A Braves one year wonder comes in 2 forms; guys who show up out of nowhere to lead the team, only to fade back and move on, and established stars who drop in for a cameo in a memorable season, outperforming expectations. Jeff Reardon is the latter — at least for a while.
Braves One Year Wonder, Jeff Reardon: A Closer Acquired
The giddiness of the 1991 season complete, the Braves were ready to show they belonged in 1992. As the trading deadline approached, they were up 5 games on the Reds (remember back when the Reds were good?)
In 1991, the Braves had acquired Alejandro Peña at the deadline, but his 1992 was subpar: he was 1-6 with a 4.08 ERA and had 15 saves, only 4 more than he had produced in just the month of September the year before. So they went back to the closer playbook, acquiring Jeff Reardon from the Red Sox for Sean Ross and Nate Minchey. On the surface, though, it is not entirely clear that this was an upgrade. Reardon was not having a great season either. His ERA at that point was worse (4.25) and he had a blown two leads and a save in August. But he did have 27 saves, and was a proven Closer™. In fact, he had just become the alltime saves leader earlier in that season, passing Rollie Fingers. He was a 4-time All Star.
Jeff was from Berkshire County, Massachusetts, where, as it happens, I am typing these words today. He was named number 3 alltime of Berkshire County athletes in the 20th century, behind only Mark Belanger and Billy Hart, a multisport guy from the 40s and 50s, sort of the Jim Thorpe of the Berkshires.
Braves One Year Wonder, Jeff Reardon: September Dominance
Arriving in Atlanta, Jeff delivered. He pitched in almost half of the remaining games, putting up a 1.15 ERA, a 3-0 record and 3 saves. He did blow 2 saves (one of which was the meaningless last game of the season) but the Braves were 12-2 in the games he pitched. He didn’t give up any extra-base hits. The Braves lead widened from 5 to 8 by the end of the season.
He pitched in three of the 7 games against Pittsburgh in the NLCS, pitching 3 more innings and giving up no hits. He was the winning pitcher when Sid slid, having pitched the top of the 9th. He also saved game 4.
October Surprise…not the Good Kind
Then came the World Series against the Blue Jays. It did not work out so well. The Braves had won the first game on a complete game by Tom Glavine and were pitching John Smoltz in game 2. Reardon came in to nail down a 3-2 lead in the 9th. After getting the initial batter, he walked Derek Bell and then gave up the only extra base hit of his Braves career: a 2 run first-pitch homer to Ed Sprague that ended up tying the series at one apiece. It was a whopping 67% win probability swing. It is the single worst WPA relief appearance in Braves World Series history, and the fifth worst in postseason history. (If you really want to depress yourself, the list of postseason relief pitching debacles can be found here.)
In the next game, in Toronto, Reardon entered with one out and the bases loaded in a 2-2 tie in the bottom of the 9th. Pinch hitter Candy Maldonado singled on a 0-2 pitch to end the game. (That would have been Reardon’s second extra base hit given up as a Brave had the game not ended on the first score.) That outing finishes 8th in Braves World Series pitching disasters, the only pitcher to make two appearances in the top ten. Reardon did not appear in games 4-6 and his Braves career was over. He signed the next season with Cincinnati, lost the closer’s role and pitched a bit more for the Yankees and was done.
So I’m asked to write about a one-year wonder for the Braves, and I come up with a guy who gave up two of the biggest hits in Braves postseason failure history. I suck at this. Or maybe I just have a tragic view of life. Great September, Jeff.
Thanks for reading on Braves One Year Wonder, Jeff Reardon. If you enjoyed this piece, take a look at this piece on the 1995 World Series.