Just as unlikely a hero was the 34-year-old O'Brien, a 10-year veteran with a career .219 batting average who earns his keep as one of the best defensive catchers in the game. Two nights after Atlanta's regular catcher, Javy Lopez, salted away the Braves' 6-2 Game 2 victory with a three-run homer, O'Brien broke open a scoreless Game 3 with his own three-run blast in the sixth inning of a game the Braves would win 5-2.
A free-agent pickup by the Braves before the 1994 season, O'Brien has found his niche as the regular catcher for Maddux. He even keeps Maddux's '87 rookie card taped above his locker, because, O'Brien says, "Greg kind of looks like Pepe Le Pew in the picture." O'Brien owns the Catch 22 Ranch—he wears number 11 for Atlanta but has worn 22 most of his career—near Tulsa, and he's an avid hunter. He likens hitting a big homer to the thrill of bagging a buck. "The only problem is, I can look at my mounted deer, but I can't hang this homer on the wall," said O'Brien. "I've got to get a videotape of the home run, or my kids won't believe it."
O'Brien has four children: Alisha, 11; Andrea, 9; Chris, 6; and Cameron, 3. He writes Alisha's name on his bat at the start of every season, uses it until it breaks and then writes the name of the next-oldest child in line on the new bat. The huge home run against the Reds was tattooed with Andrea's name. "That was the first thing she asked the next day: 'Was my name on the bat?' " said O'Brien. "Chris can't wait till I break the bat, because he's next. They're all excited. This has been a big thrill for me."
The Braves-Reds series was a postseason matchup baseball insiders had been anticipating since spring training. Atlanta used three platoons of scouts to follow Cincinnati in September, and it paid off. Red base runners stole just four bases in seven tries against the Braves and were twice nailed on pitchouts. Cincy's shaky bullpen was torched for 12 runs in 11? innings. Gant and Sanders were a combined 5 for 32. As a team the Reds batted .209, including 3 for 29 with runners in scoring position. They grounded into eight double plays and did not hit a home run.
"Our advance scouts and computer geeks did a great job," said Brave shortstop Jeff Blauser, who was sidelined with a deep thigh bruise after Game 1 and, like Justice, will benefit from the week off. "When we would go over a hitter, I would at times disagree with our reports. But nine times out of 10, our scouts were right."
Can the Braves dominate the American League champ the way they did the Reds? Said Glavine ominously, "This series showed we are as good as we thought we were."