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The end to baseball's last great pennant race did not come until
three hours and six minutes after the final out of the Braves'
regular season. It came at 7:11 p.m. EDT on Sunday, Oct. 3,
after the Braves and the San Francisco Giants had occupied the
National League West's top two spots for the previous 110 days.
It came after the two teams had won 207 games between them, the
most ever by intradivisional foes. It came after they had shared
identical records for three excruciating days, during which the
Braves nervously packed their suitcases for a trip they prayed
they wouldn't have to make.

When at last the end did come, the Braves lifted sweet
California champagne to their lips. They had vanquished the
Giants to reach the National League Championship Series against
the Philadelphia Phillies, and the champagne went down quickly
and smoothly. "There's relief," Atlanta pitcher Tom Glavine
said, explaining why the Braves' third straight divisional
championship elicited such celebration. "It's been a lot of fun.
But it's been so mentally grueling."

On the penultimate day of the race, the Braves had rolled over
the Colorado Rockies 10-1, and the Giants had hung on to defeat
the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-3. If the race remained tied for one
more day, the Braves would have to fly to San Francisco on
Sunday night to meet the Giants in a one-game playoff on Monday

On Sunday, the Braves beat the Rockies again, 5-3, completing a
13-0 season sweep, the first season-series shutout in the
National League since 1899. Afterward Atlanta management
announced to the 48,904 fans in attendance that they were
welcome to stay and watch the Giant-Dodger game on the stadium
scoreboard's screen. About 8,000 people took the Braves up on
their offer.

The Braves' players hung around the clubhouse in their underwear
until more than three hours later, when most of the team ran out
to the area around second base to watch the last inning of San
Francisco's game. When that game finally ended with the Dodgers'
having routed the Giants 12-1, the fans who had stuck around
were treated to the sight of Atlanta manager Bobby Cox
frolicking about on the field in a T-shirt, shorts and shower

The National League Championship Series, which would begin three
days later in Philadelphia, promised to be another great test of
fans' patience, since it featured two teams that tended to put
off their business until the last possible minute. The Braves,
who had waited until the last second to win their division, were
to take on the Phillies, who had played one game during the
regular season that concluded at 1:47 a.m. and a doubleheader
that wasn't over until 4:40 in the morning.

Naturally, it took the Phillies 10 innings to win the series
opener, 4-3. When Philadelphia third baseman Kim Batiste finally
ended the game with an RBI single, he was carried off the field
by teammates Danny Jackson and Milt Thompson. Mitch (Wild Thing)
Williams, who had pitched the ninth and 10th, watched the finish
on TV in the clubhouse. He said he would have run out and joined
Jackson and Thompson--if only he'd been wearing pants.

In contrast to the Phils, the Braves were a wholesome lot (they
always wore at least shorts). They ate their postgame meals in
the clubhouse at wooden picnic tables covered with checkered
cloths. The undomesticated Phillies ate their postgame meals in
poisoned-pork joints. This was the Atlanta Braves against the
Philadelphia Philistines. The series was "America's Team against
America's Most Wanted," as more than one Phillie described it.

But the bad guys weren't the only ones packing a gun, as Brave
first baseman Fred (Crime Dog) McGriff demonstrated in Game 2.
His first-inning shot into the upper deck of the Vet provided
the first two of a NLCS-record 14 runs in the Braves' 14-3 win.
"The game was over," conceded Phillie first baseman John Kruk,
"when Crime Dog killed a family of four in the upper deck."

As the series shifted to Atlanta for Games 3, 4 and 5, the Phils
knew they would have to keep Brave centerfielder Otis Nixon off
the bases. The leadoff man had gotten aboard on eight of his 11
at bats and scored twice in the first two games.

By and large, Philadelphia did succeed in keeping Nixon off the
bases in Game 3. He had a double in five at bats but scored no
runs. Problem was, the Phillies didn't keep too many of Nixon's
teammates off the bases as Atlanta won a 9-4 laugher.

Throughout this series the Braves were thinking of the notoriety
that could await them were they to return to the World Series
and lose. No team had lost three consecutive World Series since
the 1911, '12 and '13 New York Giants, and the Braves, who had
lost to the Minnesota Twins in '91 and the Toronto Blue Jays in
'92, had solemnly vowed not to be the next.

Atlanta pitcher Steve Avery provided a metaphor for the Braves'
quest early in the Championship Series. After one of the games
he stared into a clubhouse mirror, making three attempts at
tying his necktie. Too short. Too long. Just right. The Braves
were hoping that this third straight October would end up like
Avery's necktie.

And yet after Game 4 the series was also knotted. It had been a
typical game for the Phillies: They had stranded a
playoff-record 15 runners, struck out a NLCS-record 15 times,
scored zero earned runs--and won, 2-1. The final out came at
12:15 a.m., as the recently food-poisoned Williams, the closer
who had been hurling for the previous 24 hours, shut down the

Just 15 hours later Game 5 began under gray clouds at the
Chop Shop. Trailing 3-0 in the ninth inning, the Braves' first
two hitters reached base. And in came Williams.

Atlanta touched him for three hits. The last was a game-tying
chopper up the middle by pinch hitter Francisco Cabrera, whose
timely hit evoked his game-winning single against the Pittsburgh
Pirates in Game 7 of the 1992 playoffs. In the top of the 10th,
however, Phillie centerfielder Lenny (Nails) Dykstra lashed a
home run to give the Phils a 4-3 win and a 3-2 lead in the series.

As the two teams headed to Philadelphia for Game 6, the Braves'
backs were against the wall. But hadn't they already shown that
the 11th hour was their finest? It was not to be, though. After
starting pitcher Greg Maddux was hit on the right leg by a sharp
grounder in the first inning, he gave up six runs--five
earned--and four walks in 5 2/3 innings as the Braves lost 6-3.
For a team that had put the pro in procrastination, time had
finally run out.

For the third straight year the Braves' season had ended in a
somber clubhouse in October. "It's tough, believe me," said
third baseman Terry Pendleton. "We showed up in spring training
with the goal of winning the World Series. It'll weigh heavy.
They all do."

COLOR PHOTO: RICHARD MACKSONStars of '93 who wouldn't be champs: Nixon (left) and Pendleton. [Otis Nixon]

COLOR PHOTO: RONALD C. MODRA [See caption above--Terry Pendleton]