for naught with a tie contest.

Charlton then found trouble in the ninth when he hit Albert Belle leading off the inning. Belle was retired on a fielder's choice grounder by Eddie Murray, but Murray moved into scoring position with only one out when Manny Ramirez walked. With the game on the line, Indians Manager Mike Hargrove pulled the 39-year old Murray in favor of the younger and quicker Ruben Amaro in hopes of winning it. But Charlton knuckled down, striking out Herbert Perry and inducing Alomar to ground out to send the game into extras. Neither team made a legitimate threat in the tenth, but in the 11th, Hargrove opted for Paul Assenmacher as his third reliever after Jose Mesa and then Julian Tavarez each worked one inning and then Tavarez gave up a leadoff single to Joey Cora. Assenmacher faced the dangerous Griffey and then Plunk came on to retire Edgar Martinez. With two outs, Cora stole second, so Cleveland decided to walk Tino Martinez and take their chances with Buhner. It was the biggest mistake of the game as the youngster crushed an 0-1 delivery into the center field seats for a three-run bomb to give Seattle a 5-2 lead. Charlton retired the Indians in order for the win, and the Mariners took a somewhat surprising 2-1 lead in the series. The two teams play against tomorrow night as Ken Hill takes the mound for Cleveland and Andy Benes for the Mariners.
 
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October 14, 1995
Atlanta Braves 6 (W: Avery, 1-0)
Cincinnati Reds 0 (L: Schourek, 0-1)
Braves lead series, 4-0

AVERY CAPS BRAVES SWEEP OF REDS, DEVEREAUX WINS MVP


This time the Atlanta Braves think they've got it all figured out. This time they intend to succeed at the one step where they have failed in the recent past, and they are doing everything in their power to ensure the goal is attained. No down-to-the-wire pennant races like 1991 and 1993. No down-to-the-wire Game Seven like 1992. No immediate departure from one road city to another to start a World Series like in 1991. And most importantly, no colossal playoff choke like 1993.

The Braves took an important step forward in their franchise history tonight by channeling both the recent past as well as the transitional nature of today and combining those talents into a 6-0 blowout of the Cincinnati Reds, completing a four-game sweep of the team with the second-best record in the National League and giving themselves six days off before they have to play another game, allowing them to set their rotation as they wish. And who knows, maybe the Mariners-Indians series goes seven games with a bunch of extra innings contests that drains the energy of the upcoming opponent. Best of all, Atlanta won the game with a much maligned starter who channeled his recent glorious past and a platoon outfielder who wound up winning the MVP even though he wasn't schedued to start the game until minutes before it began.

The 3-0 series lead enabled Atlanta Manager Bobby Cox to work through scenarios to determine which would help his team best. And though he could have won with lefty ace Tom Glavine on three days' rest, Cox opted to give the opportunity of a lifetime to 1991 NLCS MVP Steve Avery, a pitcher nearly Glavine's equal on his best day but who has had bad luck, injury, and shoddy run support prevent him from turning into the "next Sandy Koufax," which was the hyperbole after he shut down the Pirates in 1991. Avery made the most of it, too, giving up only two hits in six innings of work while striking out six before he was lifted for a pinch-hitter while holding a 1-0 lead. With a huge series lead in his pocket and a chance to put the series away, Cox trusted his bullpen to finish the game, and Avery benefited when the Braves erupted for a five-run seventh to put the game away.

Reds starter Pete Schourek pitched phenomenally well in Game One and came back on three days' rest, and he didn't exactly pitch poorly in Game Four. Atlanta's sole run off Schourek happened in the third when Rafael Belliard singled, moved to second on an infield out, and scored when another 1991 Atlanta post-season hero, Mark Lemke, broke out of a 6-for-34 slump with an RBI single. After Greg McMichael retired the Reds in the top of the seventh, Reds Manager Davey Johnson opted for Mike Jackson, and the result was a "Thriller" - if you were a Braves fan. Marquis Grissom greeted Jackson with a triple, and after Lemke popped out, Jackson walked rookie Chipper Jones. When Jackson entered the game, it was as part of a double switch with new catcher Eddie Taubensee. This proved to be detrimental to the Reds as a high delivery from Jackson bounced off Taubensee's glove for a passed ball that allowed Grissom to score from third while Jones went to second, and the Braves had a 2-0 lead. The Reds then intentionally walked Fred McGriff to take their chances with Mike Devereaux, which made sense: Devereaux is a recently acquired platoon outfielder whose primary role is to take over for defensive purposes in the late innings, usually in place of Ryan Klesko. He drove in the winning run with a pinch-hit single in the 11th in Game One. He started Games Two and Three in part because he's a right-handed batter that breaks up the all lefty trio of McGriff, David Justice, and Klesko while the Reds kept throwing southpaw starters. In Game Two, Devereaux doubled a run home to give Atlanta a 2-0 lead. In Game Three, he went 1-for-3 and scored when he walked ahead of Charlie O'Brien's three-run clinching bomb. He was not supposed to start Game Four, but Justice reinjured a knee in battin practice, and with no reason to risk further injury, Cox put Devereaux into the lineup, and to complicate Cincinnati's strategy, he put Devereaux, the righty, behind McGriff while moving Klesko down to seventh in the batting order. Furthermore, Devereaux had only hit one home run in his six weeks since coming over from the White Sox. Plus, Devereaux had grounded into double plays, including one in the second inning of Game Four, that squelched Braves rallies. With the season riding on the inning, the Reds lucked into Devereaux. It took only one pitch to learn that it was bad luck.

Jackson delivered a fastball on the outside of the plate for the first pitch, and Devereaux turned on it, driving the ball over the wall and into the seats several feet behind the fence in left centerfield for a three-run bomb that gave Atlanta a 5-0 lead, and the Braves fans six more outs to celebrate hysterically, which they did. After Javy Lopez doubled off Jackson, the Reds intentionally walked Klesko and sent Dave Burba to the mound to put out the fire. Burba got Belliard to ground out in the infield but move both runners ahead a base, effectively serving as a bunt, so with the opportunity for more runs and McMIchael getting pulled anyway, Luis Polonia pinch-hit and scored Lopez with a two-out infield single that made the score 6-0, which is how it ended. Alejandro Pena, the closer from 1991 who came back six weeks ago and who was on the mound in Game Seven of the World Series, pitched a scoreless eighth and the 1995 closer, Mark Wohlers, came on again in a non-save situation and clinched the pennant.

The domination of the Reds by the Braves was complete and thorough. Atlanta outscored Cincinnati, 19-5, outhit them 42-28, and scored six of their 19 runs in the 9th inning or later (and remember - the Braves didn't bat in the ninth inning in either game in Atlanta). The Reds scored only 3 runs against the Atlanta starters in 28 innings and stole only 4 bases in the series to Atlanta's two. As a team the Reds hit .209 and even that number was inflated by two runs and four hits against the Atlanta bullpen in the final two innings of Game Three. Reggie Sanders struck out ten times, Ron Gant three, and Benito Santiago three; Atlanta's entire team only struck out 22 times. The Braves also outhomered the Reds, 4-0, and two of those came from backups, O'Brien and Devereaux.

From here, the Braves go home to Atlanta and await an opponent, knowing that whomever they play will open the series in Atlanta. Davey Johnson leaves the Reds after a lame duck season and figures to emerge as a manager elsewhere. But the Reds also figure to lose a number of players, too. Santiago and Gant are both free agents while the Reds will likely try to dump Wells for whatever they can get before he's a free agent after next season. The future looks bright for the Braves and murky for the Reds, which is a perfect summary of this short series.

 
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October 14, 1995
Cleveland Indians 7 (W: Hill, 1-0)
Seattle Mariners 0 (L: Benes, 0-1)
Series tied, 2-2

SHORT-HANDED TRIBE ROUT M'S, 7-0, TO TIE SERIES


How one-sided was it? Poland did better against Germany in 1939 than Seattle did against Cleveland tonight. Poland at least held out for a month; the Mariners couldn't hold out for three batters.

Playing without long ball thumper Albert Belle, who was nursing a sore ankle, or Sandy Alomar Jr, who has a stiff neck, Cleveland tore out of the gate with three first-inning runs against late season Seattle acquisition Andy Benes before adding three runs in the next two innings to take a 6-0 lead en route to a 7-0 shutout win over the Mariners that ties the ALCS at two wins apiece and turns it into a best-of-three series with two games potentially in Seattle. Benes's post-season stat line is among the most forgettable you will ever read: three starts, 0-1, 8.36 ERA. This is a guy the Mariners picked up to bolster their starting rotation of Randy Johnson, Tim Belcher, and names out of a phone book. And he didn't help, though to be fair, Cleveland had a lot to do with that even if they'd never seen him pitch.

After Ken Hill retired Seattle in order in the first, the Tribe struck quickly. Kenny Lofton singled, stole second and went to third on a throwing error by catcher Dan Wilson, and scored when Carlos Baerga grounded out. Omar Vizquel, whose walk followed Lofton's single, made it to second on the ground out and then came home when Eddie Murray golfed a Benes delivery into the seats for a quick 3-0 Indians lead. Tony Pena then singled and raced all the way around to third when Wayne Kirby grounded out, scoring on Lofton's sacrifice fly to center. Then in the third, Baerga singled and Jim Thome homered to extend the lead to 6-0, and the game was as good as over.

Hill went seven innings and allowed just five hits while walking three before giving way to Jim Poole, who retired Seattle's Big Three (Griffey and the Martinez "Brothers") in order in the eighth. The win ties the series at two and sets up a crucial game five for the teams where former Cy Young winner Orel Hershiser goes against Chris Bosio. As critical as the game is, the weight of the pressure is more on Cleveland, who doesn't want to go to Seattle needing to win both games to take the series.
 
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selmaborntidefan

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October 15, 1995
Cleveland Indians 3 (W: Hershiser, 2-0; SV: Mesa, 1)
Seattle Mariners 2 (L: Bosio, 0-1)
Indians lead series, 3-2

3-2 TRIBE WIN RETURNS SERIES TO SEATTLE WITH CLEVELAND UP, 3-2 (IN GAMES)


The Indians, in contrast with, say, the Atlanta Braves, do not have much post-season experience, but they still have an accomplished player or two they can run out there who has felt the heat of the pressure of championship baseball. There's Tony Pena, who played in the 1987 World Series with the Cardinals as well as future Hall of Famer Eddie Murray, who slammed three home runs in two different World Series' with the Baltimore Orioles, the latter of which they won. And, of course, there's Orel Hershiser, who ranks among the greatest post-season pitchers of all-time and the likely starter for Game One of a World Series should Cleveland make it.

Hershiser channeled past glories tonight at Jacobs Field as he allowed five hits over six innings while striking out eight Mariners before handing off a 3-2 lead to the Cleveland bullpen that didn't allow a hit over the final three innings as the Tribe triumphed by that 3-2 score that now gives them a 3-2 lead in games heading back to the Pacific Northwest. The win lifts Hershiser's career post-season record to 7-0 with a 1.47 ERA in ten post-season starts. Hershiser also has a save from the 12th inning of Game Four of the 1988 NLCS as well as MVP honors for both the LCS and the World Series. Hershiser's numbers place him alongside Bob Gibson as perhaps the most accomplished post-season pitcher in history, and he also broke former Yankee Lefty Gomez's record of most consecutive post-season decisions without a loss. Hershiser, for his part, would have none of that. "I don't throw anywhere near the way Bob Gibson threw the ball, and I heard 'Lefty' had an outstanding breaking ball. But just to be mentioned with those two is very nice." The win did not come without struggle, however, as Hershiser was spotted a 1-0 lead and was trailing, 2-1, when Cleveland rallied for two runs just before Mike Hargrove pulled him from the mound.

Temperatures in the low 50s with 33 mph wind gusts off of Lake Erie that pushed the wind chill factor into the 20s made for additional environmental factors, which a number of reporters noted that Seattle had never seen before because they play indoors. Seattle outfielder Jay Buhner, however, dismissed such musings, saying that while crosswinds was unique, and it was cold in the batter's box, "Nobody can be used to playing in this kind of stuff." He could have been less charitable and asked, "When was the last time Cleveland played in October?" But it's also likely based on a couple of fielding fluffs that played a role in the final score that the wind did wreak a bit of havoc on the players.

Cleveland got on the board in the bottom of the first when Tino Martinez made - or more precisely did not make - a play that looked eerily similar to Bill Buckner's famous faux pas (see 8:07 in the video below) that put Omar Vizquel on first. He moved to second on a Carlos Baerga single, stole third as Albert Belle struck out, and scored on a single by Eddie Murray to give the Tribe a 1-0 lead on an unearned run. The Mariners responded with a two-out rally in the third when Joey Cora walked and, almost in a case of deja vu, stole a base (second in this case) as Edgar Martinez struck out. Ken Griffey Jr then hit a pool shot down the left field line for a double that scored Cora and tied the game at one. Then in the fifth, the wind blew Seattle into the lead and, once again, Cora and Griffey were involved.

Cora singled with one out, and with two outs was in motion with contact when Griffey lifted what appeared to be a routine fly ball to left. But the wind apparently crossed up Belle, who misplayed the ball into a two-base error that scored Cora when he beat the throw home and thrust the Mariners into the lead. In the bottom of the fifth, Cleveland got runners at second and third with two outs but failed to score, but they finally cashed in on starter Chris Bosio in the sixth. And it took only two batters to remind everyone of how lethal this year's Cleveland attack is.

With one out, Eddie Murray doubled and then Jim Thome unloaded a two-run bomb deep into the bleachers that gave Cleveland a 3-2 lead. Wayne Kirby came in for defensive purposes as Belle was pulled, and the Indian bullpen did the rest. Jose Mesa came on and set Seattle down in order in the ninth to give the Indians a 3-2 lead AND a 3-2 win as the teams head back across the country. With the next contest do-or-die for Seattle, Manager Lou Piniella announced that Randy Johnson will start Game Six, and they'll worry about Game Seven if they actually make it.

With the year each team has had, anything is possible.

And isn't that what baseball is all about?









1995 MLB Playoff Highlights October 13-17 - YouTube
 
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October 15, 1995
Cleveland Indians 3 (W: Hershiser, 2-0; SV: Mesa, 1)
Seattle Mariners 2 (L: Bosio, 0-1)
Indians lead series, 3-2

3-2 TRIBE WIN RETURNS SERIES TO SEATTLE WITH CLEVELAND UP, 3-2 (IN GAMES)


The Indians, in contrast with, say, the Atlanta Braves, do not have much post-season experience, but they still have an accomplished player or two they can run out there who has felt the heat of the pressure of championship baseball. There's Tony Pena, who played in the 1987 World Series with the Cardinals as well as future Hall of Famer Eddie Murray, who slammed three home runs in two different World Series' with the Baltimore Orioles, the latter of which they won. And, of course, there's Orel Hershiser, who ranks among the greatest post-season pitchers of all-time and the likely starter for Game One of a World Series should Cleveland make it.

Hershiser channeled past glories tonight at Jacobs Field as he allowed five hits over six innings while striking out eight Mariners before handing off a 3-2 lead to the Cleveland bullpen that didn't allow a hit over the final three innings as the Tribe triumphed by that 3-2 score that now gives them a 3-2 lead in games heading back to the Pacific Northwest. The win lifts Hershiser's career post-season record to 7-0 with a 1.47 ERA in ten post-season starts. Hershiser also has a save from the 12th inning of Game Four of the 1988 NLCS as well as MVP honors for both the LCS and the World Series. Hershiser's numbers place him alongside Bob Gibson as perhaps the most accomplished post-season pitcher in history, and he also broke former Yankee Lefty Gomez's record of most consecutive post-season decisions without a loss. Hershiser, for his part, would have none of that. "I don't throw anywhere near the way Bob Gibson threw the ball, and I heard 'Lefty' had an outstanding breaking ball. But just to be mentioned with those two is very nice." The win did not come without struggle, however, as Hershiser was spotted a 1-0 lead and was trailing, 2-1, when Cleveland rallied for two runs just before Mike Hargrove pulled him from the mound.

Temperatures in the low 50s with 33 mph wind gusts off of Lake Erie that pushed the wind chill factor into the 20s made for additional environmental factors, which a number of reporters noted that Seattle had never seen before because they play indoors. Seattle outfielder Jay Buhner, however, dismissed such musings, saying that while crosswinds was unique, and it was cold in the batter's box, "Nobody can be used to playing in this kind of stuff." He could have been less charitable and asked, "When was the last time Cleveland played in October?" But it's also likely based on a couple of fielding fluffs that played a role in the final score that the wind did wreak a bit of havoc on the players.

Cleveland got on the board in the bottom of the first when Tino Martinez made - or more precisely did not make - a play that looked eerily similar to Bill Buckner's famous faux pas (see 8:07 in the video below) that put Omar Vizquel on first. He moved to second on a Carlos Baerga single, stole third as Albert Belle struck out, and scored on a single by Eddie Murray to give the Tribe a 1-0 lead on an unearned run. The Mariners responded with a two-out rally in the third when Joey Cora walked and, almost in a case of deja vu, stole a base (second in this case) as Edgar Martinez struck out. Ken Griffey Jr then hit a pool shot down the left field line for a double that scored Cora and tied the game at one. Then in the fifth, the wind blew Seattle into the lead and, once again, Cora and Griffey were involved.

Cora singled with one out, and with two outs was in motion with contact when Griffey lifted what appeared to be a routine fly ball to left. But the wind apparently crossed up Belle, who misplayed the ball into a two-base error that scored Cora when he beat the throw home and thrust the Mariners into the lead. In the bottom of the fifth, Cleveland got runners at second and third with two outs but failed to score, but they finally cashed in on starter Chris Bosio in the sixth. And it took only two batters to remind everyone of how lethal this year's Cleveland attack is.

With one out, Eddie Murray doubled and then Jim Thome unloaded a two-run bomb deep into the bleachers that gave Cleveland a 3-2 lead. Wayne Kirby came in for defensive purposes as Belle was pulled, and the Indian bullpen did the rest. Jose Mesa came on and set Seattle down in order in the ninth to give the Indians a 3-2 lead AND a 3-2 win as the teams head back across the country. With the next contest do-or-die for Seattle, Manager Lou Piniella announced that Randy Johnson will start Game Six, and they'll worry about Game Seven if they actually make it.

With the year each team has had, anything is possible.

And isn't that what baseball is all about?









1995 MLB Playoff Highlights October 13-17 - YouTube
Cleveland really was great in 1995.
 

selmaborntidefan

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Cleveland really was great in 1995.
Cincinnati, too.

Nobody remembers it because they got swept by the Braves, but they were a good team.

Cleveland was also damn good in 1996 and 1997 and should have won the 97 WS.
I'm not convinced the Yankees in 96 would have beaten Cleveland had they not lucked into Baltimore.

Just like the 2000 Mets, who made the Subway Series, were lucky STL knocked Atlanta out. And Atlanta wasn't that good in 2000.
 
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October 17, 1995
Cleveland Indians 4 (W: Martinez, 1-1)
Seattle Mariners 0 (L: Johnson, 0-1)
Indians win series, 4-2

SHUTOUT WIN LIFTS INDIANS TO FIRST WORLD SERIES IN 41 YEARS


Years from now when the memories of the details of the 1995 ALCS have faded from view, one indelible image will remain as a symbol of exhilarating victory for the Cleveland Indians and the crushing moment of defeat for the Seattle Mariners, the sight of speedster Kenny Lofton's daring dash home on Dan Wilson's passed ball while Mariner ace Randy Johnson stood feet from home plate looking almost completely oblivious to the world going on around him. Lofton slid home safe ahead of Wilson's desperate heave to nail him, and Johnson's shoulder visibly slumped as if to acknowledge that the game was over in all but the most literal sense. The next batter, Carlos Baerga, homered, and the 4-0 deficit with only six outs to go meant victory was inevitable. And just to make it exciting, closer Jose Mesa came on having to face the heart of the Mariner lineup and set down Ken Griffey Jr, Edgar Martinez, and Jay Buhner, mixing in only a walk to Tino Martinez with two outs in the ninth to clinch Cleveland's first berth in the World Series since Senator Joseph McCarthy was a household name (like toilet) in 1954.

Johnson took the hill on three days' rest and the fatigue of his third straight short rest must-win game was visible in his performance. He did his best, though, to give Seattle a fighting chance to make the World Series. As if to send a message, his first pitch nearly drilled Lofton in the head - and after getting in that mind, Johnson craftily struck Lofton out on the next three pitches. The game remained scoreless until the fifth thanks to both Johnson and the matching performance of Dennis Martinez, the 41-year old Nicaraguan moundsman known as "El Presidente" who has quietly accumulated over 200 wins in his 20 years in the big leagues. He had allowed only two hits through four innings when Seattle was undone by a defensive mistake.

With one out in the top of the fifth, Alvaro Espinoza hit a sharp grounder to Joey Cora. Cora zoomed the throw low and past Johnson covering first, sending Espinoza to second. Given an extra out, Espinoza scored the game's first run when Lofton singled him home, an unearned notch that gave the Indians a 1-0 lead. Seatte led off the fifth and sixth innings with base hits but scored nobody. The latter was a heart-stopping moment when Griffey smashed what appeared to be a go-ahead home run that came down on the warning track about five feet in front of the center field fence for a loud out. The game remained close, but the pressure was apparently getting to Seattle as Luis Sojo was ejected when he argued the strike zone with home plate umpire Drew Coble at the end of the seventh.

Then came the eighth, when the clock struck midnight on Seattle's "Cinderella" season and sent Cleveland to the ball.

Catcher Tony Pena doubled to right leading off the inning, so Ruben Amaro took his place on second as a pinch-runner. Knowing Johnson is not the most adept fielder, Lofton bunted for a base hit and made it, sending Amaro to third. Lofton then stole second, putting two runners in scoring position with nobody out. Johnson's high outside pitch was just a bit too much of both for Wilson to handle, and the ball bounced off of his glove to the right, scoring Amaro and, in visual form to be remembered, Lofton to give the Tribe a 3-0 lead. Baerga's bomb a moment later was little more than a formality.

To their credit, the Seattle fans gave Johnson, without whom they would have had no chance and no playoff this year, a standing ovation as he was pulled in favor of Norm Charlton, but the game was over. Perhaps in another day or time, the Mariners will make it to the World Series, too.

But they're celebrating in Cleveland and why not? They haven't been to the World Series since 1954, and they haven't won it since 1948. And who did they beat in that 1948 series? The Braves.

We'll have a full World Series preview, including the mascot controversy, starting tomorrow.

We're down to the season's last four to seven games, and we have the teams with the two best records in baseball in the most politically incorrect World Series imaginable. It's the first time since 1986 that the two best teams record-wise will face each other, and that was a seven-game classic. Given baseball's problems the last two years, we can only hope.



 
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