He fought back a smile as he hustled around the bases, head down, eyes glancing forward, as excitable as a sniper. Andruw Jones, a 19-year-old kid from the Caribbean island of Curaçao, had just launched a two-run homer into the hostile Yankee Stadium crowd in his first World Series at bat, sending the Atlanta Braves on their way to a 12-1 win in Game 1 on Sunday and leaving a record number of New Yorkers with nothing to say. An inning later Jones hit a three-run homer in his second World Series plate appearance, and again he handled it as if he were playing Sega baseball on the team bus.
Most teenagers get excited when their favorite song comes on the car radio, but Jones is not most teenagers. He is, above all, an Atlanta Brave, and Atlanta Braves don't gloat. They don't dance, they don't shout, they don't jump up and down unless the last out of the World Series has been dutifully recorded. Rule No. 1 for any player who hopes to enter the Atlanta clubhouse: Check your emotions at the door. The Braves may lose a game occasionally, but almost never do they lose their cool. Their plane could skid off a runway and the team pulse would not budge. They could nap in a New York cab. Of the four teams that advanced past the first round of the playoffs this year, Atlanta is the only one that has yet to break out the champagne in the clubhouse.
After the Braves fell behind the St. Louis Cardinals three games to one in the National League Championship Series, they still took the field as if they were the odds-on favorites, as proud and poker-faced as ever. "The only thing [manager] Bobby Cox said was, 'I don't know about y'all, but I'm not ready to go home yet,' " says Atlanta third baseman Chipper Jones. "That's the way we all felt." The Braves didn't run through the clubhouse walls, set afire by some hokey Cox speech. They just ran through the opposition.
The Braves won their next five games, including the first two games against the Yankees in the Series, by an aggregate score that sounds like Steve Spurrier settling a grudge: Atlanta 48, The Other Guys 2. The Braves reached double digits in runs three times, setting the record for runs in a five-game postseason stretch, and cranked out 69 hits. It was one of the greatest October weeks in big league history. The Braves won the National League pennant last Thursday and then headed to the Bronx on business, briefcase in hand. While New York was still aglow over its first World Series appearance in 15 years, the Braves were busy trying to win their second straight championship.
Atlanta opened the Series by dismantling lefthander Andy Pettitte and the Yankees, and followed with a 4-0 victory behind Greg Maddux on Monday to take a 2-0 advantage back to Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. A gala baseball celebration in the Big Apple died quicker than a fern in a frat house. The Braves were so efficient and professional, they probably didn't even leave fingerprints in Yankee Stadium. The New York players and coaches dragged themselves to the airport after Game 2, unsure if they would survive the week or the inevitable wrath of owner George Steinbrenner.
"I believe in fate, so we'll have to see how the cards are dealt," Yankees third baseman Wade Boggs said after Game 2. "We're running up against some buzz saws out there."
For a week the Braves consistently put football scores on the board, but never once did they dance in the end zone. The Atlanta offense, forever overshadowed by the team's incomparable pitching staff, broke out against the Cardinals and stayed hot in the first two games of the World Series. The Braves do not possess the power of the Baltimore Orioles or the Cleveland Indians, but with a big game on the line they simply Lemke the opposition to death. They rapped 23 hits in New York, which almost seemed unfair. Giving starters John Smoltz and Greg Maddux 23 hits is like giving Butazolidin to Cigar. The Yankees, meanwhile, batted just .175 against Atlanta the first two games. The drunks who ran onto the field on Monday night reached second base more often than the fearsome Yankee hitters.
"Right now we're a little frustrated, and for good reason," New York manager Joe Torre said. "We've had two great pitchers throw two great games against us."
They also had a relentless Atlanta lineup that went through a remarkable change of life after the first four games of the National League Championship Series. Fred McGriff, who struggled early in the St. Louis series, busted out for 12 RBIs in the Braves' five-game rampage. Mark Lemke, a .255 hitter in the regular season, pelted the Yankees with four hits in eight at bats in Games 1 and 2, extending his postseason hitting streak to 11 games.
"Beginning with those last three games against St. Louis, there was a real change in the confidence of our hitters," says Atlanta lefthander Tom Glavine, who personifies the Braves' stone-cold demeanor on the field. "I think as a team we just took on a nothing-to-lose attitude. And some things in baseball are contagious, like hitting with runners in scoring position. The guy in front of you drives in a run, and you want to drive in a run."