As happy endings go, this was a weird one: On eve of World Series Game 6, rightfielder blasts home fans for not hiking decibel level high enough to suit him, saying, "You have to do something great to get them out of their seats.... If we don't win, they'll probably burn our houses down." During pregame introductions, smarting fans crank it up, booing rightfielder, who sports .214 postseason average. Rightfielder homers to account for only run in victory that brings fans first world championship. Fans cheer rightfielder. Rightfielder thanks fans on national TV for their outstanding support.
David Justice—now you hate him, now you don't. Just when it appeared he had opened his big mouth one too many times, Justice, the Atlanta Braves' rightfielder for the past six years, turned one of the worst days of his life into his best night. Rattled early last Saturday by the sight of his own harsh words plastered across the Atlanta Journal-Constitution sports section, Justice tried to make amends by belting his homer off Cleveland Indian reliever Jim Poole and throwing bouquets to the Brave faithful during the postgame celebration. "The fans proved me wrong," Justice said. "They were gems tonight."
He wasn't too thrilled on the off day before Game 6, when he went on about how much more fired up Cleveland fans were compared with Atlanta's. Maybe so. But this was the Braves' third World Series in five seasons, and the Indians hadn't been in the Fall Classic in 41 years. The 1991 and '92 World Series, both of which the Braves lost, were among the most exciting ever played; this latest edition wasn't nearly as compelling.
It was just the latest case of Justice popping off at the wrong time, which hasn't endeared him to fans or teammates. During the 1992 World Series, with Atlanta trailing the Toronto Blue Jays, three games to one, he went on the radio and said his teammates weren't playing as hard as they should—a comment that upset several Braves.
Big talkers had best be able to back up their words with big production, and this fall Justice was coming off a regular season in which his average (.253) had plunged 60 points from the year before. When asked before the World Series about his postseason struggles, Justice was indignant. "It depends how you define struggling," he said. "I got some key walks."
Key walks? The No. 5 hitter in the order, a 40-homer man in 1993, talking about key walks? It was typical Justice, in that he does not react well to criticism and usually has an inflated opinion of himself. But the Saturday headlines, coupled with his fear that the Braves might somehow lose another Series, Justice said, made for "the most pressure I've ever felt in my life."
Before Game 6, he said, he had to go off by himself to "clear my mind. My head hurt, my stomach hurt, and all I could think about was going out on the field and getting booed by 50,000 fans. I really don't know how I got through today. The pressure was unbearable."
The pressure started to let up after he doubled in the fourth, for his first extra-base hit in 43 postseason at bats. "After that, the controversy was gone," Justice said. "I was helping the team. I figured, If they don't like me, they don't like me."
Then, when Justice nailed Poole's high fastball for his first homer in 20 games, all was forgiven.