Sunday, October 14, 2012

1995 World Series: Awesome Atlanta

The Teams
National League: Atlanta Braves (90-54) - Third World Series
American League: Cleveland Indians (100-44) - Fourth World Series (Won in 1920, 1948)

What Happened
All game long, they were one swing away. Both teams were. With the Braves up 3-2 in the World Series, one win away from their first championship, Tom Glavine took the ball and raised the already-high bar for pitching even higher, completely shutting down the powerful Cleveland lineup throughout Game 6. Cleveland's Dennis Martinez was almost as good, though. He was giving up a few more hits than Glavine, but neither team had scored through five innings. The sixth inning started, and everybody watching knew that the next run would probably win the game and, if it was scored by Atlanta, the World Series.

After losing out on a World Series in 1994 because of a strike, baseball fans were happy to have a World Series of any kind in 1995. What helped the anticipation for the first World Series in the Wild Card era was that the two best teams in baseball met for the championship.

The Braves had been to the series twice in the 1990s and had only gotten better in 1995. Pitcher Greg Maddux was at the top of his game, putting in one of the best individual seasons ever in 1995; his presence as the Braves' ace made them a terrifying opponent for anybody in a playoff series. Cleveland, meanwhile, put together one of the best regular seasons of any team of the 1990s. Their lineup was the best baseball had seen in years, full of powerful, young players the Indians had locked up to long-term contracts.

But while the Indians were making their first postseason appearance in 41 years in 1995, the Braves had been there three times that decade. They knew what they were doing. They knew that pitching won championships, and their pitchers dominated Cleveland's powerful lineup most of the series. They won Game 1 behind sublime pitching by Maddux - Cleveland's only two runs were unearned - and won Game 2 behind a great start by Glavine. The Indians won Game 3 in 11 innings, then were unexpectedly shut down by Steve Avery in Game 5. Maddux couldn't come through with a chance to clinch the title in Game 5, so the series shifted back to Atlanta for Game 6, where Glavine and Martinez were waiting.

Tony Pena broke up Glavine's no-hitter with a leadoff single in the sixth, so Cleveland had a runner on base with the pitcher's spot up next. But instead of pinch-hitting for reliever Jim Poole, who had relieved Martinez for the final out of the fifth, the Indians let him try to bunt. He failed, popping out, and the rally fizzled. Then came the bottom of the sixth, where Justice was leading off for Atlanta against Poole. The Braves were potentially a swing away from the title, and Justice delivered, blasting a 1-1 pitch over the wall in right field.

Atlanta fans started celebrating, and never really stopped. Glavine was in control, after all. Pena's hit in the sixth ended up being Cleveland's only hit of the game, the threat that led to their last serious threat of the series. Glavine finished the seventh and eighth, and closer Mark Wohlers wrapped things up in the ninth to give Atlanta their first World Championship. And despite all the great teams Atlanta would put on the field the rest of the decade, it remains the only World Championship they've ever won.

It's no surprise that it would be a pitcher who won the MVP the first time the Braves won the World Series. Glavine won it for his two dominating performances, including his one-hitter in the clincher.

(Home team shaded; winners in Bold)

Cleveland23 7 (11)250
Atlanta 346541

The List
I'm ranking all the World Series, from worst to best. Here are the ones I've done so far:

14. 1995 - Atlanta (N) def. Cleveland (A) 4-2
15. 1960 - Pittsburgh (N) def. New York (A) 4-3
16. 1952 - New York (A) def. Brooklyn (N) 4-3
17. 1997 - Florida (N) def. Cleveland (A) 4-3
18. 1993 - Toronto (A) def. Philadelphia (N) 4-2
19. 1956 - New York (A) def. Brooklyn (N) 4-3
Numbers 20-29
Numbers 30-39
Numbers 40-49
Numbers 50-59
Numbers 60-69
Numbers 70-79
Numbers 80-89
Numbers 90-99
Numbers 100-107

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