It's only just that Justice does prevail

October 29, 1995|By Ken Rosenthal

ATLANTA -- They love him. They hate him. They love him again.

What was it David Justice was saying?

"What happens if we don't win? When's the parade then? They'll run us out of Atlanta."

Oh yes, that.

That was Friday.

But what was it the woman's sign said last night?

"Justice, we love you man!"

All it took was a measly home run.

A home run that gave the Atlanta Braves their first World Series title.

Last night's 1-0 victory validated the Braves as the Team of the '90s, and silenced those who dismissed them as the Buffalo Bills of baseball.

Justice prevails.

"I felt like it was me against the world," he said. "No one wants to be booed in their own stadium, especially during the World Series."

But booed Justice was, for remarks criticizing the fans at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium for being less vocal than those in Cleveland.

Then, leading off the sixth inning, he hit his first homer of the postseason, off former Orioles left-hander Jim Poole.

Today, he can run for mayor.

Tom Glavine and Mark Wohlers pitched the first combined one-hitter in World Series history. Justice's homer produced the only run of the game.

When's the parade?

Tomorrow, baby.

Tomorrow.

"This is a dream come true," Justice said.

The Braves lost the World Series in '91 and '92, fell to Philadelphia in the NLCS in '93. Their fans had grown so accustomed to winning, they forgot it was worth cheering.

Hence, Justice's 15-minute soliloquy on Friday.

"You would have to do something great to get them out of their seats," he said of the fans.

So, Justice did.

He tipped his cap in grandiose style upon returning to right field after his homer. The cheers were so loud, you would have thought he was carrying the Olympic torch.

It was only the biggest home run he'll ever hit, on one of the most trying days of his life.

"A really nerve-wracking day," Justice said. 'I don't know how I made it through the day. I'm serious. I never felt so much pressure in my life.

"I never really get butterflies, but my stomach just hurt. I didn't eat anything before the game. Just one banana, and half a sandwich."

Justice knew if the Braves lost, they would face staggering pressure entering Game 7, with the struggling John Smoltz taking the mound.

But he had other troubles.

Troubles he brought on himself.

"I had no choice. I made my bed. I had to lay in it," he said. "There was no way to run from it. I just had to endure it.

"I went out with a smile on my face. I said: 'I don't care what they say, I'm going to come out smiling.' "

The fans said plenty. "They were killing me in the on-deck circle," Justice said. The home run restored his popularity, and salvaged his postseason.

Justice entered the game with no extra-base hits in 42 at-bats this postseason, cementing his reputation as one of the most overrated players in baseball.

But last night, he went 2-for-2 with a homer, double and two walks in the most important game in Braves history.

"That's what I was looking for," Justice said, referring not only to himself, but to the fans.

All he wanted was for the crowd at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium to display its past fervor, cheer with its old passion.

But the headline in yesterday's Atlanta Journal and Constitution said, "Justice takes a rip at Braves fans."

Oops.

"Maybe it was something in my delivery," Justice said.

Here was a guy who hit a career-low .253 this season, a guy who was batting .167 in the Series, and .214 in the postseason.

And he wanted the fans to make noise?

"If we don't win, they'll probably burn our houses down," Justice sniffed.

Not yours, David.

No one would have dared mess with your better half, Halle Berry.

Actually, Justice had the right idea, trying to rally the fans. He just chose the wrong words, and picked the wrong time.

The fans in Atlanta are, indeed, spoiled by their Braves' success. But like fans in other cities, they also were turned off by the players' strike.

Still, Justice found them lacking.

"I wanted it to be like the first time," he said. "I wanted them to stand up and cheer and be happy."

And so he made it happen.

Justice returned to the field for the post-game celebration, waving and blowing kisses to the crowd. Indeed, he showed remarkably good humor all day.

"From now on, you get short McGriff answers," he told reporters before the game, smiling.

He advised the fans to "prove me wrong, stand up the whole game, make me out to be the biggest fool that ever lived."

And he said, "If I'm wrong, I'll go on TV tomorrow. I'll go to every house in Atlanta."

Trick or treat, everybody!

"They proved me wrong. They definitely proved me wrong," Justice said afterward, laughing. "It felt so great to see our fans screaming like crazy, on their feet rooting for us."

Spoken like a true Justice of the peace.

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