It was seven minutes to midnight when the Atlanta Braves won the National League pennant. Seven minutes to midnight of the seventh game when—abra-Cabrera—history got a new hero, his surname Spanish for one who tends goats.
Andy Van Slyke of the Pittsburgh Pirates fell supine in centerfield at seven minutes to midnight, as if shot dead. The wife of Brave president Stan Kasten blacked out in her seat at Atlanta- Fulton County Stadium, recalling later only the thock! of bat hitting ball.
Seven minutes to midnight, and soon Brave centerfielder Otis Nixon would be in the clubhouse, pointing through a wall toward the still-lit field. "They said 1991 was the Miracle Season," said Nixon, referring to the Braves' worst-to-first pennant run last year. "It wasn't a miracle compared to that. Frankie Cabrera, who hasn't played all year, steps up and does that!"
The 89th World Series opened in Atlanta last Saturday night because of what had happened at seven minutes to midnight three evenings earlier. Francisco Cabrera—a 26-year-old Dominican who was called up to the Braves from Triple A Richmond on Aug. 31, who had 10 at bats in the big leagues this season—won the National League Championship Series for the Braves with a two-out, two-run pinch single in the bottom of the ninth inning of the seventh game at 11:53 on a warm Wednesday night. Who could have imagined this?
"I could," Cabrera said afterward. "I imagine a lot. I dream a lot: Man, someday I be the hero who hits the home run to win the game. Then I be in all the papers. But I never get the chance."
Somebody pinch-hit me, I must be dreaming.
Cabrera's knock sent Brave general manager John Schuerholz charging into the home clubhouse as if through swinging saloon doors. "Was that the greatest ever in the history of the world right there?" shouted Schuerholz, without specifying the greatest what. No need to.
"This has to be the greatest seventh game of a playoff ever," said Brave righthander John Smoltz, who started the game and was named Most Valuable Player of the series. "Nobody choked. The Pirates played their hearts out."
Van Slyke was one of several participants unable to stand at seven minutes to midnight. The attrition began with the Pirates leading 1-0 in the second. Home plate umpire John McSherry called time in a cold sweat and excused himself. He was taken by ambulance to Piedmont Hospital. It was feared, at first, that he had suffered a heart attack. (That fear, fortunately, proved to be unfounded.)
While 210-pound first base ump Randy Marsh was fitted into the armor abandoned by the 320-pound McSherry, Pirates Van Slyke, Jose Lind, Alex Cole and Orlando Merced filled the 11-minute delay playing whist or poker or some such game using invisible cards, the three of them sitting in shallow centerfield, Van Slyke dealing out the deck in pantomime.