The Braves play Tuesday night on Fox Sports Southeast. And I can declare with great confidence that they will win, just as they did the night before, in thrilling one-run fashion. Finally, some certainty in this world.
They were scheduled to play at Cincinnati, where who knows what the Baseball Fates had in mind for them. Although, we can guess that at the top of the order Ronald Acuna (.316 batting average, .997 OPS vs. the Reds in his short lifetime) and Ozzie Albies (.297/.998) would have cooked up something swell.
Instead, they'll be playing on what is now a parking lot, where Atlanta Fulton-County Stadium once stood, in a replay of Game 2 of the 1995 World Series. With all the main streets in sports now closed, this lone Atlanta Series victory is the memory lane the Braves network has chosen to travel this week. It remains a wonderful stroll.
Twenty-five years of retrospect, and some things never change: Orel Hershiser is still a twerp for lecturing Greg Maddux after daring to throw one high and tight to Eddie Murray in Game 5. Carlos Baerga, the Indians All-Star who hit .314 that season, deserved a spot in the Peachtree parade for making the final out in three of the four Cleveland losses. And David Justice still manages to land on the right side of that thin line between brass and ass.
One takeaway that doesn’t get enough play decades later is that Bobby Cox, a Hall of Famer for more than his incendiary relationship with authority figures in blue, could manage a little, too. His work from the first step of the dugout in ’95 was statue worthy.
It has been very chic to deride Cox for winning “only” this one World Series with three Hall of Fame pitchers, another Hall of Famer over at third base and nearly four years of a borderline one at first (Fred McGriff). But, as the story is retold this week on FSSE, try to note the manager’s work as well. You win three of four by a skinny run as the Braves did against Cleveland, you do just enough that turns out right to help swing a game that easily could have tilted the other way, then you should reap a little praise even from the snarkiest corners.
We’ll make three cases for Cox, not that he requires any defending.
Begin with Game 1, a fitting starting place. Go to the seventh inning, where Cox was throwing a rightful and righteous nutty after Cleveland shortstop Omar Vizquel was awarded a force-out at second on a ground ball that he still hasn’t corralled all these years later. The Braves scored on the bases-loaded play to go up 2-1.
Now, with runners on first and third, one out, Cox stormed back to his dugout perch and immediately issued a series of indignant signals. He flailed and beat on himself as if covered in fire ants. But this was not a fellow blinded by rage. Instead, he was one ready to seize the moment, calling for a Rafael Belliard squeeze bunt that, when perfectly executed, put the Braves up 3-1. That turned out to be the winning run.
He made two other telling decisions on both ends of an important swing Game 4, coming as it did after Cleveland took back a little momentum with a walk-off, extra-inning win the game prior.
Cox, loyal to a fault according to his critics, went with Steve Avery as the Game 4 starter rather than back to Maddux on short rest. This created a hue and cry. Maddux had been at his indomitable best that season, going 19-2, and had pitched a complete-game victory over Cleveland in Game 1. While Avery, a postseason wonder in his youth, had struggled to a 7-13 record in the shortened ’95 season.
Cox had seen encouraging signs at the close of the season and figured Avery had earned the start. “He's back to pitching like in ‘91,” Cox said beforehand (Avery was NLCS MVP that season).
“I’m sure if something goes wrong and doesn’t work out, Bobby’s going to have to answer some questions," Avery said before his start. “But I’m not planning on that.”
Avery gave up only a single run through six innings. (The rested Maddux would lose Game 5).
Then, holding a 5-1 lead going into the ninth, the Braves turned to Mark Wohlers in a non-save situation. He and that bullpen had been taxed by the extra-inning game the day before. Wohlers quickly gave up a home run and a double. Rather than stubbornly staying with his proven guy, or turning to a more experienced crisis manager, Cox went to rookie Pedro Borbon Jr. As a potential Indians rally brewed, Borbon, who had all of two saves that season, struck out Jim Thome and Sandy Alomar Jr. and got Kenny Lofton to line out.
And thus did a possible second-guesser’s smorgasbord turn into a pivot-point kind of win for Cox and his crew.
Since his stroke in April 2019, Cox, once omnipresent around the Braves, has been largely out of sight. That to the dismay all those who enjoyed the lightness of spirit he brought with him.
Now with baseball halted and Cox’s health still very much an issue, a replay of the Braves’ best moment is such an apt time to remember just how much the manager meant to it.