Braves still pinching themselves Rally, Series berth too good to be true

October 16, 1992|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,Staff Writer

ATLANTA -- After the seventh game, the Atlanta Braves rested.

Following Wednesday night's pulse-pounding 3-2 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates in Game 7 of the National League Championship Series, the Braves took a well-deserved day off yesterday before preparing to play tomorrow's first game of the World Series at home.

Only Tom Glavine, Atlanta's scheduled starter tomorrow night against the Toronto Blue Jays, even bothered to venture inside Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium yesterday.

And that visit was just long enough for Glavine to perform his usual workout between starts.

It was as if the Braves dared not return to the stadium where, just hours before, they had performed the most remarkable ninth-inning comeback in NL playoff history, lest it all be proven out to be just a dream.

But, indeed, it was real and marked the first time in the 23-year history of the NL playoffs that a team had come from behind in the ninth inning of a deciding game to win the series.

"I'm still in shock," said Pittsburgh manager Jim Leyland. "I felt like the game was ours after we got the two outs. It's tough to lose like this three years in a row. They say two-out hits are golden and [Francisco] Cabrera sure got a golden hit."

Even the scoreboard still reflected the Miracle of Capitol Street yesterday, showing the final score, the 2-1 count as well as the number of the batter, pinch hitter Cabrera, who drove in the winning runs with a two-out single.

Area hotels geared up for a surge of weekend business for the first two games of the series, while local baseball card dealers reported a run on the trading cards of Sid Bream, who just beat Pirates catcher Mike LaValliere's tag to score the winning run, and Cabrera, a heretofore anonymous reserve catcher, who happened to be Atlanta manager Bobby Cox's last possible option.

Cabrera, a 25-year-old native of Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, was added to the Braves' roster Aug. 31, the last day to be eligible for the postseason.

A former Blue Jay, Cabrera had only appeared in 12 regular-season games this year, and was hitting .300 (3-for-10), but nothing he had ever done approached the magic of Wednesday night.

"I thought to myself, 'We've got to win this game because I want to go to Toronto,' " said Cabrera. "I watched them and wanted them to win. I was sure we were going to win."

If that's the case, Cabrera and his teammates were about the only ones here who thought so, since Pittsburgh starter Doug Drabek had been so thoroughly dominant, limiting them to five hits in eight innings.

Drabek, who lost games 1 and 4 to John Smoltz, the series' Most Valuable Player, was cruising along with a 2-0 lead, and was just three outs from making the Pirates the first team in National League history to win a playoff after trailing 3-1.

He had worked out of a bases-loaded, none-out jam in the sixth, but the Pirates ultimately could not get out of a second such crisis in the ninth.

Terry Pendleton, a switch-hitter who had just one hit in 21 previous at-bats from the left side, hit a leadoff double into the right-field corner.

Right fielder David Justice, who threw out Orlando Merced trying to score in the eighth on a Jeff King double, grounded into the hole at second, but the normally sure-handed Jose Lind mishandled the ball, and there were runners on first and third with no one out.

Bream walked to load the bases, signaling the end for Drabek, who had thrown 129 pitches.

"It was vintage Drabek," said Leyland, whose Pirates joined the Philadelphia Phillies and Kansas City Royals as teams that had lost three straight playoffs.

"He's a big game pitcher and he did a tremendous job," Leylanadded. "The ball to Lind -- what can you say? He's a Gold Glove fielder and he makes that play 10 times out of 10. But it happens."

Stan Belinda relieved Drabek and gave up a deep fly ball to Ron Gant, which drove in the Braves' first run.

Damon Berryhill then walked to reload the bases, but pinch hitter Brian Hunter popped to Lind for the second out, and it appeared Pittsburgh would get its revenge against the Braves, who won the 1991 pennant in seven games, beating the Pirates twice on their home field in the last two games.

But there was Cabrera, who had homered off Belinda in a 1991 game. Cabrera got ahead in the count 2-0, then hit a screaming liner foul down the left-field line.

"The second pitch he threw me was a fastball high to make it 2-0. I knew he wanted to throw a strike because he didn't want to get in trouble," said Cabrera. "He threw a strike and I hit a foul ball. I said, 'Well, I got a green light and I've got to hit the ball good.' "

And he was, slapping the grounder through the hole at short. Left fielder Barry Bonds gathered the ball in and threw to the plate.

Justice easily scored, but for Bream, who has had five knee operations, it was a different matter.

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