The Atlanta Braves, who looked invincible during a two-game sweep in the Bronx, could not honor the memory of retiring Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium with even one victory in the last three games there. The New York Yankees claim to be happy to be back in the Big Apple, but they've won a record eight straight postseason road games, so how happy can they really be?
There is every reason to believe that the home-field disadvantage will continue in Game 6, when four-time Cy Young Award winner Greg Maddux faces veteran left-hander Jimmy Key tonight.
Maddux beguiled the Yankees in the second game, throwing eight shutout innings and giving up six hits, five of them singles. He and Game 1 starter John Smoltz were so impressive -- and the Braves were on such an offensive roll -- that it was hard to find anyone outside the Yankees clubhouse who believed that the best-of-seven series would come back to New York.
Now, it is the Braves who are busy protesting their undying confidence.
"There is no one in this clubhouse that doesn't think we can go to New York and win two," Braves manager Bobby Cox said after Thursday night's 1-0 loss in Game 5. "This series is a long way from being over."
Cox and some of his players -- unhappy at the "We Can't Possibly Lose" local media overreaction to the Braves' early 2-0 lead -- insist that they never thought it would be anything but a difficult series. They chided the local press after Game 5 for waking up the sleeping Yankees (a silly concept considering that the American League champions come from the city that never sleeps) and providing them with extra incentive during their visit to Atlanta.
The Yankees, of course, didn't need any extra incentive. They had just had their heads handed to them in New York and were in danger of smudging the reputation of baseball's most legendary franchise. The Braves can complain all they want about their overconfident following, but when they were up 6-0 in Game 4, they could not have expected to be back in New York two days later with the champagne chilling in the other clubhouse.
"I think everybody wrote us off," said Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter. "We read the [New York] papers that it was over. We picked up the Atlanta papers and they said the Braves were going to dominate us. We're playing well and if we play well at home we can win this."
Everything is different now. No one is talking about the Braves dynasty anymore, or the innate superiority of the National League style of play. And yet nothing has really changed. The Braves have to be favored to win tonight's game and still have the winningest pitcher in the 1990s -- Cy Young Award winner Tom Glavine -- ready for a possible Game 7.
"It's very possible," said Cox.
Maybe even probable.
On paper, the Braves remain the stronger team, with better pitching and more offensive continuity. The Yankees have the better bullpen, the more productive bench and the momentum, if such a thing really exists.
The Braves, you might recall, had outscored opponents 48-2 over a five-game stretch when they returned to Atlanta earlier this week, for all the good it did them.
Maddux equals momentum.
"I was in the same position last week," he said, "and we came through."
The Braves actually were in a worse position, down 3-1 to the surprising St. Louis Cardinals, but the depth of the Braves' starting rotation made their unprecedented NLCS comeback something less than a miracle.
Maddux need only do his usual thing tonight and all bets are off. A decisive seventh game would make this truly a Fall Classic and set up one team for a classic fall.
"Hopefully, we'll turn into home warriors now," said Jeter. "We've got one more win and we haven't played well at home. We've got to come out and play good baseball."
New York Yankees
vs. Atlanta Braves
Best of seven
(Yankees lead series 3-2)
Tonight: Braves' Greg Maddux (18-12, 2.56) at Yankees' Jimmy Key (13-12, 4.59), 8: 01
Game 1: Braves, 12-1
Game 2: Braves, 4-0
Game 3: Yankees, 5-2
Game 4: Yankees, 8-6, 10 inn.
Game 5: Yankees, 1-0
Tomorrow*: at New York, 7: 35
*- If necessary
TV/Radio: Chs. 45, 5/ WBAL (1090 AM)
Pub Date: 10/26/96