4) 1992: Cabrera unlikely hero for the Braves
If there was a player Atlanta Braves manager Bobby Cox wanted at the plate with the season on the line, it probably wasn’t Francisco Cabrera.
The 26-year-old Cabrera had made just 10 at bats during a 1992 season he spent mostly in the minor leagues. With the Braves trailing the Pittsburgh Pirates 2-1 in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 7 of the NLCS, however, Cox had no choice but to summon his journeyman utility infielder off the bench.
To even get to that point, the Braves had to give up the series lead. Atlanta took a 3-1 lead over the Pirates behind John Smoltz, who twice beat Pittsburgh’s former Cy Young winner Doug Drabek. Pittsburgh responded with a 7-1 win in Game 5, then erupted for 13 runs to even the series and force a decisive seventh game.
Game 7 would match up Smoltz against Drabek for the third time in the series. Pittsburgh got to Smoltz early, scoring on a sacrifice fly in the top of the first. The Pirates added another run in the sixth, when Jay Bell came around to score on an Andy Van Slyke single.
Drabek, meanwhile, held the Braves to just five hits in eight scoreless innings. He went back out for the bottom of the ninth with the Pirates holding a 2-0 lead, three outs away from completing the shutout and sending Pittsburgh to the World Series for the first time since 1979.
Terry Pendleton, the reigning NL MVP who would finish runner-up to the Pirates’ Barry Bonds after the season, led off the ninth with a double to right field. David Justice was up next for Atlanta and hit a ground ball to second baseman Jose Lind. Lind would win the Gold Glove that season, but he made a critical error on this play that put Pendleton at third. Drabek then walked Sid Bream on four pitches, loading the bases with still nobody out.
Pirates manager Jim Leyland removed Drabek from the game, sending in Stan Belinda from the bullpen. Belinda got Ron Gant to fly out to left, scoring Pendleton. After a walk to Damon Berryhill the bases were loaded once again, but pinch-hitter Brian Hunter hit a harmless pop fly to second for the second out.
Cox faced a difficult decision. With relief pitcher Jeff Reardon due up, Cox had to send in Cabrera to pinch-hit. Belinda fell behind Cabrera 2-0. On the third pitch of the at bat, Cabrera lined a ball to left that went foul. Sensing that Cabrera was more dangerous than he seemed, Van Slyke signalled to Bonds in left to move in and prevent a potential game-winning single. Bonds, however, shrugged off the suggestion, allegedly giving Van Slyke a middle finger.
Sure enough, Cabrera hit the next pitch to Bonds for a single, scoring Justice from third. The slow-footed Bream rounded third, just beating out Bonds’ throw to score the winning run and send Atlanta to the World Series.
The Braves would go on to lose the World Series to the Toronto Blue Jays in six games, but their dynasty was just beginning. They would win the division title 14 straight years and the World Series in 1995. For the Pirates, meanwhile, 1992 was the third straight year losing the NLCS. This marked the end of their run, as Bonds and Drabek left in free agency that offseason. The Pirates would not have another winning season until 2013.