1991 National League Championship Series
From BR Bullpen
|1991 National League Championship Series|
94 - 68 in the NL
|4 - 3
98 - 64 in the NL
 The Teams
The 1991 National League Championship Series featured the Pittsburgh Pirates, the champions of the National League East for the second year in a row, and the Atlanta Braves, a team that had not had a winning record since 1983 and had finished last in the National League West three seasons in a row. The Braves in 1990 had the worst record in baseball, making this year's Braves team the first to make the playoffs the year after having the worst record in baseball. The Braves would win the Series in seven games, three of which were decided by scores of 1-0.
 The Pittsburgh Pirates
The Pittsburgh Pirates, at 98-64 (.605), had the best record in baseball and ran away from the rest of the division, beating the second-place St. Louis Cardinals by 14 games. They were led by Barry Bonds, the defending National League MVP, who hit .292 with 25 home runs and drove in 116 runs and would narrowly lose this year's MVP vote. The Pirates also had Bobby Bonilla, who finished third in the MVP voting, who hit .302 with 18 home runs and 100 RBI on the season. The Pirates, even though they did not have a single player with more than 25 home runs, led the National League in runs scored.
Their pitching staff, whose 3.44 ERA was second in the National League, was led by Doug Drabek, the 1990 National League Cy Young Award winner, who went 15-14 with a 3.07 ERA. Other Pirate starters included 20-game winner John Smiley, Zane Smith, who went 16-10, and Randy Tomlin, whose 8-7 record hid his 2.98 ERA, good for 8th in the National League. The Pirate bullpen was a collection of below-average relievers, with only co-closers Bill Landrum and Stan Belinda, the main relievers in the pen, with at least a league-average ERA. The Pirates were trying to make up for their upset loss to the Cincinnati Reds in the 1990 NLCS.
 Tha Atlanta Braves
The Atlanta Braves, at 94-68 (.580), were not supposed to be here. A team that had finished last in 1988, 1989, and 1990, the Braves were in what was believed to be a long rebuilding process. At mid-season, the Braves were hovering around .500 and 9 1/2 games behind the first-place Los Angeles Dodgers, but in a thrilling pennant race the Braves captured the divisional crown on the second-to-last day of the season.
The Braves were the second highest-scoring team in the NL (behind Pittsburgh), and their offense was led by Terry Pendleton, the batting champion and league MVP. Other key Brave hitters included David Justice, the 1990 Rookie of the Year (.275 21 HRs 87 RBI), and Ron Gant (.251 32 HRs 105 RBI and 34 steals), who was a 30-30 man for the second year in a row. The Braves were not a great offensive team, but had a very deep bench, allowing manager Bobby Cox to platoon effectively at shortstop, second base, first base, and in the outfield. The Braves were missing a key player, however, speedy centerfielder Otis Nixon, who had been suspended fo failing a drug test in September.
The Braves' pitching staff had a 3.49 ERA, third best in the NL (behind the Dodgers and Pirates), and was the mainstay of this team. Tom Glavine won the Cy Young Award, tying for the National League lead in wins (20) and having the third-best ERA (2.55). Other Braves starters included John Smoltz (14-13 3.80 ERA), Steve Avery (18-8 3.38 ERA), and Charlie Leibrandt (15-14 3.49 ERA). The Braves bullpen was a good one, with Kent Mercker, Marvin Freeman, and Mike Stanton the main set-up men for closer Alejandro Pena, a mid-season acquisition from the New York Mets, who would save 11 games down the stretch from the Braves with a 1.40 ERA.
 The Series
 Game 1
|WP: Doug Drabek (1-0), LP: Tom Glavine (0-1), SV: Bob Walk (1)|
|Home Runs: ATL - David Justice (1); PIT - Andy Van Slyke (1)|
- Attendance: 57,347
Pittsburgh was the site for Game 1, as both teams had their ace on the mound. The last two National League Cy Young Award winners, Doug Drabek of Pittsburgh and Tom Glavine of Atlanta faced off. The Pirates, well rested after coasting down the stretch, were expected to have the edge on the Braves, who had to fight back from a two-game deficit with 9 to play just to get to the NLCS. The Pirates jumped out early, as center fielder Andy Van Slyke homered off Glavine in the 1st to give Pittsburgh a 1-0 lead. The Pirates got 2 more in the 3rd, on a Jay Bell single, a Van Slyke double, and Bobby Bonilla's single which made it 3-0. That was all Drabek would need, as he tossed 6 scoreless innings. Bob Walk, the Pirates' #5 starter, got the last nine outs to record the save, and the Pirates took Game 1 by the score of 5-1. Van Slyke was the offensive star, with a double, home run, 2 RBI, and 2 runs scored. David Justice scored the only run for Atlanta with a solo home run leading off the 9th inning.
 Game 2
|WP: Steve Avery (1-0), LP: Zane Smith (0-1), SV: Alejandro Pena (1)|
|Home Runs: none|
- Attendance: 57,533
Pittsburgh and Atlanta locked up in a pitcher's duel, as 21-year-old Steve Avery of Atlanta beat veteran Zane Smith of Pittsburgh, 1-0. Avery pitched 8 1/3 scoreless innings, only allowing 8 baserunners. Smith went 7 innings, only allowing one run on 8 hits. The only run of the game cam in the top of the 6th, as Braves second baseman Mark Lemke doubled home David Justice. Avery was lifted after allowing a Bobby Bonilla double and getting Barry Bonds to pop out in the bottom of the 9th. Braves closer Alejandro Pena wild pitched Bonilla to third, but stranded him there after getting a comebacker and a strikeout for the final two outs. Lemke was the offensive star, with two hits and the only RBI.
 Game 3
|WP: John Smoltz (1-0), LP: John Smiley (0-1), SV: Alejandro Pena (2)|
|Home Runs: PIT - Jay Bell (1), Orlando Merced (1); ATL - Sid Bream (1), Ron Gant (1), Greg Olson (1)|
- Attendance: 50,905
The first playoff game in Atlanta since 1982 was a blowout, as the Braves easily won, 10-3. Pirate starter John Smiley, a 20-game winner during the season, lasted only 2 innings, allowing 5 runs (4 earned). The Pirate bullpen wasn't much better, allowing 5 more runs over the last 6 innings. Braves starter John Smoltz, who had won the game that clinched the Braves division title, was solid, allowing 3 runs in 6 1/3 innings. Alejandro Pena got his second save of the series, getting the final 5 outs. Braves catcher Greg Olson was the offensive star, with two hits, including a home run, 2 RBI, and 3 runs scored.
 Game 4
|WP: Stan Belinda (1-0), LP: Kent Mercker (0-1)|
|Home Runs: none|
- Attendance: 51,109
Pittsburgh manager Jim Leyland, down 2-1 in the series, decided against bringing back Doug Drabek on three days' rest and gave Randy Tomlin the ball instead. Bobby Cox went with Charlie Leibrandt, the only starter the Braves had with any postseason experience. The Braves scored twice in the 1st, then wouldn't score again until the 9th inning of Game 6, a string of 26 consecutive scoreless innings. Leibrandt allowed 2 runs in 6 2/3 innings, while Tomlin allowed 2 runs in 6 innings. The game was tied at 2-2 through 9 innings, but with one out in the 10th pinch hitter Mike LaValliere singled home Andy Van Slyke with what proved to be the winning run. Stan Belinda pitched two hitless innings for the win, while Kent Mercker took the loss, even though it was Mark Wohlers who gave up the game-winning hit. Jay Bell and Steve Buechele each had three hits for Pittsburgh. The 3-2 win evened up the series a two games each.
 Game 5
|WP: Zane Smith (1-1), LP: Tom Glavine (0-2), SV: Roger Mason (1)|
|Home Runs: none|
- Attendance: 51,109
This would be the last game of the series played in Atlanta. The Braves sent out Tom Glavine, the loser of Game 1, while Pittsburgh countered with Zane Smith, the loser in Game 2. For the second time in the series the game ended up 1-0, this time with Pittsburgh on top. Smith was the winner with 7 2/3 scoreless innings, while Glavine was the hard-luck loser, giving up the only run in the 5th inning. He went 8 innings, allowing the one run on 6 hits. Roger Mason got the save, getting the final 4 outs. The Pittsburgh run scored on a one-out single by Pirate second baseman Jose Lind, which scored Steve Buechele. The Braves though they had scored in the 4th, but David Justice was called out on appeal for missing third base. On the play, Justice missed touching the base while he was trying to score on Mark Lemke's single. This misstep proved costly, not only because the Braves lost by one run, but because the Braves has been shut out 12 consecutive innings at that point. It would reach 18 by the end of the game. Pittsburgh went home, up 3-2 in the series, just one win away from their first pennant since 1979. However, little did anyone know that it would be the Bucs' turn to experience a scoring drought as Pittsburgh would not score a single run the rest of the series.
 Game 6
|WP: Steve Avery (1-0), LP: Doug Drabek (1-1), SV: Alejandro Pena (3)|
|Home Runs: none|
- Attendance: 54,508
Game 6 proved to be the third consecutive classic game in the series, and for the third time the final score was 1-0. It featured Game 1 winner Doug Drabek for Pittsburgh and Game 2 winner Steve Avery for Atlanta. Avery was masterful, not allowing a baserunner past first base for 8 scoreless innings. Drabek was just as good, shutting out the Braves over 8 innings. In the top of the 9th, Braves catcher Greg Olson doubled home Ron Gant with the only run of the game. This was the Braves' first run since the 1st inning of Game 4. Drabek went the distance, allowing 1 run on 7 hits, but took the loss. Avery was the winner after Alejandro Pena, in an eventful 9th, got his third save of the series in as many chances. In that 9th inning, pinch hitter Gary Varsho singled, advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt, got to third on a wild pitch, but was stranded by Jay Bell and Andy Van Slyke, who had provided the offense for Pittsburgh most of the series. Avery had pitched 16 1/3 scoreless innings in the series and picked up two wins, and had been the brightest star in this series dominated by pitching.
 Game 7
|WP: John Smoltz (2-0), LP: John Smiley (0-2)|
|Home Runs: ATL - Brian Hunter (1)|
- Attendance: 46,932
The first Game 7 since the 1988 NLCS featured a rematch of Game 3, as John Smoltz and John Smiley faced off for the National League Pennant. And as in Game 3, the Braves jumped out early, scoring 3 runs in the 1st, capped off by a Brian Hunter two-run homer. Smiley was pulled after pitching just 2/3 of an inning, and would get his second loss of the series. Bob Walk came on in relief and did a fine job, allowing one run in 4 1/3 innings. But it was too late by then. Smoltz was masterful, pitching a complete game shutout, allowing only 7 baserunners and striking out 8, and picked up his second win of the series. Brian Hunter was the offensive hero, with two hits, including the home run, and three RBI. The Braves' 4-0 victory sent them to their first World Series since moving to Atlanta in 1966.
Steve Avery was the MVP, and deservedly so, but the Braves pitching staff was altogether masterful, giving up only 12 runs in the entire series, against the highest-scoring team in the National League. The Braves' offensive star was Greg Olson, who hit .333 with a home run, 4 RBI, and three runs scored, and had the game-winning hit in Game 6. The Pirates as a team hit only .224, with 12 of their 51 hits coming from Jay Bell. Barry Bonds had a miserable series, hitting only .148, didn't drive in a single run, and committed an error. Bobby Bonilla, who would leave the Pirates in the off-season as a free agent, hit .304, but only drove in one run and scored two. The Pirates were shut out the final 22 innings of the series. The Braves weren't much better, as they only scored 19 runs, and league MVP Terry Pendleton hit only .167, but they won two of the three 1-0 games and a third game 4-0. In a series dominated by pitching, the Braves' young arms proved to be better.
 Related Sites
|Major League Baseball National League Championship Series