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The Day The Braves Hopes Were Dashed

The Atlanta Braves came to Shea Stadium as the defending NL West champs on July 25, 1983 holding the best record in baseball at 61-37 and having just swept the eventual NL East champion Phillies. The Mets nearly had that record in reverse at 35-61 in a season in which little went right on the field despite the return of Tom Seaver to Flushing and a June trade that netted All-Star first baseman Keith Hernandez.

A crowd of a little more than 12,000 watched the Mets struggle against knuckleballing future Hall of Famer Phil Niekro, who left for a pinch-hitter after six innings, with the score tied 1-1. Former Met Mike Jorgensen batted for Niekro and homered to lead off the seventh against Ed Lynch. That gave Joe Torre's Braves a 2-1 lead, which they extended to 4-1 by scoring twice more in the eighth. The only positive to come from that was that Doug Sisk stranded the bases loaded, getting Rafael Ramirez on a groundout to prevent the game from turning into a romp.

Donnie Moore set the Mets down in the seventh and Terry Forster did likewise in the eighth, than returned for the ninth to close out what should have been Atlanta's fourth straight win. All Forster had to do was get the 7-8-and-9 hitters to close things down. The Braves bullpen had gone through the tough part of the Mets lineup the last two innings.

This is why baseball is a funny game. 999 times out of 1,000, this game is over. Dramatic changes of karma are rare (witness the Friday prior to the All-Star Break, when the Mets lost a game in which they had a four-run lead and two outs in the ninth for only the second time in team history.), but boy are they something to watch.

Tucker Ashford led off the ninth by grounding out, but backup catcher Junior Ortiz (who entered the game hitting .189) singled to center. Mets manager Frank Howard sent up Dave Kingman to pinch hit, which brought closer Steve Bedrosian out of the Braves bullpen. Kingman (who entered the game hitting a robust .207) played smallball for one of the few times in his career, singling to center to bring the tying run to the plate and get the top of the order up.

Bedrosian, who had six saves already in July, struck Wilson out, to put the Braves within one out of a win, still ahead by three runs. Hubie Brooks. Throughout his career, Brooks would struggle against Bedrosian, netting only seven hits, and 15 strikeouts in 41 at bats. Timing is everything and in this case, Brooks timed one right, singling. That brought in Ortiz, advanced Kingman to third and made Hernandez the possible winning run. Bedrosian had whiffed Hernandez a week ago to end an Atlanta win, and he too would never fare too well against the closer known as "Bedrock (4-for-22 by the end of their careers). The numbers didn't favor Hernandez but he delivered. This hit was a single to left, bringing in Kingman to make it a 4-3 Braves lead. Brooks stayed at second, but now the Mets had a legitimate chance with cleanup batter George Foster coming up.

Foster had whiffed twice against knuckleballing Niekro, so he had to be happy to be facing a hard thrower in Bedrosian. The count went to 2-2 and Bedrosian tried to finish the Mets with an offspeed pitch. Foster timed his swing right and launched a drive to left center field. Braves leftfielder Brett Butler gave chase, but couldn't catch up in time. Brooks came home and Hernandez was right behind him with the winning run. The Mets had an unimaginable 5-4 win.

The newspaper reports don't describe the mood in the Braves clubhouse, but we imagine that it was somber at best and crushed at worst. To make things worse for Atlanta, they lost in walk-off fashion again the next day, when Mookie Wilson homered in the bottom of the 10th off Ken Dayley. Walk-off losses have the ability to take a significant toll on a team (just ask the 2004 Cubs about Victor Diaz/Craig Brazell) and this was an instance in which the Braves NL West chances were significantly damaged, even though they salvaged the series finale.

Atlanta was a season-high 24 games over .500 entering this series and held first place with a 4 1/2 game edge. They closed their season 27-37, to finish 88-74, three games behind the Dodgers. It stands to reason that those two losses made a pretty big difference. You could make the argument that it took the Braves until 1991 (the next season in which they finished over .500) to recover.

True Metchops know...George Foster and Carl Everett are the only players in Mets history to end two games in the same season via the walk-off fielders choice. (NOTE: CORRECTION, added Everett after further research)


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