The Atlanta Braves always had the best pitching in baseball. Now, they’ve got the World Series trophy to prove it.
Tom Glavine, somewhat of a forgotten man on a staff that included Greg Maddux, finished off the quest that began five seasons ago, becoming the Series MVP by shutting down the Cleveland Indians 1-0 in the clincher Saturday night.
“A one-hitter in the sixth game of the World Series has got to be the best,” Braves pitching coach Leo Mazzone said. “One little bloop single.
“What Tommy did was put the stamp on five years of great pitching.”
Actually, the entire Atlanta staff shackled the power-hitting Indians throughout the Series. Former NL playoff MVPs Steve Avery and John Smoltz, relief ace Mark Wohlers, closer-turned-setup man Alejandro Pena, Greg McMichael, Pedro Borbon, all of the them.
Facing the team that had led the majors in hitting, scoring and home runs, the Braves held the Indians to a paltry .179 batting average. Shut out only three times all year, Cleveland managed just a soft single by Tony Pena against Glavine and Wohlers in Game 6.
“It’s as good as it gets,” said Glavine, who worked the first eight innings. “It’s been a long time coming for all of us. I wanted to win this as badly as anything I wanted to win in my life.”
Glavine leads the majors in wins during the last five years with 91, one more than Maddux, and has one Cy Young to show for it. But it’s been Maddux, sure to win his fourth straight Cy Young this season, who’s gotten most of the credit on the staff that annually leads the majors in ERA.
“He’s the best pitcher I’ve ever seen,” Glavine said.
Maddux was masterful in Game 1, limiting Albert Belle, Carlos Baerga and the rest of the Indians to two hits. Glavine did him even one better in the clincher, two days after Maddux did not close it out.
“He was outstanding,” Maddux said. “That’s the best game I’ve ever seen him pitch.
“He went through a lot, especially early in the season. One thing about him is he’s got a huge heart and he showed it tonight. I’m real happy for him.”
Glavine began the season as a target of boos because of his outspoken work during the strike as the Braves’ player representative. But he had the home fans cheering at the end, as did David Justice, who homered in the sixth inning.
After the eighth, Glavine went to manager Bobby Cox and said he was done. That left it up to Wohlers, who retired Kenny Lofton, Omar Vizquel and Baerga in order for his second save of the Series.
While the consistency of the rotation has been the backbone of the staff for years, the bullpen was the biggest problem in postseaons past. Jeff Reardon, Jim Clancy, Charlie Leibrandt and others were among those who could not hold late leads, a major reason why the Braves lost the World Series in 1991 and 1992 and fell in the 1993 N.L. playoffs.
But Wohlers, with his 100 mph fastball, became the closer Atlanta needed.
When Wohlers walked in from the bullpen for the last time this season, he passed Justice in right field. Justice, having seen Wohlers come through during the stretch, shouted some encouragement.
“I know he said something like, ‘C’mon, Woo-Daddy’ or something,” Wohlers said.
A few minutes later, when Baerga’s fly ball was caught by center fielder Marquis Grissom, the Series was over and the Braves were champions.
Under Mazzone’s tutelage, plus his summer and winter work programs, Atlanta had accomplished its elusive goal. Known by outsiders for his constant rocking in the dugout, Mazzone is recognized by insiders as one of the best in the business, even though his name never is brought up as a possible managerial candidate.
Under the carefully compiled scouting reports on Cleveland, the Braves made the Indians hitters look feeble. Glavine and Maddux were throwing like A.L. pitchers, using soft stuff low and away, while Wohlers, Smoltz and Avery relied on fastballs.
“The credit goes to Bobby Cox and Leo Mazzone,” general manager John Schuerholz said. “We’ve had the best pitching for five years, and this puts a crown on it.”
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