Braves might finally get back to October

Published 12:33 am Sunday, August 29, 2010

NATCHEZ — As any of you who regularly read this column probably know, I’m a huge football fan.

But while football might be my favorite sport, my favorite sports team is Major League Baseball’s Atlanta Braves.

And while many of us are caught up in the excitement of high school football being under way and college football opening up next weekend, I’d just like to point out that my Braves are in first place in the National League East!

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It’s been a while since Braves fans could say that this late in a season.

It seems like so long ago when the Braves were polishing off the last of their 14 consecutive division championships in 2005.

The Braves wound up losing to the Houston Astros in the National League Division Series that season when they let a late five-run lead slip away in Game 4 and wound up losing 7-6 when Houston’s Chris Burke hit a solo home run in the bottom of the 18th inning.

It was the longest postseason game in MLB history, and is considered one of the greatest games in the history of the playoffs.

But as a lifelong Braves fan, I’m used to heartbreaking conclusions to seasons.

The Braves played in one of the greatest World Series ever against the Minnesota Twins in 1991 and lost in perhaps the greatest Game 7 of a World Series ever.

But fortunately, I was too young to really remember that heartbreaking loss.

However, I very clearly remember the 1996 World Series, and the most heartbreaking game of my life, Game 4.

After winning the World Series in 1995, the Braves looked like they were going to make it back-to-back, as they raced to a 2-0 series lead over the New York Yankees, with both of those wins being blowout victories in Yankee Stadium.

The stars were aligned. It was the final season the Braves were playing in old Fulton County Stadium, and they could close out the old park in style if they could just win two of the three games there.

They lost Game 3, but jumped out to a 6-0 lead in Game 4, and looked to be cruising to an insurmountable 3-1 series lead.

But then disaster. A 6-0 game turned into 6-3, and then reserve catcher Jim Leyritz, of all people, hit a three-run homer in the eighth inning to tie the game.

It was all over from there, as the Braves went on to lose 8-6 in 10 innings and lost the final two games of the series as well.

Just like that, the magic was gone, and it really hasn’t been back since.

Yes, they did make it back to the World Series in 1999, but were noncompetitive in a four-game sweep by the Yankees.

The final few years of their division title run didn’t even yield a playoff series victory.

And then after the 18 inning heartbreak in 2005, things really fell apart.

Those five years were some dark days for loyal Braves fans like myself, but now times are fun again.

The magic seems like it is back. It’s manager Bobby Cox’s final season before retirement and the team seems determined to send him out with a championship.

They are no way as talented as the Philadelphia Phillies, but they somehow find themselves two games in front with a month to play.

So while football might be taking over here shortly, I’ll still be tuned in to the baseball, hoping my team can keep the magic going all the way through October.