After three years of playoff failures - and one year in which there was no playoffs - the Braves finally broke through and won the World Series in 1995. The 1996 edition of the team looked to be even better, and after winning the first two games of the World Series in Yankee Stadium, there was talk of a budding dynasty.
But as we all know, it takes four games to win the World Series, not two. The Yankees prevailed in game three, but most Braves fans wrote that one off by saying that sweeps are difficult. And when they took a six-run lead in game four, the Braves seemed well on their way to to putting the series in a 3-1 stranglehold. Visions of “Back to back championships” shirts were surely dancing in the minds of Braves fans at that point.
However, the Yankees weren’t ready to go along with the plan. In the sixth inning, they got three runs thanks to RBIs by Cecil Fielder and Charlie Hayes. That left them facing a three-run deficit in the top of the eighth where the following video picks up:
The Braves brought in reliever Mark Wohlers to start the eighth. Wohlers had saved 39 games that season, and many pundits had decided that he was going to be baseball’s next great closer. (Ironically, the next great closer did pitch in this game, but it wasn’t for the Braves.) I’m not sure why Wohlers was brought in for the 8th, but the assumption is that he was going to attempt a two-inning save.
0:54 - Things don’t start off well for the Braves as Hayes vexes them once again. He hits a dribbler that somehow stays fair, and allows the not-especially-speedy Hayes to reach with an infield single. Hayes definitely knows he got away with one:
1:52 - As you can see from this graphic, Wohlers had been really good up to this point in the postseason.
2:30 - After announcer Joe Buck make a big deal about Darryl Strawberry being unable to hit a high fastball, Wohlers gives him a low one which Straw sends into left field for a single.
3:34 - The announcers describe Mariano Duncan as an “aggressive hitter” which is a bit of an understatement considering he walked about six times total in his entire Phillies career.
3:51 - Ronnie Belliard botches a double play ball and only gets the out at second. The way this inning plays out, something tells me that the Braves will regret not getting that second out there.
4:33 - Jim Leyrtiz steps to the plate. Up to this point in his career, Leyritz had an undistinguished career, mostly serving as an adequate backup catcher. Braves fans couldn’t have been feeling all that worried at this point.
4:44 - Buck mentions that Leyrtiz might be trying to hit a ball over the right field fence.
7:24 - Boom. As it turns out, Buck was wrong. Leyritz hit the ball out to left field, not right.
7:38 - This moment is easily identifiable as when Wohlers’ career started going downhill, and its almost as if he knows it:
Neither team scored again until the 10th when the Yankees somewhat anticlimactically scored the go-ahead run on a bases loaded walk. They tacked on another run, and the Braves went down meekly in the bottom of the inning. Buoyed by this victory, the Yankees won the next two games to take the title and make sure the Braves championship run ended at one. (Of course, this victory sparked a run where the Yankees won four World Series titles in five years, which might have ultimately been worse than a potential Braves dynasty. Oh well.)
In an alternate universe, maybe Wohlers wins the battle with Leyritz, and the Braves go on to win that series. Maybe they capture a few more titles over the following years and they establish themselves as a great sports dynasty. But unfortunately for Braves fans, that’s not the universe we live in.