Throughout the Braves’ illustrious history of playoff failure, the Phillies are involved only once. But as far as Phillies fans are concerned, it was probably the greatest failure of them all.
Coming off two consecutive losses in the World Series, the Braves felt they needed outside help to make it over the hump in 1993. Their solution was to sign reigning Cy Young Award winner Greg Maddux. Thanks in part to Maddux, the Braves won 104 regular season games and the National League West title. Their reward: An NLCS showdown against the Eastern division champion Philadelphia Phillies.
The Braves’ reputation as chokers hadn’t fully taken hold yet, so most people thought they’d make short work of the upstart Phillies. However, thanks to three one-run victories, the Phillies held a three games to two series lead heading into game six.
Braves fans were comforted by the fact that Maddux would be starting for them in game six. Their ace had another Cy Young Award-winning season in 1993, and was widely considered the best pitcher in baseball. However, there was one thing Maddux and the Braves didn’t count on: Mickey Morandini.
Here’s a video of the entire game, but I’ll focus on a couple of Morandini plate appearances.
11:36 - Morandini steps to the plate in the bottom of the first. If you’re wondering why the Phillies had a player with a .309 on base percentage batting second, you have to remember that this was 1993. I believe unless a team got a special exception from the league, they had to fill out their lineup with either the second baseman or shortstop batting second. (The other one would inevitably bat eighth.)
11:56 - Morandini lines the ball off of Maddux’s leg. He’s thrown out on the play, but afterwards, the Braves check on Maddux’s leg to see if he’s hurt. He remains in the game, but his apologists will claim that it negatively effected him the rest of the way.
Maybe he was indeed hobbled, or maybe he just came up small. (It wouldn’t be the last time he had problems in the postseason.) Either way, Maddux wasn’t at his best, allowing four runs through the first five innings. That brings us to the bottom of the sixth, and yet another crucial Morandini at bat.
1:42:58 - With two outs and a runner on second base, the Braves gather for a conference at the mound. They have a choice of pitching to Lenny Dykstra - who was red hot, and had hit a game-winning home run in game five - or Morandini, a platoon player who was 3-13 to this point in the series. The announcers are oddly acting like this is a tough decision.
1:44:25 - The Braves wisely choose to walk Dykstra, and with two runners aboard, our hero comes to the plate.
Most Braves fans were probably okay with this matchup since one of the men was a Cy Young Award winner, and the other was Mickey Morandini. However, despite his overall underwhelming numbers, Morandini was successful against Maddux throughout his career. (.344 career average).
1:45:21 - When Morandini chases an awful pitch for strike two, it was hard to predict that this was going to go well for the Phillies. Then again, weird stuff went right all the time for the ‘93 team.
1:46:10 - Morandini BARELY holds his swing, and looking at this replay, it wouldn’t have been a travesty if the umpire had ruled that he swung.
Speaking of umpires, the man behind the plate for this game: Joe West. It’s somewhat disturbing that this is one of the greatest games in team history and it involves Joe West.
1:46:25 - Maddux leaves one over the plate, and Morandini blasts it into right field for a two-run triple.
1:46:40 - Mickey’s mother celebrates wildly in the stands.
1:47:09 - Pitching coach Pete Mazzone showing that face you make when your ace pitcher gets beaten by Mickey Morandini in a key spot.
We can skip ahead to the top of the ninth where closer Mitch Williams would attempt to protect a 6-2 lead and clinch the pennant. Considering he already had two blown saves in the series, this might have been as tenuous a four-run lead as has ever existed.
2:26:32 - The announcers mention that only two teams have ever won as many regular season games as the Braves did without making the World Series. And yet, here they were with two outs in the ninth, and counting on bench player Bill Pecota to keep their dreams alive.
I wonder if Braves fans felt like I did in 2009 when the Phillies were forced to start an over-the-hill (and as we later learned, flu-riddled) Pedro Martinez on a frigid night in Yankee Stadium. As I watched Martinez get knocked around, I wondered how it had all come down to that.
I don’t want to imply that Pecota was a bad player. He was a valuable reserve who batted .323 that season. Still, he probably wasn’t the first pick of many Braves fans to make the team’s final stand. Then again, baseball history is littered with unlikely heroes. Would Pecota add his name to the list?
2:28:26 - He would not. Three strikes later, and Phillies fans are treated to one of the franchise’s iconic images:
Unfortunately, the Phillies did not fare as well in the ensuing series, but there’s no reason to re-hash the 1993 World Series yet again. The important thing - at least as far as this story goes - is that the Atlanta Braves choked in the playoffs. And this time, it was largely because their supposed ace was bettered by Mickey Morandini.