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‘Greatest night’ a nightmare for one fan

October 2, 2011
By MATT WELLENS - Journal Sports Editor ( , The Mining Journal



"The greatest night of regular season baseball ever."

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That's how most of the world described Wednesday night in Major League Baseball when the Tampa Bay Rays and St. Louis Cardinals clinched wild card berths for the MLB Divisional Playoffs that began this weekend.

As an Atlanta Braves fan, I didn't find Wednesday to be "the greatest night of regular season baseball ever."

It was not incredible, and by no means unbelievable.

Red Sox fans may have been shocked to see their team blow a nine-game lead, but Braves fans have seen this type of collapse from their teams many times before.

Me specifically, I've now witnessed an Atlanta Braves collapse 14 times in my nearly 27 years on this earth.

Let's take a trip down the not-so-great memory lane, shall we?

In the 1991 World Series, the Braves rallied from a 2-0 deficit to take a 3-2 lead heading back to Minnesota. The Twins tied the series with an 11th-inning home run by Kirby Puckett in Game 6, followed by a 1-0 victory in 10 innings in Game 7 to clinch the series.

The Braves returned to the World Series in 1992 as the best team in baseball that season, but again, Atlanta lost in extra innings in Game 6, this time giving the Toronto Blue Jays their first World Series title.

In 1993, the Braves again were the best team during the regular season with 104 wins, but Atlanta blew a 2-1 lead against the Philadelphia Phillies en route to losing the National League Championship Series in six games.

The Braves finally got a World Series title by topping the Cleveland Indians in six games in the strike-shortened 1995 season, but that victory was quickly forgotten thanks to the heartbreak of 1996.

Playing the New York Yankees in the World Series, Atlanta crushed the Bronx Bombers in Yankee Stadium to the tune of 12-1 and 4-0 in Games 1 and 2. With three games up next in Atlanta, the worst case scenario for the Braves appeared to be the series being extended to five games.

If only my team had been so lucky.

The Braves failed to win a single game in Atlanta - the toughest pill to swallow being the Yankees rallying from a 6-0 deficit to win Game 4, 8-6, in 10 innings - and the Yankees rattled off four straight wins to start the most hated dynasty of my lifetime.

That series still stings to this day.

The Braves went on to win a MLB-best 101 games in 1997, only to lose to the Florida Marlins in six games in the NLCS. Atlanta had beaten Florida by nine games in the NL East.

This is when I learned division titles were meaningless.

Atlanta won 106 games in 1998, but again, my Braves fell in the NLCS to the San Diego Padres.

My favorite baseball player as a kid, Chipper Jones, won the NL MVP award in 1999 and the Braves won 103 games. They didn't win the World Series, however, as the Yankees outscored Atlanta 21-9 in a four-game sweep.

I haven't seen the Braves in the World Series since, but still had my fair share of disappointment during the final six of the Braves' 14 straight division titles.

Atlanta went on to lose five of their next six divisional series from 2000-05 with an NLCS loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2001 being the closest thing to a bright spot during that span.

When Atlanta missed the playoffs and finished 18 games out of first in the NL East in 2006, I was relieved. Finally the disappointment could end.

Then 2011 happened.

My hopes for the Atlanta Braves to start this year were never as high as they were in the '90s or early part of this century. The 2010 playoff appearance was the first small step in the rebuilding process and 2011 was supposed to be another step in the right direction, but instead, Atlanta went backwards.

I never thought the Braves would top Philadelphia, but I was given a glimmer of hope in August when the Braves got within six games of the NL East leaders.

Then September happened.

I originally refused to watch Wednesday's game against the Phillies because I knew how it would end. Still, like the little kid who stayed up past his bedtime in Wisconsin to do a rally chop, I tuned in during the ninth inning to see the Braves squander a one-run lead.

My head fell into my lap in disgust when Jason Heyward was stranded on third to close the 12th inning and thankfully I had fallen asleep by the time Hunter Pence drove in the game-winning RBI in the 13th.

I'm sure this column strikes a nerve with Cubs fans who haven't won a World Series since 1908. Tigers fans probably don't have much sympathy either, being denied a title since 1984 and most Brewers fans have no clue what I'm talking about since they have only existed since 2008.

Five World Series appearances, nine league championship berths and 14 division titles may seem great - and don't get me wrong, 1995 was great - but coming so close yet being so far, over and over and over and over again, wears on you.

The Red Sox statistically went down Wednesday as the biggest chokers in the history of baseball's regular season, but in the end I was reminded who the real kings of the Heimlich are in baseball - My Atlanta Braves.



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