ATLANTA -- The special moments of seventh games past are lodged in the memories of the Atlanta Braves. John Smoltz's six-hit shutout of the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 1991 National League Championship Series. Francisco Cabrera's pinch-hit single to bring the Braves back from a two-run deficit to the Pirates with three runs in the ninth inning the following year.
And now last night: Tom Glavine's triple in the first inning of Game 7 against the St. Louis Cardinals.
Yogi Berra was wrong.
This one was over before it was over.
Long before relief pitcher Steve Avery got the final out of a 15-0 victory at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium.
Maybe even before last night.
The only hope for the Cardinals was that Glavine tired out chugging into third after driving in the last two of his team's six first-inning runs.
As the Braves flexed their muscles -- breaking their own three-day old records for the most runs scored in a league championship game and for the most one-sided victory in league championship history -- the 30-year-old left-hander repeated his performance, if not quite the magic, from last year's World Series clincher against the Cleveland Indians.
Glavine faced only 22 batters in seven innings, giving up just three singles in what turned out to be a game to which most Little Leaguers could relate. It helped the Braves become the first team in the history of the league's championship series and the ninth in baseball history to erase a three games to one postseason deficit.
Though the sellout crowd of 52,067 celebrated throughout, and the players popped open champagne on the field after the game, the party won't last long. The Braves open defense of their title tomorrow in New York with the opening game of the 1996 World Series.
Not that it was ever in doubt, even earlier this week in St. Louis.
"Our guys were never down," said Braves manager Bobby Cox. "When we were down 3-1, they still weren't down. Neither was I or the coaching staff. We felt we could roll on and win three in a row. We knew our pitching would be there and our lumber was coming around. Whenever you have that type of pitching, you're going to have a great chance to win. Our pitchers kept us in the ballgame and our hitters gave us two insurmountable leads."
Maybe it was the surprise appearance by Cabrera, who threw out the ceremonial first ball, that inspired the Braves. Or perhaps it was the nervous stomach of St. Louis starter Donovan Osborne and the tired arms of the rest of the Cardinals' pitching staff. After scoring only 12 runs in the first four games -- eight in the three straight losses following a 4-2 victory in Game 1 -- there was some question as to whether Atlanta's offense had lost its potency.
There are no doubts now that the Braves outscored the Cardinals, 32-1, in the last three games, scored the most runs (44) and had the most hits (77) in league championship series history. The margin of victory was not only the most one-sided shutout in league championship series history, but in postseason play. Catcher Javy Lopez, who was named the series MVP, also tied Will Clark's league championship series record with 13 hits, getting them in 24 at-bats.
"I don't think that we expected to win that dominantly," said Glavine, who gave way to Mike Bielecki in the eighth and eventually to Avery, a former postseason hero now recovering from an elbow injury, in the ninth. "Our team never seems to do things easily. We've always seemed to get in nail-biters. Even though we were down 3-1, I felt we had a good chance to win. This team has a lot of character. We do our best with our backs against the wall."
The Braves stormed back from their deficit in the series with one of the most dominating performances in recent memory. First came Monday's 14-0 shutout in Game 3, a game in which they scored five runs in the first inning and chased starter Todd Stottlemyre in the second. Then came a tougher 3-1 victory here Wednesday night, when they jumped on rookie Alan Benes early and got a strong effort from four-time Cy Young winner Greg Maddux.
Then came last night's six-run first inning against left-hander Osborne, punctuated by Glavine's triple that went under left fielder Ron Gant's glove and rolled to the fence.
"They were swinging the bats well," said Osborne, whose two-thirds of an inning stint tied the shortest by a starter in league championship series history. "They got some balls to fall in and they kept going."
Said Glavine, a more than respectable .289 hitter during the regular season: "Our pitchers take a lot of pride in our hitting. No one wants to feel like he's an automatic out."
That's the way the Cardinals -- all the Cardinals -- must have felt against Glavine.
"My job became a lot easier," Glavine said of pitching with a six-run lead, which began 10 after Lopez's two-run home in the fourth, 13 in the sixth and 15 in the seventh. "My job then was not to walk guys and to throw strikes."
But all anyone wanted to talk about was the triple.
"That triple was huge," said Smoltz, who'll start the opening game against the Yankees. "That really was a knock-out punch in the first inning."
That's if the Cardinals weren't knocked out already.
New York Yankees vs. Atlanta Braves
Best of seven
Tomorrow: at New York, 8: 01
Sunday: at New York, 7: 30
Tuesday: at Atlanta, 8: 15
Wednesday: at Atlanta, 8: 18
Thursday*: at Atlanta, 8: 15
Oct. 26*: at New York, 8: 01
Oct. 27*: at New York, 7: 35
*- If necessary
TV/Radio: Chs. 45, 5/ WBAL (1090 AM)
Pub Date: 10/18/96