Atlanta’s 1991 World Series Postscript

jack-morris

The Atlanta Braves had an epic showdown with the Minnesota Twins in the 1991 World Series. Two teams that went from worst to first clashed in what is widely regarded as one of the best Fall Classics in baseball history. It was high theater in October, with five of the seven games decided by one run. In short, it was magic.

The Game 7 match-up between Atlanta’s John Smoltz and his boyhood idol Jack Morris is the stuff of legend, steeped in nostalgia with a twinge of pain for Braves fans who still wish that game — and that series — had a different outcome. Smoltz and Morris went toe-to-toe, trading zeroes until the Braves starter departed with one out in the eighth inning. Minnesota got 10 innings of shut-out ball from Morris, whose performance that night helped the Twins win the series and may eventually help the durable right-hander find a place in Cooperstown alongside Smoltz.

Flash forward to 1992 and the Braves were back in October. And so was Morris.

The Detroit Tigers ace for 14 seasons before joining Minnesota in 1991, Morris had traded in his Twins pinstripes for the blue and white of the Toronto Blue Jays. Once again, Morris played a major role in getting his team to October, winning a career-high 21 games while logging over 250 innings (including the playoffs). One can only imagine that the Braves spent at least some small portion of the previous winter hoping to get another crack at Morris on baseball’s grandest stage.

As it turned out, Atlanta got just that.

The 1992 World Series would not be the stuff of legend or anything resembling a sequel to the previous year’s dramatics. Atlanta may have already cashed in its allotted miracle in order to win the NLCS on a slow-footed first baseman’s mad dash in Game 7. Still, the improbable comeback that was capped by Sid Bream’s slide had the Atlanta faithful hoping for redemption in the Fall of 1992.

Staring them down from 60-feet, six-inches away in Game 1 was Morris. Let’s think about that fact for a moment. What were the odds that the pitcher who vanquished the Braves just 12 months prior would be the first to greet them in the next Fall Classic?

Irony? Coincidence? You be the judge.

Morris spun shut-out ball into the sixth inning, running his World Series scoreless streak against Atlanta to 18-2/3 innings. Damon Berryhill put an end to that with a three-run homer that sent the Braves to a 3-1 win over the Blue Jays to open the series. Atlanta finally had its World Series victory over Jack Morris, albeit nearly one year too late. As it turned out, it did little to stop Toronto, which won the ensuing three games to take a commanding 3-1 lead in Game 5.

Facing elimination, the Braves drew Morris in what appeared to be some cruel twist of fate. Could he be the man to send them home for the second consecutive season? As if that was not enough, this was a rematch of the Smoltz/Morris showdown that closed 1991.

Locked in a 2-2 tie into the fifth inning, Atlanta got still more recompense from its October nemesis. Smoltz did his part with six innings of two-run ball, but it was Lonnie Smith, maligned by fans for his base-running gaffe in Game 7 of the ’91 series which helped perpetuate Morris’ legend, who finally got his measure of revenge. Smith belted a grand slam that highlighted a 7-2 Braves victory and pushed the series back to Atlanta. There it would end in bitter fashion a night later, as the Blue Jays celebrated their first of back-to-back world championships.

Morris was tagged with both Toronto losses in the 1992 World Series, yielding 10 earned runs in 10.2 IP after he had allowed just three runs across three starts and 23 IP in beating Atlanta twice for Minnesota the previous October.

The chance meeting with Morris in 1992 could simply be one subplot in a series of unfortunate events for Atlanta, which had to wait another three seasons before finally winning its world championship. However, the success against Morris just one year after his triumph in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series is a curious footnote when reflecting on the early days of a golden age for Braves baseball.

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