The 1994 Major League Baseball season is predominantly known for one thing: a massive, rather nasty lockout that deprived the world of a World Champion. Yes, for the first time in 90 years, there was no World Series held. However, there was still baseball, and our Atlanta Braves’ comebacks journey ends in this particular year. While the Braves were in the infancy of a divisional dominance matched by very few in sports history, their opponents were on the way down. We’ll examine that in further detail below, but this is a case where the Braves were heavy favorites heading into the contest.
It was a windy and dry evening in Atlanta where the stage was set. Over 47,000 fans jammed into Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium to watch their three-time defending division champions. They would go on to further success, but first, they had to win this game. That was easier said than done. The Braves were given a 0.11% chance of winning this game at one point. Down 8-1 heading into the ninth, the team sought a miracle. Luckily, the Bank of Baseball was open that evening and the Braves cashed in a few very valuable checks. This is the greatest of all Atlanta Braves comebacks.
Top Five Atlanta Braves Comebacks: #1
May 10, 1994: vs. Philadelphia Phillies
The 1994 Philadelphia Phillies were a team on top of the world…in the National League, at least. They had climbed out of the depths and made a surprise World Series run in ’93. Riding the best contact offense in the league, they pushed through the Braves in the NLCS before falling to the Toronto Blue Jays on Joe Carter’s famous walk-off homer. Unfortunately, 1994 was not as kind, as the team went 54-61 in the shortened campaign. The offense went from first to ninth in hits as the Phillies simply forgot how to hit. They didn’t hit many home runs, either, only going deep 80 times as a team. Catcher Darren Daulton was the lone offensive bright spot, hitting .300 with a 137 OPS+.
In sharp contrast, the Phillies had a pitching staff that could match wits with almost anyone. A 3.85-team ERA was fourth in the league. They also kept opposing players in the ballpark, only allowing 98 homers all year. Staff ace Danny Jackson won 14 games with a 3.26 ERA and a 132 ERA+. In support, Bobby Munoz went 7-5 with a 161 ERA+ in 21 games, 14 of which were starts. This offset an uncharacteristically down season for one Curt Schilling, who only won two games. In the bullpen, Doug Jones saved 27 games and a young Heathcliff Slocumb made a terrific first impression in his first year with Philadelphia (5-1, 2.86 ERA).
The 1994 Braves, on the other hand, were a team with something to prove. After the disappointment of the previous postseason, Bobby Cox’s bunch was chomping at the bit. They did enough to finish at 68-46, second in the NL East. Led by Fred McGriff’s 34 homers, the team boasted the most powerful offense in the league. Their 137 homers paced the circuit. McGriff was joined by David Justice (19 homers) and Ryan Klesko (17 homers). Unfortunately, the offense was somewhat one-dimensional and found themselves lagging in categories like on-base percentage and batting average. One thing they did do well was put the ball in play, as their 668 combined strikeouts were the fewest in the National League.
Much like the Phillies, the Braves looked to their pitching staff to counterbalance the offensive woes. They received some excellent returns on this investment. Greg Maddux, in his second year with the Braves, won his third of four consecutive Cy Young Awards. His 16 wins and sparkling 1.56 ERA led the league. He also had the best ERA+ (271) and WHIP (0.896). Elsewhere in the rotation, Tom Glavine won 13 games and Kent Mercer posted a solid 3.45 ERA. In relief, Greg McMichael saved 21 contests and Steve Bedrosian had the ‘pen’s best ERA at a 3.33 clip. So, what we have here are two teams well-versed in the art of mound mechanics. The team that blinked first would, ostensibly, win the game. But not everything works so simply in the world of Atlanta Braves comebacks.
Atlanta Braves Comebacks: A Pitchers Duel
Kent Mercker was called upon to start this game for the Braves while Shawn Boskie made the start for the Phillies. Things were quiet for the first two innings before Lenny Dykstra doubled to lead off the third. Two batters later, Ricky Jordan hit a sacrifice fly to give the Phillies their first run. The Braves responded as Charlie O’Brien led off the fifth with a solo shot to tie things up. Yes, it seemed that both teams were as advertised: two struggling offenses with two pitching staffs in the league’s upper echelon.
In the top of the sixth, Mercker gave up a lead-off solo homer to Jordan to break the tie. After issuing a walk, Cox had seen enough and went to Mark Wohlers. Two batters into his work, Wohlers gave up an RBI groundout to Wes Chamberlain. Fortunately for the Braves, Wohlers was able to retire two of the next three hitters and keep the Phillies from committing any further damage. Once more, good pitching had snuffed out an unspectacular offense. The Braves were still down by two runs, though…and it only got worse from there.
The Seventh Inning
Wohlers began the top of the seventh by giving up a first-pitch triple to Dykstra. The next batter, Mariano Duncan, promptly deposited a 1-1 offering into center field for an RBI hit. Jordan followed with a double and then Hollis walked to load the bases. Sensing danger, Cox decided to return to his bullpen. This time, it was Bedrosian who came out. Normally, this would have been a great comfort to Braves fans. After all, Bedrosian was their most reliable reliever. Unfortunately, things did not play out the way that the crowd might have hoped.
Bedrosian’s first opponent was Pete Incaviglia, who had held quite a bit of pop in his career. He hit 20 or more homers in his first five big league seasons and was coming off of a 24-homer campaign in 1993. He cooled off considerably, only going deep 13 times in ’94. But on this night, his third homer gave the Phillies what many would see as a comfortable lead. A grand slam over the left field wall pushed the deficit from 4-1 to 8-1 with only two innings remaining. The Braves were up against the proverbial ropes.
The Ninth Inning
After an uneventful inning and a half for both sides, the Braves sent Klesko to the plate to lead things off in the ninth. The Phillies were content to allow Boskie to finish what he’d started. This turned out well for Atlanta, as Klesko, McGriff, and Justice reeled off consecutive singles. This brought about the end of Boskie’s night and the beginning of Doug Jones. His first task was getting Mark Lemke out. Instead, the Braves fourth straight hit plated their second run. O’Brien followed that with a two-RBI knock, making it 8-4. Next up was Mike Mordecai, who launched a 1-2 offering deep into the Atlanta night to cut the lead to one.
Jones then managed to get Bill Pecota to ground out. However, he gave up a base hit to Deion Sanders, the Braves seventh hit of the inning. This spelled the end of Jones’s time on the mound and Slocumb was called. He got Dave Gallagher to ground out before he, too, was lifted. This time, David West was tasked with giving the Phillies a win. Pinch hitter Javy Lopez had other ideas, ripping a base hit to right on the first pitch. Sanders scored the tying run and the game was pushed to extras on the strength of this improbable ninth inning.
Atlanta Braves comebacks: Extra Innings
A game that was 8-1 going to the final frame suddenly found itself stretched to 15 innings. Thankfully, the Braves bullpen was more than up for the challenge as McMichael and Mike Stanton pitched sparkling relief. Between them, they pitched six innings of four-hit, no-run ball with five strikeouts. The Phillies had some chances as the game dragged on, but could not capitalize. Entering the bottom of the fifteenth, the Braves sought to end a contest that had gone on for four-and-a-half hours.
Mordecai, one of the heroes of the ninth, led off against Phillies reliever Andy Carter. He and Pecota both flew out harmlessly. Sanders followed with a double and Gallagher was intentionally walked. The next batter was the pitcher, Stanton. He worked the count to 2-1 and then squared to bunt. He laid one down perfectly in the hole between third and short, allowing Sanders to score and completing the greatest of Atlanta Braves comebacks.
Main photo credits:
RVR Photos-USA TODAY Sports
Joe Carter, Darren Daulton, Danny Jackson, Bobby Munoz, Curt Schilling, Doug Jones, Heathcliff Slocumb, Fred McGriff, David Justice, Ryan Klesko, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Greg McMichael, Steve Bedrosian, Kent Mercker, Shawn Boskie, Lenny Dykstra, Ricky Jordan, Mark Wohlers, Wes Chamberlain, Mariano Duncan, Pete Incaviglia, Doug Jones, Mark Lemke, Mike Mordecai, Bill Pecota, Deion Sanders, Dave Gallagher, David West, Javy Lopez, Mike Stanton, Andy Carter