1995 Atlanta Braves: World Series Games 1 and 2

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For Braves management, players, and fans, the third trip to the World Series in five years had to be the charm.  The Braves lost a hard fought Series to the Minnesota Twins in 1991 as the Twins won Game 7 in Minneapolis, 1-0 in ten innings.  Again in 1992, Atlanta battled the Blue Jays but lost four games to two.  Atlanta suffered four one-run losses.  This time, the potent pitching of the Braves faced off against the explosive offense of the Cleveland Indians.  Cleveland finished the regular season 100-44, winning their division by 30 games over the second place Kansas City Royals.  The Indians led the American League in batting, runs, base hits, and stolen bases.  They had eight .300 hitters in their starting lineup.  They swept the Boston Red Sox in their Divisional Series and beat the Seattle Mariners 4 games to 2 in their Championship Series.  However, the Cleveland Indians had never faced such a dominant pitching staff as that of the Atlanta Braves.  The old baseball adage of great pitching beats great hitting proved true once more.  The Braves won the first two games in Atlanta but both were close.

The key to beating the Indians, according to Leo Mazzone, was to keep speedster Kenny Lofton off the bases.  Lofton hit .310 for the season, led the American League with 54 stolen bases and scored 93 runs.  Clearly, Lofton was the catalyst for the Cleveland offense.

Greg Maddux took the mound for Game 1 against Cleveland ace Orel Hershiser.  In the top of the first Lofton led off the game with a ground ball to Braves shortstop Rafael Belliard who could not field it cleanly.  Lofton reached base safely and gave immediate credence to Mazzone’s comment.  Lofton stole second and third and scored the Indians’ first run on a Carlos Baerga ground out to short.  Cleveland led 1-0 without the benefit of a hit.  Mazzone could be seen in the dugout with his head in a trash can.  Fred McGriff evened the score in the bottom of the second with a long home run over the right center-field wall.  Some color quickly came back to Mazzone’s face.

The score remained knotted at one until the bottom of the seventh inning.  Hershiser walked McGriff and David Justice to start the inning.  Cleveland manager Mike Hargrove brought Paul Assenmacher in from the bullpen to replace Hershiser and he promptly walked Mike Devereaux.  Hargrove replaced Assenmacher with Julian Tavarez and Braves manager Bobby Cox countered by pinch hitting Luis Polonia for Charlie O’Brien.  Polonia hit into a fielder’s choice to short and McGriff scored from third to give the Braves a 2-1 lead.  Belliard followed with a perfect suicide squeeze bunt that drove in Justice for a 3-1 lead.  Cameras caught what looked like a quick smile from Mazzone.  A radar gun registered Mazzone’s rocking at close to 30 mph.  Trainer Dave Pursley desperately looked for some kind of restraint.

Leading 3-1 going to the bottom of the ninth inning, Cox chose to let Maddux finish the game.  He had thrown less than 90 pitches and had relinquished just two singles and the unearned run to Lofton.  Maddux induced Paul Sorrento to ground out to second before Lofton hit a hard single to left field.  At this point, Mazzone was overheard singing “Don’t Rock the Boat” by the Hues Corporation while teetering on the edge of the dugout bench.  The next Cleveland hitter, Omar Vizquel, grounded to second for the second out but Lofton raced to third and scored on a throwing error by McGriff.  With two outs and Mazzone muttering something unintelligible while rolling on the dugout floor, Maddux completed his 95-pitch gem by coaxing a foul out from Baerga.  The Braves took Game 1, 3-2.

Game 2 matched Tom Glavine against Dennis Martinez.  Glavine had not pitched in ten days and by his own admission was a little rusty.  In the top of the second inning Glavine gave up a lead off single to Albert Belle and then watched Eddie Murray crush his next pitch over the left field wall for a 2-0 Cleveland lead.   Mazzone’s rocking hit another gear.  He began to slow down after the Braves tied the game in the bottom of the third inning.

In the third, Martinez hit Marquis Grissom and Mark Lemke followed with a line drive single to begin the inning.  Grissom reached third when Martinez threw the ball away trying to pick off Grissom at second.  Chipper Jones followed with a deep fly ball to left field that allowed Grissom to tag at third and score.  Two batters later, David Justice hit a soft fly ball to right center field that fell for a hit, enabling Lemke to score the tying run.  Glavine and Martinez kept the game tied until the bottom of the sixth.  Glavine escaped jams in the fourth and fifth innings that caused Mazzone to use a paper bag to stop hyperventilating.  Dave Pursley put Grady Hospital on notice.

Justice led off the bottom of the sixth inning with a single to left field but reached second base when Belle misplayed it.  Ryan Klesko then moved Justice to third base with a ground out to the right side of the infield.  With one out, Javy Lopez stepped to the plate.  In his book Behind the Plate: A Catcher’s View of the Braves Dynasty, (Triumph Books: Chicago, IL, 2012), Lopez stated that he desperately wanted to drive in Justice with the go ahead run but believed Martinez would walk him to set up the double play with light-hitting Belliard on deck.  According to Lopez, he was surprised when Martinez attacked him with good pitches to begin the at-bat.  Determined to get a hit, Lopez fouled off pitches that were outside of the strike zone.  With the count 1-2, Martinez threw a pitch outside, inches off the plate, and Lopez hit it hard to center field.  Lopez hoped for a double and was running hard.  However, he got more than a double.  The ball cleared the fence giving the Braves a 4-2 lead. Mazzone began rocking and singing a modified version of “Brick House’ by the Commodores.

Greg McMichael came in for Glavine in the top of the seventh inning and dispatched the first two Indians batters with relative ease.  Then Lofton came to bat.  He promptly singled to right field then stole second base.  On a fly ball from Omar Vizquel that Mike Devereaux misplayed in left field, Lofton scored to cut the Braves lead to one. Sirens could be heard approaching Atlanta-Fulton County stadium.   McMichael then walked Baerga and wild pitched both he and Vizquel up one base.  Paramedics were racing to the Braves dugout as Mazzone’s face seemed to change to something close to navy blue.  Alejandro Pena replaced McMichael.  Up stepped power-hitter Albert Belle.  On a 0-2 pitch, Pena induced Belle to hit a pop fly behind the plate that Lopez smothered to end the inning.  The color in Mazzone’s face returned to normal as he asked about the families of the two paramedics sitting on each side of him.

The Braves could not score in their half of the seventh and Pena trotted out to the mound to begin the eighth inning.  Pena got Murray to fly out to left but Manny Ramirez then singled on a fly ball that just eluded the Braves infielders.  Jim Thome strided to the plate for Cleveland and Mazzone seemed to be trying to catch imaginary butterflies as the paramedics looked on.  On a 3-2 count, Lopez picked off Ramirez at first for the second out. Pena then walked Thome before giving way to Mark Wohlers.  Wohlers coaxed Sorrento to fly out to Grissom for the final out of the inning, and Mazzone began to giggle uncontrollably.

The Braves went quietly in the bottom of the eight before Wohlers closed out the game in the ninth.  The Braves held on for a 4-3 win and a 2-0 lead in the Series.  After the game, people thought they heard Mazzone tell the paramedics that he loved them.  Now the Series would shift to frigid Cleveland for the next three game and tighten considerably!

 

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