Monday, October 10, 2005

Ok, fine, I'm too melodramatic about baseball. Save it.

It's 1991 all over again.

As I'm sure most of you realized yesterday, once again the Braves got eliminated by the Astros in the Division Series in one of the greatest postseason games of all time. The Braves had a 6-1 lead, courtesy of a strong pitching performance by Tim Hudson on 3 days rest, a grand slam by Adam LaRoche, and a solo shot by Brian McCann (the pride of Duluth).

Hudson handed the ball to Kyle Farnsworth in the 8th, who has been automatic since coming to Atlanta as the closer. He promptly filled the open bases, and gave up a grand slam to Lance Berkman into the retarded-ly short left field in that atrocious bandbox that the Astros play in. Then in the 9th, after failing to get a run because of Adam LaRoche casually running the bases on a Jeff Francoeur double, Farnsworth gives up a (barely) solo home run to Brad Ausmus, the Astros catcher who managed 3 homers all year. He's not even that kind of hitter. He's a 'call a good game, do the small things, move the runners over, get the occasional RBI' kind of guy. No excuse for giving up that homer.

So the marathon began. The typically shaky Braves bullpen went from the 9th to the 17th inning, allowing only two hits and no runs. The Braves bats suddenly went quiet, only getting a handful of hits, but failing to move runners up and score 'em with less than 2 outs. We had our chances, to say the least.

I've just realized that all of this is really pointless to even recount, whether you saw the game, the highlights, or neither. By now you know that the (very promising) young Braves reliever Joey Devine gave up a solo homer to some no-name in the bottom of the 18th to lose the game.

And just like that, it was 1991 all over again, I'm 13, and the Braves had just been eliminated by the Twins in the greatest Game 7 ever played in the World Series.

I had to explain this to the Bride last year when she was in the house as the Braves were eliminated by the Astros in the Division Series. She noticed that I appeared to be on the verge of tears. It's not so much that I am so attached to a team that I get literally upset when they lose, although I have been known to yell and scream during Georgia football games or Braves playoff games. The real reason is that it takes me back to that magical season of 1991 in Atlanta.

I went to my first Braves game in 1982, or 1983, as I recall. We used to drive long distances from the other cities in GA and SC we lived in to buy $1.00 general admission tickets and watch the stank-awful Braves play baseball. I idolized Dale Murphy, and even went as The Murph for Halloween one year when I was 3 or 4. My dad loved to take us to Braves games. I remember going in 1990 with dad and my middle brother, the last of the losing years, and sitting along 1st base/right field, just above David Justice, who would go on to win the Rookie of the Year. (my brother nearly got thrown out for flicking peanut shells down to the lower level.)

1991 was our first full baseball season living in Atlanta, and I went to more games that year than any year before. It was like the summer of 1961 for Billy Crystal with the Yanks. (see this movie) It was my first year of really following a baseball season in and out, down to clipping out box scores. I can still tell you where I was when the Braves clinched the N.L. West pennant.

Dad was sick with cancer in 1991, and I remember having to cut back on the yelling in the den after Sid Bream came home on Francisco Cabrera's hit to send the Braves to the Series becuase my sick father was already asleep upstairs. I remember yelling into an old blue footstool that went with an easy chair.

And I remember nearly falling asleep during Game 7 of the series that year, as John Smoltz dueled Jack Morris in the greatest World Series game in my lifetime, and possibly of all time. I stayed awake for the end of that game, as Morris stayed in the game through that 10th inning and lasted long enough to get the win in the 1-0 game. I went to bed that night, right after the game, crying my 13-year-old eyes out as I fell asleep well after midnight.

I died a little that October, and i can still see the picture that was on the cover of the AJC the next day, with John Smoltz sitting all alone up on the back of the dugout bench, with the floor of the dugout literally covered with crushed gatorade cups.

Smoltz is the only player still left from 14 years ago, but it still feels like yesterday. And everytime the Braves get ousted from the playoffs, it's 14 years ago all over again.

I'm 13 and crying as I watch the most special of baseball seasons come to an abrupt end.

But soon I'll begin counting down the days to Spring Training, and marking every win and loss on the calendar, as I follow the Braves into another October for the 15th time in a row. And maybe instead of being 13 this time, I'll be 27, celebrating 28 during the NLCS and forsaking sleep and tears as I celebrate one more Braves World Series title late into the morning.

To: Chip, Andruw, Smoltzie, Roachy, Giles, Furky, B-Mac, Frenchy, Franco, Langerhans, Johnson, Hammer, Sosa, Tommy, Hammy, Huddy, Wilson:

Go get 'em. Just 4 months to Spring Training.