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Viewed from above, Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium looks like a bloodshot eye. And why shouldn't it? The ballpark—its red-orange rim of seats surrounding a white-sand warning track surrounding a field of green—hosted two teams last weekend that tend to put all of their professional business off until the latest possible moment. Who put the pro in procrastination? The Atlanta Braves and the Philadelphia Phillies, that's who.
Atlanta, you'll recall, didn't win the National League West until three hours after its regular season ended; the Phillies played one game this season that concluded at 1:47 a.m. and a doubleheader that wasn't over until 4:40 in the morning. So it came as no surprise that after five games, the National League Championship Series between these two clubs appeared destined to go eight games.
At the Chop Shop neither team knew the meaning of the phrase "chop chop."
Only when they trailed 3-0 in the ninth inning of Game 5 on Monday did the Braves score three runs to tie. Only in the 10th inning did Phillie centerfielder Lenny (Nails) Dykstra see fit to get a hit, lashing a home run to give the Phils a 4-3 win and a 3-2 lead in the series. That meant only that Atlanta would have to win a seventh game in Philadelphia on Thursday, because the Braves are accustomed to using every inning in their games, every game on their schedule. Who will win? Phillie relief pitcher Larry Andersen approached Brave third baseman Terry Pendleton behind the batting cage in Atlanta on Saturday. "If we don't win this series." said the 40-year-old Andersen. "I hope you guys do."
As the NLCS headed back to Philadelphia for Game 6 on Wednesday, it appeared likely that one of these teams would, in fact, advance to the World Series. The more interesting question was not which team would do so, but when, for god's sake? As of Monday this series appeared destined to end in an all-night Phillibuster.
Sunday night's befuddling Game 4, which briefly evened the series at 2-2, didn't expire until 12:15 on Monday morning in Atlanta. As with most playoff games, that one came down to one simple thing: poisoned pork. Phillie reliever Mitch (Wild Thing) Williams ate the tainted hog on Saturday night, an unfortunate culinary choice that left him vomiting the next morning.
Still, Wild Thing pitched the eighth and ninth innings of Philadelphia's 2-1 win, fueled by the only thing he could keep down all day: half a Snickers bar. It was a typical game for the Phillies, one in which they stranded a playoff-record 15 runners, struck out an NLCS-record 15 times, scored zero earned runs...and won, with the game saved by a closer who had literally been hurling on the side for the past 24 hours.
"As long as I can pull my pants on," said Williams, whose shower thongs are simply marked THING, "I'm ready to play."
What is it with Phillie pitchers and their seeming fixation with pitching pantsless? Righthander Curt Schilling, who struck out the first five Brave batters in Game 1 in Philadelphia, inadvertently took the mound that night while wearing his practice cap instead of his lucky game cap. "You have to understand what a big deal that is," he said after his team's 4-3 victory. "It's like me going out there without my pants on."
Naturally, it took the Phillies 10 innings to win the series opener. This is because third baseman Kim Batiste threw a double-play ball into rightfield in the ninth inning, allowing the Braves to tie the score, and because Williams allowed a mere five base runners over two innings in securing the win. But Batiste redeemed himself with an RBI single in the 10th to finally end the game.