Last night was special, no two ways about it. How many times have we seen ourselves on the losing end of those make or break type games it seems? Remember the infamous Kelly Johnson drop against Philadelphia? Or the Greg Dobbs game against those same Phillies? We expect to lose, and lose in heartbreaking fashion.
Well, it’s a damn good thing the 25 guys wearing Braves uniforms don’t.
What happened in Washington last night is the sort of thing that can light a fire under a season. For proof of that, look no further than these very Braves and examine a few of their pennant chasing seasons.
In 1991 the Braves played the third of a four game series at Riverfront Stadium against the Cincinnati Reds. The Braves had split the first two games of the series the day prior in a double header, their win the previous night being enough to get them back to 10 games above .500, and just sit 2 1/2 behind the Dodgers for first place in the National League West with just 44 games left to play.
Game three of the series started well enough. The Braves jumped all over Reds starter Kip Gross in the first inning to race out to a 3-0 lead. Only to see in the bottom of the very first inning recent Hall of Fame inductee Barry Larkin helped spark a four run inning for the Reds.
Atlanta didn’t wilt, they scored two more in the third, the second courtesy of, all things, a Francisco Cabrera walk (we know how rare those were). The Braves were back in business, up 5-4, and momentum back in their dugout.
But the Reds kept coming. Two runs in the fourth, three in the fifth. That first inning 3-0 lead had turned into a 9-5 deficit. The Braves managed to add a run in the 7th, but nevertheless, headed to the 9th inning down 9-6. And they did so knowing they were going to be facing Rob Dibble, who personified the defending world champion Reds “Nasty Boys” in their bullpen. Making matters worse? The Dodgers were beating the Padres at home, it looked like the lead was about to be 3.5, and the Braves were set to drop their fifth game in seven days. The miracle season needed another miracle to stay alive.
However the 9th started inauspiciously enough, Terry Pendleton struck out, and Ron Gant flew out on just five pitches total. The writing was on the wall. But then David Justice doubled, and Brian Hunter drew a two out walk, putting the tying run at the plate for…..Yes, that Francisco Cabrera guy again. You’ve probably heard his name a few times. Cabrera took an 0-1 offering from Dibble and promptly launched over the fence in left center field. Suddenly this thing was tied. The ever intimidating Rob Dibble had been roughed up, and by a seldom used bench player. This team wasn’t dead, no not yet.
The Braves made absolutely no threat in the 10th, and it was in the bottom of the 10th where it looked like the Reds were going to find a way to come away with a win anyway. Luis Quinones doubled with one out, and Joe Oliver was promptly intentionally walked after that to allow pinch hitter Carmelo Martinez to come to the plate. Martinez flew out to left field, but shoddy base running and alert Braves defense enabled them to double the runner up at second base, ending the inning, and ensuring more baseball.
Finally, in the 13th inning, with runners at first and third, a David Justice double plated Greg Olson, giving the Braves a 10-9 lead to the bottom of the 13. Even there, it wasn’t without drama. Tony Castillo let the first two runners reach base, with the heart of the Reds order due up; only to retire the next three in order to preserve the win.
Castillo had only arrived a year earlier as part of a trade with the Toronto Blue Jays, a trade that just so happen to include Francisco Cabrera. He pitched two innings for the Braves on this night, and held the Reds scoreless, earning the win. He would never again win another game for the Braves. Just over a week later he was traded to the Mets in a deal that brought over Alejandro Pena, in a move that was vital to the teams playoff run.
What happened after this night was simple. No team in Major League Baseball finished stronger than Atlanta. The Braves took off with their momentum and reeled off a 29-14 mark the rest of the way, eventually clinching the division with a day to spare. We all know what that 1991 season eventually started off in Atlanta. But we all might have forgotten how monumental a victory this particular win over the Reds turned out to be.
So while we bask in the glow of last night’s victory over the Nationals that was far more inconceivable, and we wonder aloud how guys like Paul Janish and Chad Durbin played such an integral part in such a crucial game, remember, Tony Castillo and Francisco Cabrera may have been the two guys that saved the 1991 season. Often, it can be the 24th and 25th guy on that roster that ultimately, are the guys who are the difference in playing extra baseball, and sitting at home wondering what if.