When the Braves had to open the playoffs on the road against the
National League wild-card team, the free-swinging, high-flying
Colorado Rockies, Atlanta pitcher John Smoltz said the Division
Series matchup "scared us to death." How embarrassing would it
be if the Braves, who had the major leagues' best record in the
1990s, lost to a team that had just started playing in '93? What
if Atlanta, which had the best pitching staff in baseball, lost
to the team with the league's highest ERA?
Well, it didn't happen, but the Braves still got a scare. They
won the best-of-five series in four games, but only after they
came from behind in all four and won two in their final at bat.
The vaunted Atlanta pitching staff was roughed up by the
Rockies, who tagged the incomparable Greg Maddux for 19 hits in
14 innings. When the series was over, the Braves hauled out the
champagne, but they celebrated quietly, relieved that they had
"We were more antsy about that series than any other, because
the Rockies were a mirror image of our team in '91," said
Atlanta lefthander Tom Glavine, referring to the Brave club that
had defied the experts and won the National League pennant four
years earlier. "The Rockies weren't supposed to be there. They
were a bunch of young, hungry players riding the crest. We had
to slow them down right away. We knew they were a tough team in
The Rockies scored more runs per game (6.73) at Coors Field in
1995 than the New York Yankees had at Yankee Stadium in 1927
(6.22). With its thin air and loud crowd, Coors is one of the
last places a visiting pitcher wants to work.
In the opener the Rockies were swinging at every pitch near the
plate--as is their custom--and they stung Maddux for nine hits in
seven innings. Third baseman Vinny Castilla's two-run homer in
the fourth gave Colorado a 3-1 lead. By the eighth the score was
tied 4-4, but the Rockies would have retaken the lead if Brave
third baseman Chipper Jones hadn't made a spectacular diving
stop near the third base line that turned a potential extra-base
hit by Andres Galarraga into a force-out. Then, with two out in
the top of the ninth, Jones hit his second home run of the game,
off Colorado reliever Curt Leskanic, for a 5-4 Atlanta lead.
After Colorado loaded the bases with one out in the bottom of
the ninth, Atlanta closer Mark Wohlers struck out Galarraga.
Rocky manager Don Baylor, meanwhile, had inexplicably run out of
position players on his bench, and he had to send in pitcher
Lance Painter to bat. Painter struck out on four pitches, all of
which were clocked at or above 100 mph. "Have I ever seen
pitches thrown that hard?" Painter said, smiling. "No--and I
still haven't, because I didn't see those."
The Braves had stolen the first game, and they knew it. By going
with a 12-man pitching staff in the postseason, Baylor had left
himself only five players on the bench and had been caught
shorthanded right out of the box. "Lance Painter didn't lose
this game," Baylor said. "We just didn't get any big hits."
Painter came back the next day and started Game 2 against
Glavine. Atlanta centerfielder Marquis Grissom hit a home run to
open the game, then homered again in the fourth to give the
Braves a 3-0 lead. Colorado rightfielder Larry Walker crushed a
three-run shot off Glavine in the sixth to tie the score, and
the Rockies took a 4-3 lead two innings later on a run-scoring
double by centerfielder Ellis Burks.
Jones, who hit .389 in the series, opened the ninth with a
leadoff double and scored on a single by first baseman Fred
McGriff. Two more Atlanta hits and a Colorado error produced
three more runs and a 7-4 Brave win.
"People say we should have won the first two games, but
I disagree," said Rocky shortstop Walt Weiss. "We could have won
them, but we didn't. They did."
The series shifted to Atlanta for Game 3. In the sixth inning
Castilla's two-run homer off Smoltz gave Colorado a 5-3 lead.
Again the Rocky bullpen failed to protect the lead, as the
Braves scored once in the seventh and once in the ninth to tie
the game. But this time the Atlanta pen caved in as well. With
two out in the 10th, Colorado scored twice off Wohlers for a 7-5
victory. (Galarraga got his revenge against the closer by
delivering an RBI single.) It was the first time in postseason
history that the first three games of a series were decided in a
team's final at bat.
The shaken Atlanta faithful really got nervous the next night,
when Colorado's Dante Bichette, who hit .588 in the series,
blasted a three-run homer off Maddux in the third inning. As
Bichette circled the bases, Maddux screamed at himself, "Why did
you throw that pitch?" But the home run didn't unnerve the other
Braves, who came back in the bottom of the inning to take a 4-3
lead on a two-out, two-run double by Jones, followed by a
two-run homer by McGriff.
McGriff homered again (becoming the third Brave to have a
two-homer game in the series), and Grissom went 5 for 5 as
Atlanta ran off with a 10-4 win, clinching the series. Grissom's
series average of .524 vindicated him after a somewhat
disappointing regular season in which he hit only .258. The
Braves had acquired Grissom from the Montreal Expos during
spring training in exchange for outfielders Tony Tarasco and
Roberto Kelly and pitcher Esteban Yan. Grissom, an Atlanta
native, was supposed to provide much-needed speed and pop at the
top of the Brave lineup, but he never caught fire during the
season. Against Colorado, finally, he showed why many observers
had felt he was the best centerfielder in the league.
"This is why I wanted to come here, to play in games like this,"
said Grissom, 28, who didn't play in a postseason game in his
six years with the Expos. "But this is only the first step.
We've got more work to do."
At least the most dangerous part of the postseason journey was
over. The Braves won despite getting only one victory and a
combined ERA of 4.73 from their starters. They won even though
rightfielder David Justice hit .231 and didn't drive in a run.
They won because they got big hits when they needed them--mostly
from Jones--and because the exhausted Colorado bullpen couldn't
get the big outs.
"We didn't play our best baseball, but we won, and that's a big
tribute to the talent on this team," said Glavine. "We played
sloppy defense, and we made some mistakes with our pitching.
Certain aspects of our game were missing, but we found different
ways to win. When we had to get a big hit, we did. When we had
to make a play, we did. If you can do that in the playoffs,
you'll be O.K."
COLOR PHOTO: JIM GUND In Game 4, Charlie O'Brien flipped Colorado second baseman Eric Young, and the Braves sent the Rockies packing.TWO COLOR PHOTOS: RONALD C. MODRA (2) Jones (top) and Grissom delivered afield and at bat. [Chipper Jones fielding; Marquis Grissom batting]COLOR PHOTO: AL TIELEMANS Smoltz couldn't stop Young from scoring on a wild pitch in Game 3, which Colorado won in an even wilder finish. [Eric Young sliding as John Smoltz attempts to tag him]