The Cardinals have a roomful of tough guys, and they took turns flexing their muscles against the Braves. In Game 2, with the incomparable Maddux on the mound, Gary Gaetti busted the game open in the seventh inning with a grand slam that carried St. Louis to an 8-3 win. Atlanta then sent Glavine, last year's World Series MVP, to the mound in Game 3 as the action moved to St. Louis. He would have gotten the Braves even, were it not for his old pal Ron Gant. Two years ago Gant broke his leg in an off-season dirt-bike accident, and he was released a month later by Atlanta. The leg healed; Gant's bitterness about the Braves' decision to dump him remains. Last season, as a member of the Cincinnati Reds, he met up with his former club in the playoffs and was blinded by thoughts of revenge. He hit .188 with one RBI as Atlanta swept Cincinnati in a Division Series. "Last year I tried to do too much," said Gant after Saturday's game. "I wanted to beat them myself, to hit a home run every time up. It hurt me more than it helped. My feelings were so deep that I tried too hard. This year I've calmed down and made adjustments."
Glavine allowed three runs, all of them on Gant home runs—a two-run shot in the first and a solo blast in the sixth. The Cardinals held on for a 3-2 victory. It was a sweet day for Gant, who lives in Atlanta in the off-season and keeps what's left of his dirt bike in his garage. "Just a reminder of what happened and how my life has changed," said Gant. "That accident was a blessing. It opened my eyes and taught me not to take anything for granted. This is such a humbling sport."
While in St. Louis, the Braves didn't have to flip a motorcycle to feel humble. They just had to go outside. With their hotel only a couple of blocks from the stadium, they walked home after getting knocked off in Games 3 and 4. The rabid Cards' fans, draped in red and smelling blood, did not waste the chance to taunt the wounded champs. "It was like walking through' a sea of red," said Smoltz.
Atlanta had to wonder what strange force it had encountered when it lost Game 4 and fell behind three games to one. Denny Neagle, who had been a bust since the Braves acquired him in a deal with the Pittsburgh Pirates on Aug. 28, made his first postseason start and turned in his best performance in an Atlanta uniform. Neagle held the Cards hitless until the fourth inning and left in the seventh with a 3-0 lead, but with runners on first and second. Braves manager Bobby Cox brought in middle reliever Greg McMichael, who was eaten alive by the Redbirds.
With two on and two out, La Russa called on the 23-year-old Young to pinch-hit. Young had all of 29 at bats in the big leagues. He had seven hits, all singles. Naturally, he lasered a triple to the wall in left center, driving in two runs. Royce Clayton followed with an infield single to tie the game. "Tony is amazing," St. Louis reliever Tony Fossas said of his skipper. "I mean, Dmitri Young? You figure it out. All I know is that it was a great move."
What did Cox think of Young's dramatics? "McMichael threw him a fastball out over the plate," said the Braves' manager, "and he knocked the s—-out of it. It's frustrating, and it just pisses you off that you didn't win the game."
It was especially frustrating for the vaunted Atlanta pitching staff. While the Braves' starters were not as dominating as they had been in playoffs past, they pitched well enough to win. The Cards hit just .220 and scored just 12 earned runs. Take away Gaetti's grand slam, and the Braves, with any offense at all, could have swept. But since the start of the playoffs the Atlanta bats have been as silent as Susan McDougal. The Braves hit .180 against the Dodgers and .235 in the first four games of the Championship Series, with a postseason total of just eight home runs. Cleanup man McGriff had only one single in his first 13 at bats and appeared to be playing with all the passion of a man on work release.
The Cardinals' batters were not making anyone forget the muscular American League either, but they made their hits count and ran the bases as if they were being chased by wild dogs. Luck was on their side, and so was emotion. Their cleanup man, Jordan, came to the plate in the eighth inning of Game 4 with the score tied, and everyone in the ballpark sensed that something was about to happen, something positive for the Cards. "As good a clutch RBI guy as I've seen," Gaetti, the 15-year veteran, said of Jordan.
Jordan took McMichael over the leftfield fence and into the Cardinals' bullpen as Busch Stadium exploded. After a brief scare, little Bryson Jordan was fine. On the other hand, though they staved off elimination the next night, the Braves headed back to Atlanta still feeling slightly overwhelmed.