How They Got Here
The rivalry was born the year before, when the Braves and Pirates played seven tight games in the NLCS before Atlanta finally prevailed. As the Braves were celebrating and the Pirates were moping, there was little doubt they would meet again.
After losing to the Twins in one of the greatest World Series ever played in 1991, the Braves came back even better in 1992, perfectly set up to repeat as National League champions. The Pirates were a different story. Everybody knew that they couldn't keep their team around for much longer. They won their third straight NL East title in 1992, and their talent base had already taken a hit. But they still had Barry Bonds, so they still had a chance in any series they played.
Things didn't look optimistic for Pittsburgh in the early part of the 1992 NLCS, as they fell behind Atlanta 3 games to 1. But they fought back, winning the next two, including Game 6 in Atlanta, to set up Game 7. Just like in the previous year, the Pirates would have to deal with John Smoltz in Game 7. This time, though, they had their ace ready in Doug Drabek.
Bases loaded. Two outs in the ninth. Game 7. Trailing by one. The ultimate dream scenario. At the plate was somebody called Francisco Cabrera, who even Braves fans might have forgotten was on the roster. So of course he singled to left. The tying run scored. Bonds came up with the ball and fired home, hoping to throw out Sid Bream, only the slowest player on either team. The throw came toward home...
... It's possible that Barry Bonds' ninth-inning throw in Game 7 changed baseball throughout the 90s. If that throw had connected, maybe Atlanta's budding rivalry gets snuffed out before it had a chance to get started. Maybe Pittsburgh wins that game in extra innings and goes on to win the World Series, finally getting something out of all those postseason close calls. Maybe with the win, Bonds thinks twice about leaving for greener - and richer - pastures, or maybe Pittsburgh decides it can afford to shell out money to the player who just got them a World Championship.
But the throw didn't connect. It was up the first-base line, giving Bream just enough time to slide in safely, allowing the Braves to complete their three-run comeback in the bottom of the ninth and advance to their second straight World Series.
Between first and second base, Francisco Cabrera jumped up and down. He had just lived the ultimate baseball dream, the two-out ninth-inning single to win Game 7, and he became quite possibly the most unlikely hero in baseball history. Each team had 25 players on their postseason roster; it was likely that Cabrera was the 50th best player on the field. Yet it was him jumping up and down between first and second, the unlikely hero. At first, the Braves piled on Bream, ignoring their third-string catcher. Then they came to their senses and mobbed him, celebrating the birth of a dynasty. The Pirates walked off the field with heads hung as a dynasty died.
It was the second straight World Series for the Braves, the second straight instant classic. Though not remembered as fondly as the 1991 edition - most likely because it only went six games instead of seven - the 1992 World Series was just as tense. And the Braves lost again. But the team of the 90s was born, and they appeared in the next 12 postseasons.
The Pirates, of course, never recovered. After three straight division titles, Bonds and Drabek were gone after the season. Pittsburgh hasn't had a winning season since.
What I did.
The final list:
1. 1992 NLCS: Atlanta 3, Pittsburgh 2
2. 2003 ALCS: New York 6, Boston 5
3. 1980 NLCS: Philadelphia 8, Houston 7
4. 2006 NLCS: St. Louis 3, New York 1
5. 1976 ALCS: New York 7, Kansas City 6
6. 1977 ALCS: New York 5, Kansas City 3
7. 1972 NLCS: Cincinnati 4, Pittsburgh 3
8. 1981 NLCS: Los Angeles 2, Montreal 1
9. 1982 ALCS: Milwaukee 4, California 3
10. 2008 ALCS: Tampa Bay 3, Boston 1
11. 1984 NLCS: San Diego 6, Chicago 3
12. 2003 NLCS: Florida 9, Chicago 6
13. 2004 NLCS: St. Louis 5, Houston 2
14. 1972 ALCS: Oakland 2, Detroit 1
15. 1973 ALCS: Oakland 3, Baltimore 0
16. 1985 ALCS: Kansas City 6, Toronto 2
17. 2007 ALCS: Boston 11, Cleveland 2
18. 1991 NLCS: Atlanta 4, Pittsburgh 0
19. 1973 NLCS: New York 7, Cincinnati 2
20. 1987 NLCS: St. Louis 6, San Francisco 0
21. 1988 NLCS: Los Angeles 6, New York 0
22. 2004 ALCS: Boston 10, New York 3
23. 1986 ALCS: Boston 8, California 1
24: 1996 NLCS: Atlanta 15, St. Louis 0