If you want to beat the Atlanta Braves, you have to beat the poet. By now everybody should know that. If the New York Mets can't figure out a way to do it, the National League playoffs will be a blur. In the Division Series the Houston Astros made a fatal mistake. They dissed the poet. He made them pay.
by Brian Jordan
face your fear.
don't bow down.
just stand up.
Believe in yourself.
Believe in what you were taught.
You have a mind of your own.
You can make your own decisions,
whether they're good or bad.
Live in yourself,
live in your body.
Stand up. Stand up. Stand up.
At home, in Alpharetta, Ga., Brian Jordan writes poetry in the small hours of restless nights, his long fingers tapping on the keyboard of his computer while his wife and kids sleep. On the road he writes in longhand on legal pads or on a laptop. He writes when he's frustrated. He writes when he's happy. He writes the same way he bats. He arrives—at the keyboard, at home plate—seething with emotion. As he settles in, he grows calm. His brain takes over.
By the time he reached the majors, in 1992, Jordan had already played three years for the Atlanta Falcons at safety. There's a lot of football player left in him. Now, at 32, he plays as if he's trying to prove something to his high school coach. When he swings, he tries to hurt the baseball.
The first game in the best-of-five series against the Astros was at Turner Field on Oct. 5, a luscious Tuesday afternoon with a meager 39,119 in attendance. When Jordan saw that manager Bobby Cox was batting him fifth, he made a vow to himself: I'll earn my way back to fourth. That's where he had batted for most of the season. That's where he batted for most of last year for the St. Louis Cardinals, for whom his chief job was to secure hittable pitches for Mark McGwire by standing menacingly in the on-deck circle. With the Braves, Jordan was the cleanup man only because Andres Galarraga, fighting cancer, was out for the season. Jordan, facing a daunting task, stood up.
He carried the team at the outset, hitting .356 and driving in 22 runs during April, but on June 22 he was drilled in the right wrist by a pitch that left him sore and swinging with diminished power for months. Under the guidance of his personal trainer, track and field guru Bobby Kersee, Jordan worked the wrist back to near full strength, finishing the season at .283, with 100 runs, 23 homers and 115 RBIs. In the final week, particularly in three games against the Mets, he was torrid, going 5 for 10 against New York and driving in five runs. Still, for the postseason opener the Braves' manager decided to take some pressure off Jordan. Cox batted third baseman Chipper Jones in his customary spot, third, followed by first baseman Ryan Klesko and then Jordan. Jones and Klesko were hitless in eight trips to the plate (though Jones walked twice). Jordan got two hits in four at bats. The Braves lost 6-1. The skipper had momentarily forgotten something: His rightfielder feasts on pressure. Stand up, stand up, stand up.
The next day Cox trotted out the lineup card that had served him well for much of the season. The heart of the order went Jones, Jordan, Klesko. Again the Astros took no chances with Jones, among the best all-around hitters in baseball in 1999. While Atlanta righthander Kevin Millwood was throwing a scrumptious one-hitter, Jordan was stewing. They're pitching around Chipper to get to me? Bad choice! Jordan had an RBI single in the first (after a groundout by Jones) to give the Braves a 1-0 lead. In the seventh, with one out and Bret Boone on third, the Astros intentionally walked Jones and took their chances with Jordan. "I took that as a slap in the face," Jordan said. "Any athlete would." He calmly lifted a sacrifice fly to center, and Atlanta had a 3-1 lead. The Braves won 5-1, and the series was level.
When the teams reconvened in Houston last Friday, they played a game that made your skin tingle no matter whom you were rooting for. Two evenly matched clubs played four hours and 19 minutes of magnificent baseball. Through nine, they were tied at three. All the Braves' runs had come on one swing, a three-run homer in the sixth by Jordan. The score was still 3-3 in the tenth when the Astros loaded the bases with nobody out. In the visiting dugout Cox looked ill, but two ground balls and a strikeout later, the Braves were still alive. Jordan came up in the top of the 12th with Otis Nixon on third, Bret Boone on second and two men out. Jay Powell started Jordan off with a ball, then threw strike one past him. The poet couldn't believe it. "I was like, Whoa, they're pitching to me," he said. "I thought they'd walk me. I said to myself, Better get ready to hit." He took a deep breath, fouled off the following pitch, then ripped the next for a double down the rightfield line, driving runs four and five across the plate. The Braves won 5-3.
The fourth game, on Saturday, was a formality. Jordan opened the floodgates in the sixth with a leadoff single, and Atlanta went on to score five runs in the inning and win 7-5. A smash to deep center by Ken Caminiti was the final out.