Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Atlanta vs. Cleveland in the Postseason

The Atlanta Hawks and Cleveland Cavaliers begin the Eastern Conference Finals tonight. It's the third time in the four major professional sports that these two cities are squaring off in the postseason, so let's take a look at the first two.

1995 Braves d. Indians 4-2 in World Series
2009 Cavaliers d. Hawks 4-0 in East Semis
2015 Hawks vs. Cavaliers in East Finals

1995 World Series

The Cleveland Indians and Atlanta Braves were the two best teams in the majors during a strike-shortened 144-game season. The Tribe went 100-44, which is 112.5 wins over a 162-game span. Over a full season, they might have broken the A.L. record for wins before the 1998 Yankees did. Atlanta was 90-54, or 101.25 wins per 162 games played. The two teams went a combined 14-3 in the LDS and LCS to reach the World Series. Their cumulative winning percentage of .660 is the 12th-highest mark for any Fall Classic, the highest since 1954.

Year Team W L Team W L Tot W Tot L W %
1906 Cubs 116 36 White Sox 93 58 209 94 0.689769
1912 Red Sox 105 47 Giants 103 48 208 95 0.686469
1909 Pirates 110 42 Tigers 98 54 208 96 0.684211
1931 Athletics 107 45 Cardinals 101 53 208 98 0.679739
1942 Cardinals 106 48 Yankees 103 51 209 99 0.678571
1910 Cubs 104 50 Athletics 102 48 206 98 0.677632
1954 Indians 111 43 Giants 97 57 208 100 0.675325
1929 Athletics 104 46 Cubs 98 54 202 100 0.668874
1953 Dodgers 105 49 Yankees 99 52 204 101 0.668852
1939 Yankees 106 45 Reds 97 57 203 102 0.665574
1927 Yankees 110 44 Pirates 94 60 204 104 0.662338
1995 Indians 100 44 Braves 90 54 190 98 0.659722

Greg Maddux, who went 19-2 with a 1.63 ERA and allowed 147 hits and 23 walks in 209.2 innings during the regular season, dazzled in Game One. He held one of the most dangerous lineups in baseball history to two hits and two unearned runs in a complete-game 3-2 victory. His pitches by inning: 17-12-9-7-10-7-8-14-13.

Fred McGriff hit a towering home run off of Orel Hershiser to tie the game at one in the second inning.

That score held into the seventh, when Hershiser walked McGriff and David Justice before departing for lefty specialist Paul Assenmacher, who walked pinch hitter Mike Devereaux. Julian Tavarez was summoned to a bases loaded, no out situation against pinch hitter Luis Polonia.

He grounded it to shortstop Omar Vizquel, who could only go to second for a run-scoring force play (he got the out despite not having possession of the ball as he touched second base on a missed call). Rafael Belliard followed with a well-executed squeeze bunt to bring home another run and that's all Maddux would need.

Eddie Murray got the Indians off to a good start in Game Two with a two-run homer off Tom Glavine.

Atlanta tied the game in the third against Dennis Martinez with a Chipper Jones sac fly and a Justice RBI single. It was still 2-2 in the bottom of the sixth when Javy Lopez took Martinez deep for a two-run shot that made it 4-2.

Cleveland cut it to 4-3 and had Manny Ramirez at first with one out in the eighth, but Lopez picked him off in an early Manny-Being-Manny moment.

The Indians put the tying run on in the ninth, but Mark Wohlers set down Carlos Baerga to end the game and put the Braves up 2-0.

Back at home in an 0-2 hole, the Indians put up four early runs in Game Three to knock out John Smoltz. Down 4-1, Atlanta crept back in it in the sixth and seventh innings with solo homers from McGriff and Ryan Klesko. Cleveland led 5-3 in the eighth when the Braves rallied, knocking out starter Charles Nagy on Luis Polonia's RBI single.

Three batters later, against Assenmacher, Justice reached on an error by the second baseman Baerga that tied the game at five. The inning dragged on when Devereaux pinch hit and knocked the go-ahead single off Tavarez for a 6-5 lead.

Cleveland roared back in the bottom half as both bullpens struggled. The Indians put runners at the corners with one out. Wohlers came in to face Sandy Alomar Jr., who did tied it on the first pitch.

Wohlers was able to get out of a bases loaded spot without the go-ahead run scoring, and he followed with a scoreless ninth and tenth. Jose Mesa also posted zeroes in the ninth, tenth and 11th innings, setting the stage for the offense in the bottom of the 11th. Baerga led off the frame with a double off Alejandro Pena, and after Albert Belle was intentionally walked, Murray stepped to the plate.

Murray's walk-off hit gave the Indians new life. Game Four was a duel between Steve Avery and Ken Hill that was scoreless into the sixth. Klesko popped a solo homer to break the deadlock in the top of the sixth (with a Grade-A bat flip).

But Belle answered in the bottom of the sixth with a solo shot to the opposite field.

Hill pitched into the seventh, but Mike Hargrove might have left him in a little too long. He lost a seven-pitch battle with Marquis Grissom on a one-out walk, and lefty Luis Polonia jumped on the righty's next pitch for the go-ahead double.

Justice added a two-run single in the inning for insurance and the Braves won 5-2 to take a commanding 3-1 series lead. Game Five had a fun ceremonial first pitch from the space shuttle.

Albert Belle jumped on Maddux in the first inning by hitting a laser shot to right field for a two-run homer.

The Braves tied it with tallies in the fourth and fifth innings, but Cleveland took the lead again in the sixth with consecutive RBI singles by Jim Thome and Ramirez.

Thome added a long homer to center in the eighth to make it 5-2. That ended up being the deciding margin as Mesa served up a two-run shot to Klesko in the ninth before locking down the 5-4 win.

Back in Atlanta, Game Six was a scoreless duel between Glavine and El Presidente. Martinez didn't allow a run in four and two-thirds innings before being removed with two runners aboard and McGriff coming up. Lefty Jim Poole struck him out on three pitches to keep it 0-0.

As for Glavine, he didn't allow a hit for the first five innings. Tony Pena led off the sixth by dunking a single into center field to break up the no-hitter. Glavine shook it off and retired the next three batters.

Leading off the bottom of the sixth for Atlanta was David Justice. The headline in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that morning read, "Justice Takes a Rip at Braves Fans," alluding to his comments that he felt fans weren't supporting the team they way they did in the 1991 Fall Classic. Booed before the game, Justice was forgiven after hitting a home run for a 1-0 lead.

Glavine made the one run hold up. He was brilliant in eight shutout innings, holding the powerhouse Indians to only one hit and three walks while striking out eight. Wohlers worked a 1-2-3 ninth to clinch the championship for the Braves.

In his game-ending call on NBC, Bob Costas said, "the team of the 90's has its world championship." Little did he know that the Yankees would close the decade with three of the next four titles, spurring him to call them "the team of the decade, the most successful franchise of the century" at the end of the 1999 World Series. 

Underscoring the crapshoot nature of the postseason, of all the great Braves teams that won 14 straight division titles, this was the only one that won the World Series. Reliving this and going through all the video made me remember what a great series it was, with five of the six games decided by one run.

2009 East Semis

LeBron James and the Cavaliers were the NBA's best team in 2009, running up a 66-16 record as James won his first MVP award. They swept the Pistons in the first round of the playoffs while the Hawks beat the Heat in seven games to set up a Cleveland-Atlanta Conference Semifinals matchup.

The Hawks got past the first round for the first time since 1999, but LeBron and company made quick work of them, winning all four games by an average of 18 points. LeBron put up 47 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists in a Game Three victory, the best performance of a series where he averaged 33.8 points, 8.3 rebounds, 6.0 assists and 2.5 steals per game.

James averaged 38.5 points per game in the Eastern Conference Finals, but the Orlando Magic thwarted hopes of a LeBron/Kobe NBA Finals by winning the series in six games.

No comments:

Post a Comment