CINCINNATI -- So there were the Atlanta Braves, going into the ninth inning, down by one, down to their last three outs, down and almost out. They had managed four hits against Cincinnati Reds starter Pete Schourek until that point, hadn't moved a runner past first. There was no particular reason to expect them to come back.
Except that, well, you know, they're the Braves. Had the Reds right where they wanted them.
"As bad, as feeble as we can look at times, when it comes to the eighth or ninth inning we always believe we have a chance to do something," said Atlanta starter Tom Glavine, who had hooked up in a classic pitching duel with Schourek.
Sure enough. The Braves tied the score in the ninth, sending the game into extra innings. Then, in the 11th, the team's postseason Role Player Honor Roll was increased by one.
Francisco Cabrera, Jerry Willard, Mike Mordecai . . . please welcome Mike Devereaux.
It was Devereaux's two-out single to center against Reds reliever Mike Jackson that scored Fred McGriff from second base, giving the Braves a 2-1 win and the jump in the best-of-seven National League Championship Series.
The Reds will kick themselves for kicking this game. Not only did they allow a 1-0 lead to disappear in the ninth, they had several chances to put the game away early against Glavine. But they couldn't do it, largely because they hit into an NLCS record five double plays.
"There were situations where we could have broken the game open with a hit," Reds manager Davey Johnson said. "But we couldn't get it. That's baseball."
Johnson, however, also left himself open for second-guessing by trying to squeeze one final inning out of Schourek.
Schourek was brilliant through eight innings. It probably would have made sense for Johnson to give Schourek a hearty clap on the back at that point and get him out of the game.
But . . . the Braves had Chipper Jones, Fred McGriff and David Justice due up in the ninth. And the only left-hander Johnson had in his bullpen was Chuck McElroy, a former Phillie he obviously has little confidence in.
So . . . . Schourek, approaching 100 pitches in the game of his life, was given the opportunity to try to finish off the Braves. And he couldn't do it.
Jones singled to left. McGriff grounded a single to right, just past a diving first baseman Hal Morris, to put runners at first and third. Justice grounded into a force play at second, scoring Jones with the tying run. And when Schourek's first pitch to Javier Lopez was wild, allowing pinch runner Luis Polonia to move into scoring position, Johnson had seen enough. Jeff Brantley came in to relieve Schourek and pitched out of the inning.
Johnson, of course, explained it a little differently.
"Schourek had a low pitch count and the guys we wanted him to face were coming up," he said.
But that eventually, almost inevitably, led to Devereaux's magic moment. Jackson led off the 11th by walking McGriff, who was bunted to second by Luis Polonia. Javier Lopez grounded out.
Devereaux joined the Braves in a minor trade with the Chicago White Sox just before the Sept. 1 deadline for postseason eligibility. He was in the game because he had come in as a defensive replacement in the ninth. And, on this night, everything fell into place.
"When I was in Chicago, I didn't think I'd have any chance to be in the playoffs," he said. "Once I got to the Braves, the only thing I thought about was being in a situation where the game was on the line."
The Reds had done everything but take out full-page advertisements in the local newspapers to make the Braves aware that they planned to run, run, run every chance they had during the series.
Being so openly brazen had at least two purposes. One was to boost the Reds' own confidence by reminding themselves of an area in which they have a clear edge over the Braves. And the other was to firmly implant that thought in the Atlanta psyche, hoping it would make Braves pitchers overly aware of the runners and force jittery fielders into mistakes.
It didn't turn out exactly that way when the Reds broke a scoreless tie with a run in the top of the fourth.
Barry Larkin led off by lining a Glavine pitch into the left-field
corner, an easy double. But Larkin never hesitated at second and went into third standing up.
Ron Gant followed with a grounder to deep shortstop and beat Jeff Blauser's throw; Larkin broke on contact and scored easily.
But the Braves are the Braves, and they would go on to win in their last at-bat for the 28th time this year, three times in the postseason already. Schourek was asked about Atlanta's mystique.
"I wasn't thinking about that in the ninth inning," he said. "I just wanted to get them out the same way I had all night. As far as mystique, well, we're not afraid of them."