Greg Olson, the Atlanta Braves catcher, looked down at the clubhouse floor in search of consolation. "The National League championship ring will be nice," he said. "We know we gave it our best shot. But the thing is, not too many people remember the team that came in second in the World Series."
This time they will. The Braves may have a hard time forgetting their lost opportunities and bad breaks in the sixth and seventh games of the 88th Series, but most everyone else will be inclined to think of them as the most determined team ever to lose the Fall Classic. Their classic fall in the most hostile environment imaginable, namely the Metro-dome, took 21 innings—11 in last Saturday's 4-3 Game 6 thriller and 10 in Sunday's 1-0 heart stopper. As Atlanta third baseman Terry Pendleton said, "People who saw these games aged 10 or 20 years."
The Braves' seventh-game starter, John Smoltz, put it this way: "This has got to go down in World Series history along with Bobby Thomson's homer in Game 7." That was Smoltz's only real mistake of the night—Thomson, of course, hit his shot in the third National League playoff game of 1951. In a duel with Jack Morris, the idol of his Detroit youth, Smoltz pitched 7‚Äö√Ñ√∂‚àö√±‚àö¬® shutout innings. "All I needed was one run," he said. "If we had gotten one run, I knew I was going to stop them."
Alas, the Braves left eight men on base, five of them in scoring position. In the eighth, they had runners on second and third with none out and failed to score. But they also turned double plays in the eighth and ninth to keep the Twins from scoring. In the top of the ninth, when Olson came to bat, his catching counterpart, Brian Harper, told him, "We both deserve to win." But as Olson said later, "There can only be one team of destiny."
An hour after the game, Olson tried to come to grips with the loss. "When I'm hunting this winter, and I think back, I'll remember a lot of fun things. The tons of emotion. The great talents I saw. But there will always be a piece of me that hurts. Who's to say you'll ever get invited to the dance again?"
A few cubicles away, Mark Lemke, the 5'9" second baseman who batted a large .417 in the Series, was asked if he had a message for Braves fans. "Tell them we gave it everything we had," he said. "Tell them we gave our hearts this season."
Outfielder David Justice came up to Lemke and told him that Chili Davis of the Twins wanted to see him in the laundry room, shared by both clubhouses. There, amid empty bottles of champagne and sounds of the nearby celebration, Lemke was embraced by several Twins. "You killed us, Lemmer," said Davis. "Man, that was fun. Let's do it again next year."
Somebody else wanted to see Lemke. It was Howard Talbot, director of the Baseball Hall of Fame, and he wanted to know if the Hall could have Lemke's bat for its World Series exhibit. "Sure!" said Lemke. "You know I live in Utica, 45 minutes from Cooperstown. I love that town. Drive through it every year. But I've never been inside the Hall of Fame. Now, when I go inside, my bat will be there. That'll be real nice."
The team that finished second this year will be remembered, all right.
Lemke's busy bat garnered an invitation to the Hall of Fame.