You’ve watched it 100 times. You know what happened. You know the Braves trailed the Pirates 2-0 entering the bottom of the ninth of game seven of the Braves 1992 NLCS. You know they clawed back to within 2-1 and loaded the bases for Francisco Cabrera.
And you know the notoriously slow Sid Bream slid into home to win the pennant for the Braves.
But although it only took nine seconds to write one of the most famous pages in baseball history, a lot of moments were swept under the rug before Cabrera lined the 2-1 pitch into left field. Here are nine things from game seven against the Pirates you might have forgotten.
1. Braves 1992 NLCS: The home plate umpire wasn’t supposed to be there
The shot Bream sliding into home plate underneath the tag of Pittsburgh catcher Mike LaValliere with home plate umpire Randy Marsh calling him safe is arguably the most iconic photo in Braves history. It was even memorialized into a bobblehead 20 years later.
But Marsh was only there because of an emergency. He actually started the night at second base.
The original home plate umpire was John McSherry, but left the game in the second inning due to severe dizziness. He was rushed to Piedmont Hospital, leaving Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium on a stretcher.
It was reported in the seventh inning that he was in stable condition, and he stayed at the hospital overnight as a precaution.
The game continued on with five umpires, and Marsh was the man tasked with moving in from second base to call the balls and strikes. That actually became very important in the ninth, as the walk that loaded the bases came on a very close 3-1 pitch that pitcher Stan Belinda thought was in the strike zone.
Would McSherry have called it the same way? Would other pitches in the game have been different? We’ll never know. But it has to be one of the only games in baseball history where the second base umpire made the game-winning call…at home plate.
2. Braves 1992 NLCS: Sid Bream’s play wasn’t the only big one at home plate
When you think of David Justice and big moments in right field, his home run in game six of the 1995 World Series instantly springs to mind. But he made a potential game-saving and often forgotten play in right field against the Pirates in this one.
With Pittsburgh leading 2-0 in the eighth, Orlando Merced was standing on first with one out. Jeff King ripped a double into the right field corner just inside the line, and Merced was flying around the bases with a big insurance run in his pocket.
Justice threw a missile towards home. Justice lined up from the warning track in right and threw a one-hopper right on the money to Berryhill, who reached up and tagged Merced to keep it 2-0.
It was a perfect throw, and it had to be. Anything less, and the Pirates would’ve taken a 3-0 lead with the chance to tack on even more runs. Cabrera’s walk-off never would’ve happened without the big play by Justice in right.
3. Braves 1992 NLCS: Steve Avery got the biggest out of the night…in relief
Cabrera’s walk-off also never would’ve happened without Steve Avery putting out a major fire in the seventh. The Pirates had multiple chances to put the game out of reach, getting a runner into scoring position in four of the final five innings. But the best opportunity came in the seventh, the first inning against Atlanta’s bullpen.
The Braves were depleted in the bullpen after Tom Glavine failed to get out of the second inning the night before, and it showed up right away. The Pirates put two on base against Mike Stanton, so Bobby Cox pulled him in favor of Pete Smith.
Smith only lasted four pitches, and all of them were balls to Jay Bell. That loaded the bases for slugger Andy Van Slyke, and Cox didn’t want to risk letting Smith face him. But he didn’t want to burn another bullpen arm, either.
Enter Avery. It was only his second career relief appearance, the other coming on the final day of the regular season in 1990 in a dead rubber game at Candlestick Park.
And with everything on the line, Van Slyke flied out to center field. The threat was over, but thanks to Avery, the game was not.
4. Braves 1992 NLCS: A crazy sixth inning.
Half an inning before the Pirates left the bases loaded, the Braves filled them up with nobody out. They did it on the strength of three singles, but two of them were very fortunate. Mark Lemke started it off with a well struck single to right, and then the baseball gods took over.
Jeff Treadway was brought in to pinch hit for John Smoltz, and he squibbed one off the end of his bat to left field. In the edge of exit velocity this would’ve been considered a lucky hit, as the little blooper dropped into left field in front of Barry Bonds.
Otis Nixon came up next, and he was asked to bunt the two runners over into scoring position. But he did one better, as the Pirates didn’t get to the bunt in time and all hands were safe. Three hits, and two of them were incredibly soft.
But the baseball gods give and take, and it was time for them to take. Jeff Blauser hit a bullet to third base. If it had gotten through, it would have at least tied the game. But King snared the liner at third, and stepped on the bag to double off Lemke. Terry Pendleton struck a ball well to left field to try to salvage the inning, but Bonds caught it.
The two softest hit balls of the inning were hits, the two hardest hit balls of the inning were outs, and the Pirates survived a bizarre frame to hold their 2-0 advantage.
5. John Smoltz had a great escape of his own
While we’re on the subject of pitchers getting out of jams to keep the game close, it’s impossible not to mention the work Smoltz did right from the start of the game.
The Braves fell behind 4-0 in the first inning of game five and 8-0 in the second inning of game six, making it imperative to get off to a good start in game seven. But it looked like the Pirates were going to explode early in the game again when they loaded the bases off Smoltz in the first inning.
This had all the makings of a disaster that was going to put the game away early, but Smoltz did very well to limit the damage. The Pirates drew first blood on a sacrifice fly from Merced, but that was their only run of the inning. Considering how the last two games had opened, only being down 1-0 was something of a win for the Braves at that stage.
6. The Braves got a lucky break from a very unlikely source
Most people remember that the Braves got a fortunate bounce in the ninth with Pittsburgh second baseman Jose Lind booted a routine grounder off the bat of Justice. But the part most people forget is how great of a fielder Lind usually was.
Lind was a gold glover in 1992, and a player who thrived on defense his entire career. He made just 62 total errors in his nine-year career, and he made just six in 1,190.2 innings at second base in the 1992 season.
“He’s one of the finest fielding second basemen in the game,” broadcaster Tim McCarver said after he made a nice ranging grab to rob Smoltz of a hit in the third inning.
It was actually his second error of the series, following on from one he made in the second inning of game three. The Braves didn’t score off that one, and ended up losing the game by one run.
But when they got another gift with the series hanging in the balance, they made sure to cash in.
7. Game seven went against the entire rest of the series
This was the highest scoring NLCS ever at the time, and even today it still sits tied for second, with only the 2003 Cubs-Marlins series seeing more runners cross the plate.
The Braves and Pirates combined for 64 runs in the first six games of the series. The Pirates were averaging 5.5 runs per game, and the Braves weren’t far behind at 5.16 runs per game.
But the teams only combined for five in the deciding game thanks to great performances from Smoltz and Doug Drabek.
8. Bobby Cox almost made the wrong kind of history
If the Pirates had won this game, it would’ve completed a 3-1 series comeback. It would’ve been the third time in LCS history a team had blown a 3-1 lead, with the Braves joining the 1985 Blue Jays and 1986 Angels. Cox was the manager of that Toronto team, and he very nearly became the first manager ever to blow two 3-1 series leads.
It wouldn’t have been much more than a footnote on his overall managerial career by the time it was all done, but it would’ve been front page news at the time if he was on the wrong end of two such comebacks.
Fortunately for him, his team made sure it never got to that point.
9. Francisco Cabrera spent all most all of 1992 in the minors
Cabrera took 311 regular season at-bats in the 1992 baseball season. 301 of them were with the Richmond Braves. Cabrera was consistently a yo-yo player, spending time in both Richmond and Atlanta during the 1990, 1991 and 1992 seasons.
But despite spending almost 97% of his time at the plate in 1992 in Triple-A, he snuck his way onto the playoff roster, and he snuck his way up to bat with the season on the line.
And after his swing of the bat, it was Bream who snuck in under a tag to clinch the pennant for Atlanta.
If you got time, here’s a video of the entire MLB 9th inning, when the Tomahawk chant was led by fans in the heat of a moment, not blasted through the stadium when the Braves are down 7, 2 out in the bottom of the 9th.
Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this piece on the Braves 1992 NLCS, take a look at the last piece done by Alan, a look back at the 1995 World Series.