1992 National League Championship Series
|Dates:||October 6 – 14|
|MVP:||John Smoltz (Atlanta)|
|TV announcers:||Sean McDonough and Tim McCarver|
|Radio announcers:||John Rooney and Jerry Coleman|
|Umpires:||John McSherry, Randy Marsh, Steve Rippley, Gary Darling, Gerry Davis, Ed Montague|
|1992 World Series|
The 1992 National League Championship Series was played between the Atlanta Braves (98–64) and the Pittsburgh Pirates (96–66) from October 6 to 14. Atlanta won the series in seven games to advance to their second straight World Series. The 1992 NLCS ended in dramatic fashion, as in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 7, with Atlanta down 2–1 and the bases loaded, the Braves' Francisco Cabrera cracked a two-run single that scored David Justice and Sid Bream. Bream famously slid to score the Series-winning run, beating the throw by Pirates left fielder Barry Bonds.
The Braves were attempting to return to the World Series one year after their dramatic seven-game loss to the Minnesota Twins. Atlanta featured largely the same lineup that had won the 1991 pennant,12 but they still fell into a tie for last place, seven games behind the Giants, by the end of May.3 However, Atlanta went 19–6 in June and 16–9 in July and pulled away from the rest of the NL West by winning 15 of their first 18 games in August.
The Pirates were in the NLCS for the third year in a row after losing to the eventual World Series champion Cincinnati Reds in 1990 and the Braves in 1991. It was also the third of four straight NLCS appearances by either the Pirates or their in-state rivals, the Philadelphia Phillies.4
The Pirates lost slugging right fielder Bobby Bonilla to free agency after the 1991 season, replacing him with speedster Alex Cole. Ace pitcher John Smiley was traded to the Minnesota Twins. Despite the departure of Smiley and Bonilla, Pittsburgh charged out to a seven-game lead by late June, suffered through an July 11–15 that allowed the Montreal Expos to tie them for the lead by the end of the month, then won eleven straight in early August before pulling away from the Expos in September to earn its third straight NL East title, becoming the first team to win three straight NL East titles since the Phillies from 1976 to 1978.45 Future home run champion Barry Bonds won his second MVP Award and led the Pirates with 34 home runs and 103 RBI.
Pressure beyond the moment made it imperative for the Pirates to break through and win the pennant in 1992. Financial demands had already resulted in losing Smiley and Bonilla, and the departure of pending free agents Bonds (left fielder) and Doug Drabek (starting pitcher) loomed. 1992 appeared to be the last chance for Pittsburgh to win with its current core of players.6
Atlanta won the series, 4–3.
|1||October 6||Pittsburgh Pirates – 1, Atlanta Braves – 5||Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium||3:20||51,9717|
|2||October 7||Pittsburgh Pirates – 5, Atlanta Braves – 13||Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium||3:20||51,9758|
|3||October 9||Atlanta Braves – 2, Pittsburgh Pirates – 3||Three Rivers Stadium||2:37||56,6109|
|4||October 10||Atlanta Braves – 6, Pittsburgh Pirates – 4||Three Rivers Stadium||3:10||57,16410|
|5||October 11||Atlanta Braves – 1, Pittsburgh Pirates – 7||Three Rivers Stadium||2:52||52,92911|
|6||October 13||Pittsburgh Pirates – 13, Atlanta Braves – 4||Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium||2:50||51,97512|
|7||October 14||Pittsburgh Pirates – 2, Atlanta Braves – 3||Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium||3:22||51,97513|
|WP: John Smoltz (1–0) LP: Doug Drabek (0–1)
PIT: José Lind (1)
ATL: Jeff Blauser (1)
A rather uneventful opening to what would prove to be a memorable series, Game 1 was an easy win for the Braves. Atlanta scored four early runs, highlighted by Jeff Blauser's fifth-inning homer, and coasted to victory. The only bright spot for Pittsburgh was a relatively meaningless late-inning homer by usually light-hitting José Lind, who would gain notoriety in the final game of the series. Lind's run, however, was the first the Pirates had scored against the Braves in 25 innings, going back to Lind's RBI single in Game 5 of the 1991 NLCS. John Smoltz pitched eight strong innings to win, beginning his MVP performance in the series. Doug Drabek took the first of his eventual three losses.
|WP: Steve Avery (1–0) LP: Danny Jackson (0–1)
ATL: Ron Gant (1)
Atlanta scored early and often to win a blowout in Game 2. The Braves combined four hits, a walk and a sacrifice fly in the second inning to score four runs and knock out Pirates starter Danny Jackson. Another four-run outburst in the fifth, featuring Ron Gant's first career grand slam homer, put the Braves up 8–0. The Pirates' offense finally got going in the seventh against tiring Atlanta starter Steve Avery, as Pittsburgh used five hits to score four and briefly make it a game. But Atlanta responded with five in the bottom of the inning, sparked by a two-run double by Terry Pendleton and a two-run single by David Justice, to put the game away. Avery ran his record playoff scoreless innings streak to 22 1⁄3 innings, all against the Pirates, before he gave up four runs in the seventh.
|WP: Tim Wakefield (1–0) LP: Tom Glavine (0–1)
ATL: Sid Bream (1), Ron Gant (2)
PIT: Don Slaught (1)
The series moved to Pittsburgh and produced its best game so far. Atlanta's Sid Bream, who would be a central figure in the series' deciding play, opened the scoring with a homer in the fourth. Pittsburgh's Don Slaught evened the score with a round-tripper in the fifth. Doubles by Andy Van Slyke and Jeff King put the Pirates up 2–1 in the sixth, but Atlanta tied the game on a solo shot by Ron Gant in the seventh. Pittsburgh scored the deciding run in the bottom of the seventh on a sacrifice fly by Van Slyke. Tim Wakefield, who'd made his big league debut on July 31 and made thirteen starts for the Pirates,14 threw a complete game to win Game 3 for the Pirates by a 3–2 score for their first win of the series.
|WP: John Smoltz (2–0) LP: Doug Drabek (0–2) Sv: Jeff Reardon (1)|
Game 4 was a back-and-forth affair eventually won by the Braves behind the pitching, hitting and baserunning of series MVP John Smoltz. Both teams scored twice in the second, with Smoltz driving in one of the Braves's runs. Pittsburgh took a 3–2 lead in the third on a run-scoring double by Orlando Merced. But the Braves bounced back with four runs in the fifth and sixth to take a 6–3 advantage, with Smoltz scoring one of the runs after getting his second hit of the game and stealing a base. After the Pirates closed to within 6–4 in the seventh on an RBI double by Andy Van Slyke, Smoltz was lifted for reliever Mike Stanton, who quickly squelched the Pittsburgh rally. Jeff Reardon pitched a 1–2–3 ninth for the save, and Atlanta was one game away from taking the NLCS. Doug Drabek took his second loss of the series.
|WP: Bob Walk (1–0) LP: Steve Avery (1–1)|
The Pirates staved off elimination in the fifth game with their best offensive showing so far in the series and a strong complete-game performance from former Atlanta player Bob Walk. Pittsburgh hit four doubles in the first to score four and chase Atlanta starter Steve Avery. The rest of the game was anticlimactic as the Braves couldn't get anything going against Walk, who pitched a crafty three-hitter. Pittsburgh added single runs in the third, sixth and seventh, but Walk didn't need them. Barry Bonds also broke his streak of no extra base hits in postseason play (dating back to 1990) with a double. This would be the final MLB postseason game in the history of Three Rivers Stadium.
|WP: Tim Wakefield (2–0) LP: Tom Glavine (0–2)
PIT: Barry Bonds (1), Jay Bell (1), Lloyd McClendon (1)
ATL: David Justice 2 (2)
The series returned to Atlanta, and Pittsburgh returned the favor of Atlanta's Game 2 blowout with a 13–4 laugher of their own. The game was over after the second inning, when the Pirates sent twelve men to the plate and scored eight. Barry Bonds led off the inning with a homer (the first postseason home run of his career), and things went rapidly downhill for Atlanta starter Tom Glavine, who took his second loss of the series. Jay Bell also homered in the inning, a three-run shot that finally ended Glavine's futile stint on the mound. Pittsburgh starter Tim Wakefield pitched well with the lead and never let the Braves back in the game, for his second complete-game victory of the now 3–3 series.
|WP: Jeff Reardon (1–0) LP: Doug Drabek (0–3)|
Bobby Cox became the first manager to ever see a Game 7 in the American and National Leagues after holding a three games to one lead. Cox had also managed the Toronto Blue Jays when they blew a 3–1 lead against the Kansas City Royals in the 1985 ALCS.
The series decider was its most memorable contest. Alex Cole led off the top of the first with a walk and scored on a sacrifice fly.15 Pittsburgh ace Doug Drabek pitched masterfully for the first eight innings, holding the Braves scoreless. His only real scare came in the sixth, when the Braves loaded the bases with none out. However, Jeff Blauser lined into a double play and Terry Pendleton flied out to left to end the inning. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh did not do much with Atlanta starter John Smoltz, but did manage a run in the first on an Orlando Merced sacrifice fly and another in the sixth on a single by Andy Van Slyke.
A critical replacement occurred in the second inning when home plate umpire John McSherry left the game with chest pains and was replaced by first-base umpire Randy Marsh.1617 Marsh called a tighter strike zone, particularly when Atlanta rallied in the ninth and Stan Belinda threw a number of close pitches that walked Atlanta catcher Damon Berryhill. In the bottom of the third Berryhill led off with a double but was stranded.
In the fifth José Lind of the Pirates doubled with one out but was stranded. Pittsburgh struck for its second run in the sixth inning, when Jay Bell led off with a double and Andy Van Slyke singled to bring him home. In the bottom of that same inning the Braves wasted a golden opportunity. Mark Lemke led off with a single, then Jeff Treadway, pinch-hitting for Smoltz, followed with another single. Otis Nixon's bunt single loaded the bases with nobody out. However, Jeff Blauser's line drive went straight to Pirate third baseman Jeff King, who caught it and doubled Lemke off of third base. Terry Pendleton lined out to left to end the threat, and the score remained 2–0.
Both teams wasted further scoring chances in the seventh. For the Pirates in the top of the inning, Mike LaValliere's leadoff single was followed by an intentional walk and an unintentional walk, bringing Van Slyke to the plate with the bases loaded and two out. Steve Avery entered the game in relief and retired Van Slyke on a fly ball to center. In the bottom of the seventh Sid Bream doubled with one out for Atlanta and Ron Gant walked, but Berryhill and Lonnie Smith each flied out and the inning was over. Neither team scored in the eighth and the Pirates stranded Lloyd McClendon at second in the top of the ninth. Atlanta came to bat in the bottom of the ninth three outs from defeat, and the Pirates were three outs away from their first National League championship since winning the 1979 World Series.
Bottom of the ninth
The Pirates took their 2–0 lead into the bottom of the ninth, when their season imploded. Leyland stuck with Drabek, rather than bring in a left-hander to pitch to Terry Pendleton and David Justice. Pendleton, who hit .311 in 1992, led off with a double in the right field corner which landed fair by two feet.16 David Justice then hit a sharp grounder to José Lind's right. Lind, who won a Gold Glove at second base in 1992 and committed only six errors during the season,18 booted the ball. Justice was safe at first on the error and Pendleton advanced to third. Drabek then walked Sid Bream, on several close pitches to load the bases. Pirate manager Jim Leyland then took Drabek out of the game after 129 pitches, and sent in right handed reliever Stan Belinda.
The next batter, Gant, flied out to Bonds in deep left. Pendleton tagged and came home to make the score 2–1, but Justice, the tying run, remained at second. Catcher Damon Berryhill was next. On a 3–1 pitch that appeared to be a strike,61619 Belinda walked Berryhill and the bases were again loaded. Braves manager Bobby Cox sent up pinch-hitter Brian Hunter for light-hitting second baseman Rafael Belliard. Hunter popped up for the second out. With pitcher Jeff Reardon due up, Cox sent in another pinch-hitter, Francisco Cabrera.
Cabrera, the second to last position player on the Atlanta bench (catcher Javy Lopez was still available), singled to left to score Justice and—just ahead of Barry Bonds' throw—Bream. Cabrera had previously hit a clutch home run in August 1991 to tie a game against the Cincinnati Reds, leading to the Braves eventual victory. However, in 1992 Cabrera, who played first base and catcher, was not called up from the minors until August 3116 and batted only ten times for the Braves afterwards.20 He went to the plate wondering if he'd have to play second base in extra innings, Belliard having been just taken out of the game.21 Pendleton told Cabrera to "Hit the ball over the shortstop".16 In the outfield, Andy Van Slyke asked Barry Bonds to play a little more shallow; Bonds responded by giving Van Slyke a middle finger.22
Leading up to Cabrera's game-winning hit, Belinda threw a slider for ball one. The next pitch was a fastball for ball two. Belinda then threw a fastball over the plate that Cabrera hit very hard but foul into the left field seats.16 Ron Gant, watching from the dugout, said later that after that pitch he "knew [Cabrera] was going to do it."23 Belinda threw another fastball, high, again over the plate. Cabrera hit the ball over the shortstop, as Pendleton instructed, and in front of Bonds in left24 for a base hit. Justice scored easily with the tying run, but Sid Bream represented the winning run coming from second base, and was known as an unusually slow runner.162123 The ball was hit to Bonds' left, requiring left-handed Bonds to move left and throw across his body.2423 Bonds' throw was high and about six feet up the first base line, forcing Lavalliere to field the throw and sweep his glove back to the plate. Bream beat the throw, just barely. The Braves won the game 3–2, and the pennant.16
The Braves piled onto Bream at the plate in a famous scene, Fulton County Stadium erupted, and Atlanta went back to the World Series.
|Total attendance: 374,599 Average attendance: 53,514|
The Braves lost the 1992 World Series to the Toronto Blue Jays in six games. 1992 was the second of five pennants for the Braves from 1991 to 1999, but only one of those pennants was followed by a World Series victory, in 1995. Francisco Cabrera went 0–1 in the 1992 Series. He played only one more season in the big leagues, accruing 91 plate appearances for the 1993 Braves. He later managed the St. Louis Cardinals' Dominican League affiliate.26
To date, Cabrera is the only player in MLB history to win a series with a hit during an at bat in which he could have lost the series with an out. All other series walk-off hits occurred either with the score tied (as with Bill Mazeroski's 1960 World Series winning home run) or in non-decisive games.
"The Slide" also proved to be the end of the Pirates' mini-dynasty. The Pirates never recovered from their loss to the Braves. Bonds and Drabek left via free agency, signing with the Giants and Astros, respectively. Bonds went on to set the all-time MLB home run record with 762. The 1993 Pirates went 75–87. The Pirates would not have another winning season until 2013; their streak of 20 consecutive losing seasons through 2012 remains an all-time record for major North American professional sports.27
Game 7 of the 1992 NLCS marked the first time in MLB history that a team which was one out away from losing in a winner-take-all game of a playoff series instead won on the last pitch.25 The March 1993 issue of Baseball Digest pronounced it the greatest baseball comeback ever,28 as did John Smoltz immediately after the game.16 A 2006 study by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette pronounced Cabrera's game-winning single the eighth-"clutchest" hit in MLB history.29 ESPN called the Pirates' defeat the eighth most painful in baseball history.30
Until 2008, the Braves were the last team in Major League Baseball to win a seventh game after blowing a 3–1 series lead. That year, the Tampa Bay Rays won Game 7 of the ALCS after blowing a 3–1 lead to the Boston Red Sox.
- "1991 Atlanta Braves Batting, Pitching, & Fielding Statistics". baseball-reference.com. Sports Reference LLC.
- "1992 Atlanta Braves Batting, Pitching, & Fielding Statistics". baseball-reference.com. Sports Reference LLC.
- Standings for May 27, 1992
- Collier, Gene (September 27, 1993). "Pirates, Phillies Have Owned the Outgoing NL East Division". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. p. D1.
- "Pirates perform rare three-peat feat 4-2". USA Today. September 28, 1992. p. 5C.
- Finoli, David; Rainer, Bill (2003). The Pittsburgh Pirates Encyclopedia. Sports Publishing LLC. pp. 534–535. ISBN 978-1-58261-416-8.
- "1992 NLCS Game 1 - Pittsburgh Pirates vs. Atlanta Braves". Retrosheet. Retrieved September 13, 2009.
- "1992 NLCS Game 2 - Pittsburgh Pirates vs. Atlanta Braves". Retrosheet. Retrieved September 13, 2009.
- "1992 NLCS Game 3 - Atlanta Braves vs. Pittsburgh Pirates". Retrosheet. Retrieved September 13, 2009.
- "1992 NLCS Game 4 - Atlanta Braves vs. Pittsburgh Pirates". Retrosheet. Retrieved September 13, 2009.
- "1992 NLCS Game 5 - Atlanta Braves vs. Pittsburgh Pirates". Retrosheet. Retrieved September 13, 2009.
- "1992 NLCS Game 6 - Pittsburgh Pirates vs. Atlanta Braves". Retrosheet. Retrieved September 13, 2009.
- "1992 NLCS Game 7 - Pittsburgh Pirates vs. Atlanta Braves". Retrosheet. Retrieved September 13, 2009.
- Wakefield 1992 game log
- Box score and play-by-play. Source for all play-by-play information in this article.
- Rushin, Steve (October 26, 1992). "Unbelievable". Sports Illustrated.
- Three and a half years later, seven pitches into Cincinnati's 1996 Opening Day matchup against Montreal, McSherry collapsed and died of a heart attack on the field. See McCallum, Jack; O'Brien, Richard (April 8, 1996). "Scorecard". Sports Illustrated.
- Jose Lind player page
- Leitch, Will. "Pittsburgh Pirates:Oct. 14, 1992". Deadspin.com.
- Francisco Cabrera player page
- "Q&A with Francisco Cabrera". Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. May 25, 2003.
- "Game 7 1992 NLCS- The Sid Slides Game-The Day Winning Baseball Died In Pittsburgh 20 Years Ago Today"
- Wilkinson, Jack (2007). Game of My Life: Atlanta Braves. Sports Publishing LLC. p. 86. ISBN 978-1-59670-099-4.
- "Van Slyke's agony realized through revelation", Terrence Moore, MLB.com
- Kurkjian, Tim (October 26, 1992). "The Cruelest Game". Sports Illustrated.
- Colson, Bill (July 31, 2000). "Tracking Them Down". Sports Illustrated.
- Kovacevic, Dejan (September 8, 2009). "Pirates unmoved by record 17th losing season". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
- Henneman, Jim (March 1993). "Braves' Playoff Comeback in '92 Ranks with Classics". Baseball Digest.
- Walker, Sam (October 2, 2006). "Baseball's greatest hits". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
- Merron, Jeff. "Most painful losses in baseball history". ESPN.com.