Nixon's the one to drive Braves' win in Game 4 Outfielder making up for missed series

October 12, 1992|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,Staff Writer

PITTSBURGH -- They are making a movie in Atlanta about the travails of Braves outfielder Otis Nixon called "Strike Out," to help kids beat drugs.

Perhaps, given the brilliance of Nixon's 4-for-5 performance in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series on Saturday night and the comeback it symbolized, the new title should be "Redemption."

Nixon, who missed last year's playoffs against the Pittsburgh Pirates because of a 60-day drug suspension, made up for the lost time, propelling the Braves to a 6-4 win.

For Nixon, who scored two runs and drove in two more, including the game-winner, the night was as magical as any he's had in the majors.

"I had a problem I had to take care of, and that's where I had to be. Not being part of it last year made this year really sweet for me. Nobody wanted to repeat as badly as I did," said Nixon.

Nixon, who singled three times and doubled once, became the 10th player to get four hits in a National League playoff game.

In addition, Nixon joined nine other players in getting five straight hits in one series. Nixon had doubled in his final at-bat in Game 3 and got his four consecutive hits Saturday.

But the on-field achievements Saturday took a back seat to reflection on where Nixon had come from -- the despair of watching last year's playoffs and World Series from a Georgia drug treatment center.

"For me to go through what I was going through at the time and not being there with my teammates at the time, that was hard. I hurt my family and I hurt myself and the whole nine yards," said Nixon.

The 33-year-old center fielder, whose .412 playoff batting average is second to teammate Mark Lemke's .462, was a free agent after last season and said he seriously considered signing with the California Angels.

Eventually, Nixon said, he decided that returning to the Braves, given their potential and their interest in his well-being, was the right thing to do.

"When I was in treatment, they took a personal interest in me, not just in my ability," said Nixon. "They treated me like a human being. They wanted to know what Otis Nixon was going through. It was a big part in putting me back together."

Nixon's dominance overshadowed the work of Atlanta starter John Smoltz, who led the National League in strikeouts during the regular season, and struck out nine batters in 6 1/3 innings to get his second win of the series.

Smoltz, who also walked five and gave up three runs in the first three innings, was not nearly as dominant as in Game 1, where he yielded just one run and four hits in eight innings, but was sharp just long enough to win.

"In the middle three innings, I just told myself to stop being tentative and go after them," said Smoltz. "You don't have to give me more than one chance to realize that a win is at hand. I'm just glad everything worked out the way it did."

"Smoltz has been a horse for them. He [Atlanta manager Bobby Cox] showed a lot of confidence in him, and he was right," said Pittsburgh manager Jim Leyland.

Between Smoltz and relievers Mike Stanton and Jeff Reardon, who pitched the ninth and earned a save, Braves pitching struck out 14 and allowed the Pirates one hit after the third inning.

Smoltz even went a step further, becoming the first pitcher to get two hits in an NL playoff game since Rick Sutcliffe went 2-for-4 in Game 1 of the 1984 series for the Chicago Cubs.

And, for good measure, Smoltz stole a base in the sixth, the second postseason steal of his career, and scored the game-winning run on Nixon's double to left-center.

"It was a chance for me to stay in the game. I had cost myself quite a few games during the year with my lack of hitting. In this situation, it worked out for me," said Smoltz.

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