Two National League teams are embroiled in a hard fought war of a series that goes to Game Seven. The winner will get the right to lose to the Toronto Blue Jays in the World Series. The loser will go home, and never have another winning season.
After eight and a half innings, the Pittsburgh Pirates lead the Atlanta Braves 2-0. Jim Leyland decides to stick with his starter Doug Drabek, despite back to back left handed batters due up. Terry Pendleton leads things off with a double, then Jose Lind boots David Justice’s ground ball. Sid Bream follows by drawing a walk, and Stan Belinda relieves Drabek with the bases loaded.
Ron Gant is the next Braves batter and he delivers a sacrifice fly to the warning track to bring home Pendleton. Damon Berryhill then walks to load the bases again. Bobby Cox goes to pinch-hitter Brian Hunter who pops up to shortstop Jay Bell for the second out.
The Pittsburgh Pirates are a single out away from going to the World Series.
Cox again goes to a pinch hitter, this time calling on Francisco Cabrera, the only non-pitcher available. Cabrera singles to left field to score Justice, as Bream, certainly not the fastest guy on the field, comes all the way around from second to score the winning run just ahead of Barry Bonds’ throw.
For the first time ever, a series is won by a team that was only a single out away from losing. The Braves are going to the World Series and the Pittsburgh Pirates will never recover, as they go on to begin their streak of 18 consecutive sub .500 seasons.
Terrence Moore, writing for MLB.com, informs us that there was also a different scene going on just prior to the Braves walk off win.
According to [Andy] Van Slyke, he asked Bonds to move in a few steps for the light-hitting Cabrera.
Bonds reportedly refused.
Boy, did he. Said Van Slyke to the MLB Network, “He turned and looked at me and gave me the international peace sign. So I said, ‘Fine, you play where you want.’ ”
Van Slyke wasn’t just any center fielder, by the way. He was on the verge of capturing the last of his five consecutive Gold Gloves. Not only that, he was playing a position whose occupants are generally allowed to bark orders to the other outfielders.
And, generally, those other outfielders listen. But, generally, they aren’t as famously strong-minded and talented as the guy who was in the midst of snatching eight consecutive Gold Gloves.
So Bonds didn’t listen.
Soon afterward, Cabrera dropped a single to the left of Bonds that required the left-handed outfielder to race toward the ball and throw home across his body. The throw was off slightly in the direction of the first base, but Pirates catcher Mike LaValliere made the grab and then whirled with his glove toward the plate for the tag.
For the sake of argument, let’s pretend Van Slyke is telling the truth. The connotation from the article is that this fielding adjustment would’ve saved a run or even resulted in an out, but the ball actually landed in front of Bonds and to his left. There’s no way to tell if moving in a couple of steps would’ve done anything more than makes Bonds even less prepared to field the ball.
Also, haven’t we found enough ways to vilify Bonds already? Do we really need Andy Van Slyke’s revisionist history kicking the guy while he’s down? And come on. If someone is going to target Bonds for the loss, shouldn’t that blame be split in multiple directions including Jim Leyland, Doug Drabek and most especially Jose Lind?
And perhaps more important than anything else was the fact that Bonds and the rest of the Pirates outfield had just witnessed Cabrera drive the previous pitch just foul on the left field side.
But you know, I wouldn’t want to take anything away from the heroics of Van Slyke’s valiant admission that he knew better than Barry Bonds. So, let’s just go with this: Barry Bonds = Bad Guy; Andy Van Slyke = Good Guy.