The 1995 Atlanta Braves: National League Division Series

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The 1995 season marked the beginning of three divisions in both the National and American Leagues.  The division winners and a Wild Card team, the team with the best record outside of the division victors, comprised the playoff pool.  For the first time in the history of baseball, a team had to win two playoff series to reach the World Series, and the first series was only a best-of-five format. The Colorado Rockies presented the first test for Atlanta.  The Braves entered the playoffs with the best record in the National League but fearful of the Rockies in a short series.  Also, the Braves had to play the first two games in Coors Field in Denver where no lead was safe.  None of the Braves management or coaches believed a short series a true test.  Braves Pitching Coach Leo Mazzone believed a short series detracted from everything a team accomplished over the course of a regular season and negated a team’s depth, which proved a large factor in the Braves’ securing the division title.  He further argued that anything could happen in a short series and the lesser team could win.  Mazzone also knew that the Rockies had hit 134 of their league-leading 200 home runs at Coors Field.  However, the Braves traveled to Denver for the first two games knowing they had Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and an unlimited supply of antacid tablets.

The Braves had beaten the Rockies 30 out of 36 times in Colorado’s short history.  However, the mood in the clubhouse was one of high anxiety.  John Smoltz stated that everyone on the team feared the Rockies in a short series and that Colorado reminded him of the 1991 Braves.  Mazzone‘s goal for the pitching staff was to hold the Rockies to under four runs because the thin Denver air ballooned a pitcher’s Earned Run Average.  With all of this in mind, Maddux toed the rubber for Game 1.  Marquis Grissom’s solo home run gave the Braves a short lived 1-0 lead.  Maddux surrendered three runs in the fourth inning and the team’s concerns began to appear very valid.  With Braves coaches popping antacid pills before, during and after innings, the Braves players began a comeback.  In the top of the sixth, Chipper Jones led off with a long home run over the right field wall to cut the deficit to one.  After a walk to David Justice and a single from Ryan Klesko, recently-acquired Luis Polonia beat out a potential double play that allowed Justice to score from third to tie the game at 3-3.

The game remained tied until the eighth inning.  With two outs, Klesko and Javy Lopez hit back-to-back singles. Cox then pinch hit left-handed hitter Dwight Smith for right-handed hitter Jeff Blauser in order to counteract Colorado pitcher Darren Holmes, a righty.  The move worked as Smith singled up the middle driving in Klesko with the go ahead run.  However, in the bottom of the inning Braves reliever Alejandro Pena gave up a Run Batted In double to Ellis Burks that tied the game at 4-4.

With two outs in the ninth, Jones drilled another home run to give the Braves a 5-4 lead.  The drama was just beginning, however.  Mark Wohlers entered the game to close out the victory.  With one out, Wohlers allowed two singles and a walk to load the bases.  He secured the second out with a strike out of Andres Galarraga and up to the plate came Lance Painter, a pitcher.  Colorado manager Don Baylor gambled and used all of his position players during the game.  Painter was his next best option, but Wohlers struck him out to enable the Braves to escape with a 5-4 win.

Game 2 provided more unsettled stomachs for the Braves.  Marquis Grissom led off the contest with a drive over the fence in right center field to stake the Braves to a 1-0 lead. Lopez drove in Mark Lemke with a sacrifice fly in the third inning, Grissom hit another solo home run in the fourth and the Braves led 3-0.  Just as the Braves began to feel good about their situation, Larry Walker prompted the opening of a new box of antacids with a three-run blast off of Braves’ starter Tom Glavine to knot the score at 3-3 in the sixth inning.  The scored remained tied until the bottom of the eighth.  With Pena on the mound again the Rockies took a 4-3 lead on a Galarraga double.  Heavy breathing ensued from the Braves’ dugout.  With the Braves trailing by one in their last at bat, they showed why they had the best record in the National League.  Jones led off with a double.  Fred McGriff singled him home to tie the game.  Justice then flied out and Lopez struck out.   Mike Devereaux then singled and Cox called on Mike Mordecai to pinch hit for Pena.  Mordecai promptly singled to give the Braves the lead.  Two more runs came home when Colorado second basemen Eric Young committed a two-base throwing error on a ground ball from Rafael Belliard.  Wohlers kept the Rockies off of the scoreboard in the ninth for the victory and a 2-0 series lead for the Braves.  No one from the Atlanta dugout needed medical treatment, but a new order for antacid pills was made as the series shifted to Atlanta.

The pills arrived before the start of Game 3.  John Smoltz then proceeded to allow five runs, but the Braves battled back to the tie the game in the bottom of the ninth when Klesko scored on a Polonia single.  However, Wohlers proceeded to give up two runs in the top of the 10th inning and the Braves could not counter in the bottom half.  The series now stood at two games to one, while nearby Grady Hospital began to prepare rooms for Braves coaches, just in case.

When Game 4 starter Greg Maddux gave up three runs in the third inning, ambulance sirens could be heard in the distance, but before they arrived the Braves countered in their half of the third.  Jones doubled home Grissom and Lemke to cut the deficit to one then the Crime Dog, McGriff, homered to give the Braves the lead and close the door on any Colorado upset plans.  Atlanta added two runs in the fourth, one in the fifth and three more in the sixth to clinch the Division series with a 10-4 victory.  The ambulances returned to Grady with no occupants.

The Braves had survived.  Smoltz believed the Braves were lucky to win the series and noted the Rockies could have swept the Braves in three games.  With blood pressures slowly inching down to normal, the Braves turned their focus to the National League Championship Series against the Central Division champion Cincinnati Reds.  At least this series would be a best-of-seven format, and the Braves’ depth should provide the difference, or so Cox, Mazzone and the other coaches believed.  To be safe, more antacid pills were ordered.

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