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ABRA-CABRERA! A MAGICAL PINCH-HIT SENT THE BRAVES BACK TO THE WORLD SERIES

Oct. 31, 1995
Oct. 31, 1995

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Oct. 31, 1995

ABRA-CABRERA! A MAGICAL PINCH-HIT SENT THE BRAVES BACK TO THE WORLD SERIES

It was seven minutes to midnight when the Atlanta Braves won the
1992 National League pennant. Seven minutes to midnight in the
seventh game of the League Championship Series when--
abra-Cabrera!-- history got a new hero, his surname Spanish for
"one who tends goats."

This is an article from the Oct. 31, 1995 issue

Andy Van Slyke of the Pittsburgh Pirates fell supine in
centerfield at seven minutes to midnight, as if shot dead. The
wife of Brave president Stan Kasten blacked out in her seat at
Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, recalling later only the thock!
of bat hitting ball.

Seven minutes to midnight, and soon Brave centerfielder Otis
Nixon would be in the clubhouse, pointing through a wall toward
the still-lit field. "They said 1991 was the Miracle Season,"
said Nixon, referring to the Braves' worst-to-first pennant run
the year before. "It wasn't a miracle compared to that. Frankie
Cabrera, who hasn't played all year, steps up and does that?"

The 89th World Series opened in Atlanta because of what had
happened at seven minutes to midnight three evenings earlier.
Francisco Cabrera--a 26-year-old Dominican who had been called
up to the Braves from Triple A Richmond on Aug. 31, who had had
10 at bats in the big leagues that season--won the NLCS for the
Braves with a two-out, two-run pinch single in the bottom of the
ninth inning of the seventh game, at 11:53 on a warm Wednesday
night. Who could have imagined this?

"I could," Cabrera said afterward. "I imagine a lot. I dream a
lot: Man, someday I be the hero who hits the home run to win the
game. Then I be in all the papers. But I never get the chance."

Cabrera's knock sent general manager John Schuerholz charging
into the home clubhouse as if through swinging saloon doors.
"Was that the greatest ever in the history of the world, right
there?" shouted Schuerholz without specifying the greatest what.
No need to.

Said Brave righthander John Smoltz, who started the game and was
named Most Valuable Player of the series, "This has to be the
greatest seventh game of a playoff ever."

This is how the greatest-ever seventh game approached its
greatest-ever end: With Pittsburgh up 2-0 in the bottom of the
ninth, Atlanta third baseman Terry Pendleton doubled two feet
fair to the corner in right. Then David Justice hit a ball at
second baseman Jose Lind, who had had six errors all season but
booted this simple grounder. Though Lind stopped the ball from
going through, he couldn't make a play on Justice. Sid Bream
then walked on four pitches, and the bases were juiced, and
nobody was out, and that was all for Pirate starter Doug Drabek.

Cabrera was jumping up and down so hard in the dugout that he
banged his head on the concrete ceiling. Up came Ron Gant
against Pittsburgh reliever Stan Belinda, and he hit a bolt to
leftfield that Barry Bonds caught in front of the 330 sign.
Pendleton scored from third.

First and second, one out, the Braves trailing by a run, and
catcher Damon Berryhill walked to load the bases again. As pinch
hitter Brian Hunter walked to the plate, Atlanta batting coach
Clarence Jones informed Cabrera that he would hit next--if the
game wasn't over by then. Pendleton didn't know why, but he
helpfully told Cabrera anyway, "Hit the ball over the shortstop."

Hunter popped out to Lind. Cabrera stepped in. Belinda
delivered. "First pitch," said Cabrera, "is slider." It missed.

"Next pitch, fastball high. He needs a strike now. He don't want
no trouble."

The 2-0 pitch was a fastball that Cabrera sent screaming into
the seats down the leftfield line. "Hard fly ball," he said.
"But foul. Now I have one strike. I got the green light."

Hit the ball over the shortstop. Said Cabrera, "I remember that."

The 2-1 fastball was up but over the plate. Cabrera was hacking.
He drove the ball over shortstop Jay Bell. Justice scored to tie
the game, and Bream was waved around behind him: Sid Bream,
slower than bread mold, as they say. Bonds threw the ball on a
line maybe six feet inside the third base line, and catcher Mike
LaValliere made a sweep tag as Bream slid, and it was too close
to call with the naked eye. Home plate umpire Randy Marsh called
it anyway, and he was right: Safe!

All hell broke loose. Mounted police instantly spilled from
openings in the walls down both foul lines. Radio announcer Skip
Caray was shouting into his mike, "Braves win! Braves win!
Braves win! Braves win!"

Said Gant in the tumultuous Atlanta clubhouse: "Unbelievable."

That single word would resonate again 10 days later, after the
Toronto Blue Jays beat the Braves in the sixth and final game of
the 89th World Series. Four of those six games were decided by a
single run. Three of them were won in the victors' final at bat.
The Braves were reduced to their final strike in the bottom of
the ninth inning of Game 6 before implausibly scoring a run to
extend one of history's most extraordinary World Series games to
extra innings.

With two out and two on in the top of the 11th, Toronto's
41-year-old Dave Winfield drove a 3-2 changeup from Charlie
Leibrandt down the leftfield line to score two runs. That was
one more than the Braves--the Mylanta Braves--would score in the
bottom of the 11th. So Winfield's double forged what would be a
4-3 win.

Just a year after Atlanta had lost to the Minnesota Twins in a
once-in-a-millennium World Series, the Braves and the Jays had
begotten another far-fetched Fall Classic. "This matches up with
last year's Series," Toronto relief pitcher Tom Henke said in
the winners' clubhouse. "And last year's was great."

"Several years from now," said losing pitcher Leibrandt in the
near silence of the Brave clubhouse well past midnight, "it will
be nice just to have played in this game." Sadly for Leibrandt,
he could have said the same thing the previous October, when he
surrendered a game-winning home run to the Twins' Kirby Puckett
in the 11th inning of Game 6.

The Braves lost like champions, as they had in 1991. "There's no
worse way to lose than to get beat four games to two, when we
know it just as easily could have been the other way around,"
said Smoltz.

The first two games of the first international Fall Classic were
won on home runs by backup catchers. In Game 1, Berryhill of the
U.S. team decided matters with one swing of his Canadian-made
bat. In Game 2, Ed Sprague of the Canadian team homered in the
presence of his star-spangled wife, U.S. Olympic synchronized
swimmer Kristen Babb-Sprague.

Given the earsplitting split of those games, which followed
Atlanta's epochal playoff win in Game 7 of the NLCS, it was a
relief for the Braves to finally vacate their nuthouse on
Capitol Avenue and play Games 3, 4 and 5 in Toronto.

The roof was closed at the SkyDome for Game 3. The P.A. system
played bass-heavy rock and funk numbers when Toronto took
batting practice but switched to ennui-inducing Muzak when the
Braves took the cage. And still the Jays needed Devon
intervention to win the game. In the fourth inning of the first
World Series game ever played outside the U.S., Toronto
centerfielder Devon White turned, sprinted and made a
back-to-the-ball, chest-to-the-wall, backhanded, face-planted
catch of a Justice drive to deepest center, the wall pad
billowing like an air bag as White and the ball converged on it.

With the score tied at two in the ninth, Toronto's Candy
Maldonado hit a bases-loaded line drive over a drawn-in
outfield. Toronto was a 3-2 winner, and Atlanta had a sense of
deja vu.

"It reminded me of last year, seeing the outfielders in and the
ball going over them," Atlanta's Steve Avery said afterward,
referring to Game 7 in 1991, when Gene Larkin of the Twins drove
in the Series-ending run with a ball sent over the head of Brave
leftfielder Brian Hunter. "I'm just glad we've got a couple more
games left this time."

Alas, the Braves had one fewer after their 2-1 loss in Game 4.
Justice awoke the next morning for his regular gig on an Atlanta
radio station. "It looked like guys just showed up for a game,"
he said--on the air--of his teammates' performance the previous
night. "A spring training game."

Brave manager Bobby Cox promptly described Justice's comment as
"a crock." Indeed, Justice was hitting only .167 for the World
Series when he ran his mouth, but this turned out to be a case
of Justice delayed, not Justice denied: In the fourth inning of
Game 5 he drove a Jack Morris fastball off the bunting on the
second deck in rightfield to give the Braves a 2-1 lead.

The fact that it was Morris on the mound was yet another
reminder of the previous October, when the 88th World Series
created heroic and tragic figures of operatic dimensions:
Morris, then of the Twins, threw 10 shutout innings to beat
Atlanta 1-0 in Game 7, the Braves having been deprived of a run
in the top of the eighth when Lonnie Smith was decoyed into
dallying on the base paths. It is a measure of baseball's
infinite richness, then, that the principal players in the
previous year's drama would switch roles in 1992's Game 5. With
two outs and two strikes and the Braves leading 3-2, Smith
stroked a truly grand slam off Morris into a jubilant Atlanta
bullpen, giving the Braves a 7-2 win.

Before Game 6 back in Atlanta, author W.P. Kinsella appeared on
the field looking understandably discombobulated, since he is at
once a Canadian citizen and an honorary Brave scout. Kinsella's
novel Shoeless Joe was the basis of the movie Field of Dreams,
but Game 6 was more interesting than the film, not to mention
more preposterously plotted.

Maldonado's solo home run off Avery in the fourth inning gave
Toronto a 2-1 lead that lasted until the ludicrous ninth, when
Henke took the mound for the Blue Jays. As midnight approached
in Atlanta, the Terminator became the Germinator, the ordinarily
fail-safe closer cultivating a Brave rally that put two men on
with two outs as Nixon came to the plate.

Nixon had watched from a drug rehabilitation clinic as his
teammates played in the 1991 Series, and he had found many of
that Series' most dramatic moments difficult to watch on TV. One
year later he stepped into just such a scenario: His team was
trailing 2-1, and he was trailing 0-2 in the count. Which is
when Nixon sent Atlantans into momentary ecstasy, taking a
fastball to leftfield and bringing home Jeff Blauser to tie the
score.

Two innings later, trailing 4-2, the Braves again put two
runners on base--and again Nixon came up with two outs. On the
second pitch he laid down a bunt; Mike Timlin fielded the ball
and threw carefully to Joe Carter at first for the final out,
whereupon a people pile consisting entirely of Blue Jays arose
in the infield. Everyone remained in the stands--uncertain,
perhaps, that the game had actually ended.

"The Atlanta Braves," Winfield said while shaking his head when
it was all finally over. "Man. They're like ... like trying to
hold water back with your hands. It just keeps coming through."

Indeed, Atlanta was fascinating in defeat for the second
consecutive fall. But the Braves were acutely aware of their
place in history, and that place was second place. "It's
something we can tell our grandkids," Bream said. "We played in
two of the greatest World Series of all time. But at the same
time, it's hard to tell your grandkids, 'We're the ones who
never won.'"

Ten seconds of silence followed the final out of Game 6. Then
came a crescendo of applause for both teams from the 51,763
spectators. However, when the Brave fans finally did let go of
another enervating season and filed out to face the winter, it
was Ray Charles's voice that they heard falling softly from
stadium speakers: "Georgia. Georrr-gia. No peace I find...."

COLOR PHOTO: WILLIAM BERRY/ATLANTA CONSTITUTION The NLCS ended with the unknown Cabrera (right) stroking a pinch sindle that drove Bream home with the winning run. [Francisco Cabrera]COLOR PHOTO: RONALD C. MODRA [See caption above--Sid Bream sliding as Mike LaValliere attempts to tag him]COLOR PHOTO: RICHARD MACKSON Berryhill's homer won the World Series opener. [Damon Berryhill]COLOR PHOTO: JOHN IACONO Smoltz gets the emphatic out sign he was looking for after covering home and tagging the Jays' Robbie Alomar in Game 2. [John Smoltz looking up at umpire after tagging Robbie Alomar]