The Atlanta Braves made the playoffs twice in their 25-year history before 1991. They got swept in the NLCS (which was only best-of-five then) both times. So a list of the top five playoff wins for the Atlanta version of the Braves begins at the beginning of the run of division titles in 1991.
5. Rally from 3-1 down against St. Louis, 1996 NLCS
The list begins not with a specific game, but with the most rousing series comeback in the Braves playoffs history. The reigning world champions swept the Dodgers in the LCS (remember how they used to dominate that round?) and took game one against the Cardinals. But they lost the next three to fall behind 3-1. In the first four games they totaled 12 runs, but the offense erupted for 14 in game five and John Smoltz pitched eight shutout innings in a 14-0 win that sent the series back to Atlanta. They won game six 3-1 behind the pitching of Greg Maddux. They then pounded the Cardinals in game seven, 15-0 as Tom Glavine continued the Braves pitching mastery.
The surprise in that series was not that the Braves came back, but that they fell behind 3-1 in the first place. There was a sense, even after game four, that they would come back and win the series and that’s exactly the way that they carried themselves.
Of course, they went on to lose to the Yankees in brutal fashion in the World Series.
4. Brian Hunter starts game 7 with a bang, 1991 NLCS
Having gone tooth and nail with the Pirates through six hand-wringing nights (four of the first six games ended in a score of 1-0) Brian Hunter took some of the pressure off in Pittsburgh with a monster two-run bomb down the left field line off of John Smiley in the top of the first inning. The Braves led 3-0 after one inning and John Smoltz went the distance in 4-0 win, sending the Braves to the World Series and beginning Smoltz’s legacy as a clutch postseason pitcher.
3. Andruw Jones walkoff walk, 1999 NLCS
1999 was the pinnacle of the Braves’ dominance over the Mets and perhaps the rivalry’s most rival-y year. Chipper Jones single-handedly beat down their challenge for the division crown and won the MVP at their expense.
The Mets won the wild card and, sure enough, met up with the Braves in the NLCS. The Braves won the first three games and appeared ready to cruise into the World Series. But the Mets won the next two to make it a series. In game six, the Braves blew leads of 5-0 and 7-3 and the game went to extra innings tied at 8-8. The series seemed to be slipping away when the Mets scored in the top of the tenth to go up 9-8. But the Braves tied it in the bottom of the inning on a single by Ozzie Guillen.
The Braves loaded the bases in the 11th on a leadoff double by Gerald Williams and back-to-back intentional walks by Kenny Rogers with one out.
Rogers then walked Jones, who victoriously carried his bat all the way down to first as the series ended. The Braves haven’t been back to the World Series since.
2. Glavine and Justice deliver a title, 1995 World Series
I’m a bit embarrassed to say that I did not watch much of this series or any of game six. It was the year after the strike had washed out the World Series, I was a senior in high school and I had had enough unfulfilled close calls in the series that I couldn’t stand to watch the greedy bastards (as I saw them then) blow it again. If I had actually cared that year, this would probably be number one.
But the day that Atlanta got its only major professional sports championship, Tom Glavine was masterful, David Justice was powerful and Marquis Grissom caught the fly ball that sealed the moment that is etched in every Braves fan’s memory.
1. Sid’s slide, 1992 NLCS
I get the chills just recalling that night. Everything was perfectly orchestrated for a magical experience, from the no-name pinch hitter to the slowest man in the game on second to the long-suffering announcer in the radio booth.
We all know how it went down. Cabrera singled in Justice and Bream, and the Braves went ape-nuts at the plate.
This call is everything good about being a Braves fan. (Rest in peace, Skip. We’re back in the playoffs.)