A playoff series that was once Pedestrian was redeemed on Sunday by a man named Walk. How is it, then, that we were still awash in references to motor vehicles—or as they say in Georgia, motor VEE-hickles—as the Atlanta Braves took a three-games-to-two lead over the Pittsburgh Pirates in the National League Championship Series last week?
Pirate leftfielder and free-agent-to-be Barry Bonds, for instance, was ferried about in a burgundy Lincoln while house hunting in Atlanta before Game 1. (Who would know better than the blasé Bonds about low interest rates?)
Rookie knuckleballer Tim Wakefield gave Pirate teammate Andy Van Slyke a white-knuckle ride to Three Rivers Stadium for Game 3 in Pittsburgh. "I was nervous," said Van Slyke. "He was driving like A.J."
"A.J. Foyt or A.J. my eight-year-old son, either one."
And then there was Brave owner Ted Turner, who tooled into the tunnel beneath Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium with a sticker that read I [LOVE] MY CABLE TV! affixed to the back bumper of his Ford Taurus.
That's Taurus, which rhymes with bore us, which is precisely what the Braves and Pirates were threatening to do in this series by repeating familiar themes from their playoff matchup of a year ago. Atlanta won last season's Championship Series in seven games, aided by penurious pitching and the absence of malice in the middle of Pittsburgh's batting order. The only difference this year was that the Bucs, who were down three games to one, figured to bow out earlier with going-on-36-years-old righthander Bob Walk making his first start of the postseason for Pittsburgh in Sunday night's Game 5.
Walk started Game 1 of the 1980 World Series for the Philadelphia Phillies, and he wasn't named Sunday's starter until 36 hours before the game, when Pittsburgh manager Jim Leyland announced that Walk would replace shell-shocked Game 2 starter Danny Jackson in the Pirates' three-man rotation. Walk will tell you himself that he doesn't like pitching. No wonder that when Pittsburgh third base coach Rich Donnelly awoke at four o'clock Sunday morning and looked at his wide-awake wife, she said only a single word to her husband: "Walkie?"
But because Walkie threw a complete-game three-hitter and because Bonds broke a postseason streak in which he had gone 0 for 28 with runners on base—in short, because Pittsburgh beat Atlanta 7-1 on Sunday—the Pirates and Braves appeared perfectly prepared to play another decisive seventh game this season. And the Braves were favored to win the pennant again this week, needing one victory in two games at their ever-so-slightly subdued home park.
Subdued? Sure, when the playoffs opened in frigid Hotlanta, Supercuts, a national hair-cutting chain, was doing brisk business shaving tomahawks into scalps. But for the most part the Braves did not have that fresh-cut feeling of last fall, when a local news anchorwoman pulled manager Bobby Cox from the division-clinching celebration in the clubhouse and announced on live television, "I'm Brenda Wood—and you are...?"