1995 Braves: The First Half of the Regular Season

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After the strike’s official end on April 2, Braves’ players and coaches rushed down to West Palm Beach for three weeks of spring training before the start of the shortened 144-game regular season. The coaches focused on getting the players into shape and avoiding injuries.  Both the coaches and the players seemed relieved that the game they loved was back.

As the Braves began spring training in April, general manager John Schuerholz solidified the roster with the addition of Marquis Grissom and Jeff Blauser.  Grissom, an Atlanta native, came via trade with the Montreal Expos.  He brought the element of speed to the Braves that they had not had since Otis Nixon.  A natural leadoff hitter, Grissom either led the National League in stolen bases  or finished in the top three from 1991-1994 and won the Gold Glove in center field the previous two years before joining the Braves.  Schuerholz signed Blauser to a three-year deal.  Blauser had been the Braves’s starting shortstop before his contract ended after the 1994 season and was a key part of the team chemistry developed in the early 1990s.

Before the season began, Schuerholz and manager Bobby Cox decided that young, home-grown Chipper Jones, Ryan Klesko, and Javier Lopez would be in the everyday lineup. Schuerholz also called up relief pitcher Brad Clontz from the minors.

While the Braves players and management prepared for the upcoming season, Braves fans struggled with their emotions.  The strike prompted feelings of anger, resentment and betrayal from fans across the country.  Attendance at Braves spring training games dropped about eighty percent from pre-strike figures.  During spring training and early in the regular season, fans demonstrated their displeasure by boycotting games or coming to games with home-made signs and other forms of expression. While all Braves’ players and coaches wanted to re-establish fan rapport, Tom Glavine especially felt the need to mend fences.  He knew that fans resented him more than others because of his role as the union representative for the Braves.  Atlantans have generally looked unfavorably on unions of all types.  With that in mind, Glavine signed copious autographs and went out of his way to re-engage with Braves fans.

The Braves opened the 1995 season on April 26 versus the San Francisco Giants.  Just over 24,000 fans, less than half of Atlanta-Fulton County stadium’s capacity, saw the Braves defeat the Giants, 12-5.  Greg Maddux pitched five innings giving up one earned run on one hit while striking out five.  He also had two hits and scored a run.   Brad Woodall allowed the rest of the San Francisco tallies.  Fred McGriff paced the 17-hit attack with four hits, including two home runs and four RBIs. David Justice contributed three hits, including a home run and two RBIs.    Chipper Jones had two hits, two RBIs, and scored three times while Jeff Blauser provided two hits and scored two runs.

The opening game win belied the Braves’ play from late April to early July.  The team struggled at times with different phases of the game—pitching, hitting, and fielding.  By the end of the first week of May, the Braves fell behind the Philadelphia Phillies for the division lead.  At the end of a five-game losing streak in early June, the Braves were four and a half games out of first.  Bobby Cox knew that if the Braves did not play better baseball soon the division title would belong to the Phillies.  One of the more successful changes Cox made was to insert Mark Wohlers into the closer role.  The players also felt the time had come to step up their collective game.  After a team meeting and an abandoned flight to Montreal because of a fire in the cabin, the Braves went on a seven-game winning streak.  By July 4, the Braves had regained first place from the Phillies.

Independence Day provided just enough fireworks for Atlanta.  The Braves took over the top spot in the division with a 3-2 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers.  The Dodgers scored two runs in the second inning off of Kent Mercker but a David Justice solo home run in the bottom of the inning cut the deficit to one.  The game stayed that way until the bottom of the eighth when an opposite field blast from Ryan Klesko tied the game and a Jeff Blauser single drove in Dwight Smith with the go-ahead run.  Mark Wohlers pitched a perfect ninth inning to garner his seventh save of the season, while Brad Clontz earned the win by recording the final two outs of the eighth inning.

 

By the July 11th All-Star game, the Braves had opened a 4.5 game lead over Philadelphia.  The fun had only begun!

 

 

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