Top Five Moments in Atlanta Braves History: Part Two

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The history of the Atlanta Braves is rife with moments. Some, such as last year’s NLCS, fans don’t particularly enjoy but can accept and move on. Others, such as the infamous 2012 NL Wild Card Game, fans want to forget. Then, there are those discussed in the first part of this list. Those moments brought fans joy and incredible excitement. Unsung heroes, dominating performances, and championship reigns. These are the moments that Braves fans want to remember. They bring the fan back to a time when the team was at the pinnacle of success. Sometimes, they even act as catalysts for a brighter tomorrow.

But those were just the first three. The two moments discussed in this installment are different. They rise above and beyond even joy itself. In the annals of team history, they transcend to a higher plane. One for bringing life to a city in need of it, and the other for cementing a legacy. In fact, this dynamic duo combines to form some of the biggest moments in baseball. It begins with a Fall Classic between the league’s best that truly earned its name.

Top Five Moments in Atlanta Braves History: Part Two

No. 2 — Atlanta Wins a Title!

(1995 World Series: Atlanta Braves vs. Cleveland Indians)

The 1995 Cleveland Indians were frightening. Opposing pitchers gawked in awe as the Tribe ran roughshod over the league. Four players finished with 25 or more homers. Left fielder Albert Belle led the team with a .317 average. His 50 homers, 126 RBI, 121 runs, and whopping .690 slugging percentage led the league. Meanwhile, young right fielder Manny Ramirez had a successful season (.308 average, 31 homers, 107 RBI). First baseman Paul Sorrento hit 25 homers, as did third baseman Jim Thome. Finally, designated hitter Eddie Murray hit .323 with 21 homers. Shortstop Omar Vizquel and center fielder Kenny Lofton brought the speed. They combined for 83 steals.

The 1995 Braves, on the other hand, relied solely on pitching. The offense put together a .250 average. However, there were some consistent bright spots. Seven men finished in double digits in homers. First baseman Fred McGriff led the way, socking 27. Right fielder David Justice had 24. Young players Chipper Jones and Ryan Klesko tied with 23. But the true strength of the team lay in its pitching. Greg Maddux won 19 games with a 1.63 ERA and a 260 ERA+. It helped lead to his fourth consecutive Cy Young Award. Tom Glavine and John Smoltz backed him up with double-digit wins. In the bullpen, Greg McMichael and Mark Wohlers combined to shut down opposing offenses.

It came down to monumental offense versus precise pitching. The Braves won the first two games, forcing Cleveland into a corner. Game Three, an 11-inning thriller, went to the Indians. But, the Braves came right back to make it 3-1. The Indians took Game Five, sending the series back to Atlanta. Once there, the excitement was palpable. Glavine took the mound, pitching eight shutout innings in Game Six. David Justice’s famous-sixth inning home run was the death blow. Wohlers shut the Indians down in the ninth. Not only had the Braves outpitched Cleveland, they’d outhit them as well. In the words of Bob Costas, “the team of the 90s has its world championship!”

No. 1 — Hammerin’ Hank’s Big Moment

(April 8, 1974: Atlanta Braves vs. Los Angeles Dodgers)

It was Monday night in Atlanta. 53,775 fans packed Atlanta Fulton-County Stadium. They all knew Hank Aaron sat on Babe Ruth’s magic number: 714 career homers. The Los Angeles Dodgers were in town, undefeated to start the season. The Braves were a modest 1-2. But the game was irrelevant that night. Every eye in the stadium was trained on one number: 44. He was already a legend and a pioneer. One swing of the bat would cement all of that. His place on the Mount Rushmore of baseball greats would be assured.

Yes, there were the racially vindictive who spat insults at him. There were those who jeered and mocked. Some, sadly, even threatened his very existence. But for the most part, everyone waited with baited breath. Hank first came to bat in the bottom of the second inning. Dodger lefty Al Downing issued a walk. Aaron would score on Dusty Baker’s double, making it 1-0 Atlanta.

Then came the bottom of the fourth. Down 3-1, Darrell Evans reached on an error to lead things off. Then came Hank. The crowd waited…and Downing’s first offering bounced off the plate. The fans rained down boos, but Aaron lightly tapped his bat against his cleat. Then, he stood back in. Downing’s next pitch was center cut, right where Hank wanted it. He swung, lifting a fly ball deep into the Georgia night. It landed in the Braves bullpen. The crowd erupted in a thunderous ovation. In a famous moment, two fans jumped on the field and ran the bases with Hank. He even received congratulatory handshakes from the Dodger players. For that one moment, baseball itself became somewhat irrelevant. It was a moment that transcended the game, reflecting the social and racial change in the world.

The Reasoning Behind the Selection

As cliché as it might be, this remains the greatest moment in Braves franchise history. Not only because of the record being broken, but because of the history made. America realized what it was for someone different to be regarded as the best in his field. Henry Aaron was not only a genuine southerner but one of the trailblazers of the game. He broke many racial barriers in his own right, all culminating in this game. It is a date etched in the mind of every true Braves fan.

In the words of the incomparable Vin Scully: “What a marvelous moment for baseball. What a marvelous moment for Atlanta and the state of Georgia. What a marvelous moment for the country and the world. A black man is getting a standing ovation in the Deep South for breaking the record of an all-time baseball idol.”

Yes, indeed, it was truly a great moment for everyone involved. But most especially, Henry Aaron. He proved, on that night, that it was determination and character, not skin color, that truly creates winners. That is why it remains the greatest moment in Braves history.

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