Jays in cinch, Braves in pinch 3-run rally in 9th shocks Drabek and Pirates, 3-2

ATLANTA — ATLANTA -- There are flameouts and then there are flameouts, but few flameouts are quite like the pyrotechnics the Atlanta Braves pulled off here last night in the seventh game of the National League Championship Series.

Just one out from giving back a 3-1 series lead to the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Braves staged an incredible ninth-inning comeback to win, 3-2.


Reserve catcher Francisco Cabrera slapped a hit to left field on a 2-1 pitch with two out in the bottom of the ninth to drive in David Justice and Sid Bream with the tying and winning runs and give the Braves their second straight National League title.

Pittsburgh's Doug Drabek, who had pitched eight shutout innings, took the heart-breaking loss, while Jeff Reardon got the win in relief.


The Braves will open the World Series here Saturday night against the Toronto Blue Jays, who beat the Oakland Athletics 9-2 to win the American League crown.

Atlanta's final stand came in the ninth, when Terry Pendleton led off with a double that landed just fair in the right-field corner.

David Justice, who kept the Braves from falling farther behind by throwing out Orlando Merced in the eighth, reached on an error by second baseman Jose Lind, who tried to backhand a shot up the middle.

Drabek then walked first baseman Sid Bream to load the bases with no one out. Pirates manager Jim Leyland then lifted Drabek, who had thrown 129 pitches at that point and brought in reliever Stan Belinda, who had only appeared in Game 2 in a mop-up role.

Belinda yielded a sacrifice fly to deep left field to Ron Gant, scoring the Braves' first run. Damon Berryhill then drew a walk to reload the bases. Brian Hunter then popped to Lind just behind the second base bag for the second out.

Then reserve catcher Cabrera singled to left between short and third. Barry Bonds charged and threw to the plate. Justice easily scored, and Bream's slide just eluded Mike LaValliere's tag.

The Pirates came within an out of conquering Atlanta right-hander John Smoltz, who had beaten them four times in the last two NLCS, and in Games 1 and 4, besting Drabek in each game.

But Drabek would not be denied through eight innings, stopping the Braves on five hits, with only two -- doubles by Berryhill and Bream -- for extra bases and striking out five.


Drabek had escaped a bases-loaded, none-out situation in the sixth.

In the seventh, Atlanta made another bid, with Bream doubling to the gap in left-center and Gant drawing a walk.

But Drabek got Berryhill to fly out to center and pinch hitter Lonnie Smith to fly out to left.

The Pirates could have padded their lead in the eighth, but Justice gunned out Orlando Merced trying to score from first on a Jeff King double down the right-field line.

Merced, who had reached on a fielder's choice after Barry Bonds, who singled to lead off the inning, was forced. King hit a rope that landed just fair and rolled toward the Atlanta bullpen in right field.

It appeared that Merced would score easily, but Justice quickly ran down the ball and fired a one-hop throw to the plate, where Berryhill tagged out the Pittsburgh first baseman.


Drabek entered Game 7 with his reputation as a money pitcher to protect. He was, after all, the Cy Young Award winner in 1990 with Pittsburgh, but had a 2-4 record in postseason play.

To be sure, Drabek pitched brilliantly against the Braves in last year's NLCS, winning Game 1, by shutting out Atlanta on three hits in six innings, but had to leave the game early when he tried to stretch a double into a triple and strained his hamstring.

In last year's Game 6, Drabek did everything except win, giving up just one run in nine innings, ultimately taking a 1-0 loss to the Braves.

This year's series went completely counter to form for Drabek, who was gone in the fifth inning of both Games 1 and 4, allowing 12 runs and 12 hits in nine innings.

His career NLCS earned run average was still an impressive 2.23 in six previous postseason starts, but Drabek didn't seem to be the same pitcher.

Smoltz, however, had been splendid in the postseason, in 1991 and 1992. In last year's NLCS, the right-hander went 2-0 against Pittsburgh, shutting out the Pirates, 4-0, on six hits in Game 7.


Smoltz continued his dominance of the Pirates in this year's series, beating them in Game 1, 5-1, giving up four hits in eight innings.

He wasn't quite so excellent in last Saturday's Game 5, getting touched for four runs, six hits and five walks, but his nine strikeouts were enough to earn him a 6-4 win, his fourth career NLCS victory, tying him with Steve Carlton for most NL playoff wins.

Smoltz immediately got into trouble in the first inning by walking leadoff man Alex Cole, then giving up a double to Andy Van Slyke over the first base bag with one out.

Then, in deference to Bonds' new found postseason resilience, Smoltz intentionally walked him, loading the bases with one out, bringing Merced to the plate.

Merced was handcuffed on two of the first three pitches, taking one for a strike, then waving harmlessly at a Smoltz curve. On the 1-2 pitch, however, Merced lofted a fly to medium-deep right, scoring Cole easily.

But King popped to catcher Berryhill for the third out, and Smoltz was out of a inning trailing just 1-0.


Drabek turned away the first serious jam he encountered, a leadoff double to Berryhill in the third, by getting Mark Lemke to ground to third, Smoltz to pop a broken-bat liner to second and Otis Nixon to ground to first to end the inning.

Defense was a key part of keeping the score close in the early going. Van Slyke made a sliding catch to rob Ron Gant of a hit to end the second, and Atlanta's David Justice made an equally impressive sliding catch of Bonds' drive to lead off the Pittsburgh fourth.

Smoltz was able to strand Lind at second after a one-out double in the fifth, but Jay Bell, who hit a three-run homer in Game 6, slapped a leadoff double to left in the sixth.

Jeff King's double in the eighth was the 20th of the series for the Pirates, which broke the 1985 Toronto Blue Jays for most two-base hits in a league championship series.

Van Slyke singled him in to make the score 2-0, but Smoltz got Bonds to pop out to Pendleton, Merced to fly to right and King to fly to left to end the inning.

The Braves attempted to respond in the bottom of the sixth. Lemke singled to right to lead off the inning, then Jeff Treadway, pinch hitting for Smoltz, blooped a single just in front of Bonds down the left-field line.


Nixon then dropped a beautiful bunt that landed between Drabek and Merced for a single that loaded the bases with no one out.

However, Blauser hit a line drive right to King, who stepped on third to doubling up Lemke. Pendleton then worked the count full, then slapped a sinking liner to Bonds, who tapped his glove on his thigh twice in anticipation and squeezed it.