Finish leaves winners, losers in tears


ATLANTA -- A baseball game left the National League's two strongest teams in tears last night after a moment of both dreams and nightmares.

The Atlanta Braves ended the night hugging and weeping and running around Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium like awestruck children.

The Pittsburgh Pirates ended it sobbing into their lockers while wondering if they will ever be able to forget.

"They haven't invented a word to describe this," said Andy Van Slyke of the Pirates.

The Braves would choose "miracle." And who could argue.

With three runs in the ninth inning against Pirates ace Doug Drabek, the Braves took a 3-2 victory in Game 7 of the playoffs, stealing a league championship from the Pirates for a second consecutive season.

The winning runs were driven in on a single to left field by reserve Francisco Cabrera, a man who batted once during the playoffs and 10 times during the regular season.

The winning run was scored by Sid Bream, who sprinted home from second base on knees that have been operated on five times.

"My teammates in the dugout were pushing me to score, they were all slapping me on my back, I could sense it," Bream said.

They almost didn't push hard enough. He slid home and beat the throw from Barry Bonds by inches.

"I hit the plate, and then Spanky [catcher Mike LaValliere] put on the tag, so I knew I was safe," Bream said. "Then the umpire called me safe and the next thing I knew, I was getting mugged."

LaValliere attempted to fake Bream into thinking there would be no throw. But David Justice, who scored the tying run moments earlier, stood behind home plate and gestured for him to slide.

As soon as it was obvious that Bream had won the game, Justice jumped him. As a team and stadium erupted around them in cheers and dancing, the two men lay on the plate, hugging.

"He was holding on so tight, I think I turned green and blue," Bream said. "But it was worth it."

Most of the Pirates, who tied a major-league record by losing their third consecutive playoff series, --ed from the field.

But remaining in front of home plate amid the commotion, bending over and staring at the grass, was reliever Stan Belinda.

He took over for a tiring Drabek with none out and the bases loaded in the ninth. He gave up a run-scoring fly ball by Ron Gant, then, one out and one walk later, he yielded the hit to Cabrera.

"I know I'm going to hear about this all winter, I know I'm going to hear about this next year, I know the fans are not going to let me forget," Belinda said. "I guess I'm just going to have to try and stand tall."

Gant was counseled by teammate Terry Pendleton during the pitching change.

"I told him to stand on the plate and swing at the ball," Pendleton said. "I told him not to back down."

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