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Nobody left Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium on Sunday with the conviction that anything had been settled. Indeed, except for the astonishing durability of 40,000 red foam tomahawks, not much was proved in the Braves' three-game series with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Yes, the Braves beat the Dodgers twice and increased their improbable lead over L.A. in the National League West. Yes, Atlanta's young pitchers were revealed to be the gutsiest in the league (even if, as we learned earlier last week, it often takes three of them to complete a no-hitter). And yes, now that the Braves are truly in contention—a 1½-game lead, in September?—it's reasonable to assume that the meek will inherit other parts of the earth as well.
But, no, it's not done with yet. When one member of the Dodgers' traveling party saw the enormous attention these games were getting in Atlanta—the local Journal-Constitution published a souvenir edition for the series—he was taken aback. "Geez, I don't get it," he said. "We're going to do this all over again next week, aren't we?"
Maybe we will see something like this series again, perhaps in Los Angeles this weekend when these two teams resume their divisional duel. Certainly, if there is another game like last Saturday's 11-inning, 3-2 Atlanta win, which included some of the bravest baseball ever played, we will be lucky. But for almost a decade nobody in Atlanta had seen the likes of this series. Ever since winning their division in 1982, the Braves have been the Cleveland Indians of the National League. (Maybe these Native American names need to be rethought.) They've finished last three seasons in a row and four of the last five. So forgive Atlantans their excitement over this latest—though inconclusive—turn of events.
The Dodgers rolled into town having won six of eight on the road, and the Braves had won their last seven games. The series was sold out. Local news in every medium led with previews of the series. Apparently when Atlanta gets behind an event, it is with all available force. L.A.'s Brett Butler, a onetime Brave who still makes his home in Atlanta and claims to understand its ways, surveyed the hullabaloo and said, "Wait till you see what they do in '96 for the Olympics."
That these preliminaries were Olympian had as much to do with the Dodgers as with the Braves, of course. Atlanta hates Los Angeles. Most everybody does. L.A. teams are almost always successful, and they come from...way out there. So all Los Angeles franchises lend themselves to the purposes of civic morality plays. As far as Atlanta was concerned, this baseball series was Grits vs. Glitz.
In fact, these Dodgers are not particularly glitzy. Manager Tom Lasorda has his Sinatra wall back in his Dodger Stadium office, but most of his players prefer to relax with Outdoor Life rather than Premiere. In the L.A. clubhouse before the series opener, starter Mike Morgan, who would get the win that night, was fiddling around with the radio. He finally locked onto a country music station, and he and about five of his teammates immediately joined in the lyrics of a terribly sad song.
Throughout the series, the Dodger that Atlanta most loved to hate was Darryl Strawberry. Whatever urban tension Atlanta suffers was relieved by repeated choruses of "DAAA-rryl! DAAA-rryl!" Why Strawberry is so hated is a mystery, except that he does wear a diamond 44 pendant around his neck (has glitz), does not sing along to country tunes (no grits) and does hit tremendous home runs (long hits). He has been belting a lot of them lately. He had hit only eight by midseason, but going into the Atlanta series he had 23. Hey, who wouldn't hate him?
On Friday night, a sold-out crowd that included Braves owner Ted Turner and his fiancée, Jane Fonda, arose at every appearance by Strawberry and performed something known as the Tomahawk Chop, a movement of the arm that looks a lot like a football ref signaling a first down. The Chop was evidently borrowed from Florida State and perhaps introduced to Atlanta when former Seminole Deion Sanders played for the Braves. Whatever its origins, it's an impressive sight when 50,000 people do it. Of course, the fans don't save it just for Strawberry—when home plate umpire Bill Hohn made the sign to the press box for a substitution, many fans joined him in a spontaneous Tomahawk Chop—but they wouldn't let Darryl bat without one. "It's kind of exciting," Strawberry would say after Friday's game, his eyes twinkling even more than the 44 around his neck. "It means they know me."
They got to know him better Friday night when he went 4 for 5, including his 24th home run, in the Dodgers' 5-2 victory. More maddening than the homer against the Tomahawk Chop were his singles against the Strawberry Shift. Atlanta manager Bobby Cox created a three-man wall from first to second, hoping to stifle the pull-hitting Strawberry, but the Straw confounded the strategy with two singles to left. "A fluke," said Atlanta ace Tom Glavine. An opportunity, said Strawberry, who was 2 for 22 lifetime against Glavine before the series. "If they play me there, I'm going to get a lot of hits."
The L.A. win should have stopped the Braves' fans right in their warpaths. With Friday's game, Atlanta had lost nine of 13 to the Dodgers this season. What could the fans have been thinking of? Their naiveté was cute—all that innocent enthusiasm. But the Braves were up against an opponent that, when it thought about Atlanta at all, thought about shoes. That's right, shoes. It seems that it's a Dodger tradition to stock up on footwear at Friedman's—ostrich-skin loafers at discount prices. The store sends a van to pick up Dodgers every time they're in town. L.A. catcher Mike Scioscia explained that he can walk into Friedman's and find an unbelievable selection of 13s, not just one black pair or one brown pair as he finds in the stores at home. That's what Atlanta means to the Dodgers. Not Tom Glavine.