Team of '90s going home again
Posted: Thursday October 15, 1998 02:13 AM
ATLANTA (AP) -- The team of the '90s is running out of time. There's only year left for the Atlanta Braves to win a second World Series title.
Returning to Turner Field with grandiose plans of becoming the first team in major league history to rebound from an 0-3 deficit, the Braves instead gave their tomahawk-chopping fans another winter to ponder what went wrong.
Those 106 regular-season wins are merely the most ever for a team that didn't make the World Series. No one will remember that the Braves became the first team to force Game 6 after losing the first three games, actually coaxing their lackadaisical fans into a sellout Wednesday.
San Diego is going to the World Series after a two-hit, 5-0 victory clinched the NL championship series four games to two.
"I guess we could take the easy way out and never get to this point," John Smoltz said. "It stinks having to sit here and answer these questions again. But that's reality. I'm sure there's hundreds of players who would like to be sitting here in this position."
Danny Bautista was probably an exception.
He stood uncomfortably in front of his locker, trying to explain what happened in the sixth inning when Sterling Hitchcock's soft liner ricocheted off his glove for an error, allowing three unearned runs that turned the game into a blowout.
"As soon as he hit it, I thought I had it," Bautista said. "But I lost it when it went into the lights. I did my best."
Manager Bobby Cox doesn't think another World Series win is required for the '90s Braves to earn proper recognition.
"We love to win in April, May, June," he said. "I don't know if it validates anything. Some of other good teams got knocked out even earlier than we and Cleveland."
At least the Braves used to wait until the Series before losing. The last two seasons, they haven't been able to get that far both times eliminated at home in Game 6 of the NLCS, both times with Tom Glavine on the mound, both times scuttled by one big inning.
A year ago, Florida scored four runs in the first, eliminated the Braves with a 7-4 victory and went on to beat Cleveland in a seven-game Series. Apparently content with having just as many championships in the '90s as the Braves, the Marlins promptly disbanded their team.
On Wednesday, a five-run sixth inning helped along greatly by Bautista's fielding gaffe earned the Padres a meeting with the New York Yankees.
"We're disappointed that we didn't win this year," Glavine said. "We'll come back next year in spring training and try to win again. I'm proud as hell to play in this organization. I've got a chance to play in the World Series every year."
Bautista, an obscure outfielder who plays mostly against left-handers, found himself at the center of the game-clinching play. The Padres were leading 2-0 in the sixth and had the bases loaded, but Glavine needed only to retire his pitching counterpart to survive the inning.
Hitchcock sliced a liner to left, prompting a collective sigh of relief from the crowd, but Bautista seemed to get a late break, wobbled with uncertainty and finally tumbled to his knees as the ball deflected off the web of his glove and fell to the ground.
Two runs scored to make it 4-0, and another would come home before the disastrous inning came to an end.
Bautista can't take all the blame, however. The Braves managed only two hits both in the fourth inning and finished the series like they started, having scored only three runs in the first three games.
"We didn't score any runs today," Bautista said. "When that play happened, they were already ahead 2-0. That's not my fault."
The error was the eighth of the series for the Braves, who led the National League in fielding. Andres Galarraga, regarded as one of the game's best defensive players at first, had four of the miscues not to mention hitting .095 (2-for-21).
"I wanted to be in the World Series, no matter what," said the 37-year-old Galarraga, who has never gotten that far in his career. "But I had a good season (.305, 44 homers, 121 RBIs), better than a lot of people expected. And I have two more seasons on my contract. Hopefully, I will make it to the World Series."
Galarraga didn't get much help from the other big hitters in Atlanta order. Jones hit .208 with one RBI. Ryan Klesko batted .083 with one RBI.
"You go out and give it all you've got," Jones said. "If it's not good enough, all you can do is hope it's good enough next year."
Next year. That's a familiar refrain in Atlanta.
Maybe the Braves, having made an unprecedented seven straight trips to the postseason, will have to be content with that lone World Series title, won in 1995. Maybe the Braves will have to settle for the monotonous level of regular-season success that allows them to reach the playoffs year after year.
After all, that's a truly remarkable feat considering this 25-man roster has only two holdovers, Glavine and Smoltz, from the 1991 team that got it all started.
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