The blow late Wednesday night was huge, as symbolic as it was anything else.
Until Klesko connected off Indians starter Ken Hill, with one out in the sixth, the Braves’ offense had coughed and sputtered, sputtered and coughed, and been totally unproductive. Another fine pitching performance, this one by Steve Avery, seemingly was being squandered in a 0-0 standoff. And as the game progressed, the Braves once again were closing in on another gut-wrencher.
“It’s almost as if it’s written somewhere that we have to win one-run games,” Braves right-hander John Smoltz remarked earlier in the week.
But with Smoltz stumbling in Game 3 on Tuesday, the Indians claimed their own share of the one-run market with a 7-6 victory in 11 innings. Time and again the Braves stranded runners, and through three innings in Game 4 they stranded runners again.
Marquis Grissom began the game with a single.
Klesko led off the second with a walk.
Grissom led off the third with another single.
And never scored.
So when Klesko went to the plate again in the sixth, with one out and typically nobody on, the lumbering outfielder was thinking about one thing: reaching the wall in right-center.
Braves' Ryan Klesko watches his solo home run in the sixth inning of Game 4 of the World Series Oct. 25, 1995, in Cleveland. The blast broke a scoreless tie. (Jonathan Newton/AJC)
As ABC twice replayed the post-home run theatrics at the plate, Klesko was greeted with high-and low-fives at the plate, and by his teammates and coaches as he walked into the dugout, almost a replay of the scene following his one-run homer in the seventh inning on Tuesday night.
Entering Game 4, Klesko’s postseason in fact had resembled the Braves' Game 3: more valleys than peaks.
After hitting .467 (7-for-15) in the Division Series against the Colorado Rockies, he dipped to an 0-for-7 nightmare in the NLCS against the Cincinnati Reds, struggling mightily against all those left-handers.
But Klesko was ready on Tuesday, ready again on Wednesday. Besides, he knew a little something about the hard-throwing Hill. In his last regular-season at-bat against Hill on June 9, when the right-hander was with St. Louis, Klesko tagged a fastball into the seats.
Only this one meant more. This one meant a lot more.
After arguing with home plate umpire John Hirschbeck about the first pitch, a called strike, Klesko pasted the next pitch, becoming the first player to hit home runs in consecutive Series games since the Braves' Lonnie Smith (in Games 3, 4 and 5) of the 1991 Series.
But the blow seemed to release the bats of his teammates, who immediately answered Albert Belle’s one-run homer at the bottom of the inning with three runs in the seventh, the major damage coming on David Justice’s two-out, two-run single to right.
Game 1: Greg Maddux pitches 2-hit masterpiece
Game 2: Javy Lopez puts Atlanta in command
Game 3: John Smoltz battles the elements