Do you remember the moment you believed? The moment in 1991 that you though this Braves team is different, that they are beyond 'can win' and have gotten into 'will win' the division?
I do. It was in August of 1991. Classes had just started for the second year of law school, and I was watching the game in my place on off Cedar Shoals Drive. The Braves had made an incredible post All-Star push to cut a 9.5 game deficit to a 1.5 game deficit by mid-August. The Dodgers were in their sights.
The Braves made their way to Cincy to take on the Reds, who at this point in the season the Braves had only split with, despite the Reds being 7 games behind the Braves. The Braves score three in the first, giving Armando Reynoso some breathing room. Clearly Reynoso, who made his major league debut just 10 days before, doesn't like prosperity, because he has one of the worst first innings of the season, giving up four runs on four hits and a walk, only avoiding further damage thanks to his two pick-offs in the inning.
The Braves put up two more in the top of the 3rd, giving Reynoso another lead. The wheels fall off in the fourth, as Reynoso hits Sabo, then gives up a linedrive single to Bragg. Cox has seen enough and brings Jim Clancy in relief. Clancy, sensing a theme, promptly announces his presence with authority by hitting Quiones with his first pitch. The Reds tie it on a double play ball and then score the go ahead on a single by Winningham. Into the fifth, Clancy gets two outs pretty quickly, then allows three two out runs, pushing the deficit to 9-5. At this point, I'm ready to turn off the TV, but my roommate convinces me to hold off.
Well, Norm Charlton was having nothing of it, shutting the Braves down. Lou Pinella brings in Ted Power, who gives up a shot to Franky Cabrera, but then shuts down the Braves again. Now, Rob Dibble comes on in the top of the ninth with a three run lead. Dibble was in the midst of his best season, with 31 saves and an All-Star appearance. Dibble gets Pendleton to chase a pitch for the first out, and Gant to lazily fly out to center. A Justice double to right and a walk to Hunter puts Franky Cabrera back up. He jacks his second dinger to tie the game (he had four the whole season).
It goes three more, where in the top of the 13th, Justice doubles to score Greg Olsen, giving the Braves an improbable win.
At that point, I knew. I knew the Braves were not the Braves of the 80s. They were going to win the division.
Now, it is too early to start thinking these Braves are definitely going to win the division. Thursday's heroics by Books Conrad provide hope that they certainly could. The Braves' runs into the playoffs have been characterized by unlikely role players, strong pitching and a strong May. If the pitching comes around, who knows what can happen.