Van Slyke's agony realized through revelation
It took 19 years, but courtesy of Andy Van Slyke's revelation during the last few days, the baseball gods finally have reached closure on a couple of open-ended mysteries that occurred deep into the night on Oct. 14, 1992, at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium.
They call it the Sid Bream Game.
That's because after trailing Van Slyke's Pittsburgh Pirates 2-0 in the bottom of the ninth inning during Game 7 of that National League Championship Series, Bream's Atlanta Braves completed the impossible before the home crowd. They got a single to left by pinch-hitter Francisco Cabrera, followed by Bream leaving second, rounding third and sliding home with the pennant-winning run.
This goes deeper than all of that. For one, nobody will confuse Cabrera with Roberto Clemente.
As for Bream, he was able to make his breathtaking journey around the bases despite ranking as the slowest player in the history of the game -- or maybe it just seemed that way.
Then there was Pirates left fielder Barry Bonds, among the greatest defensive players ever at that position. His throw to the plate just missed nailing Bream.
Through it all, the late Skip Caray hollered the following over the Braves radio network:
"Here's the throw to the plate ... He is safe! Braves win. Braves win. Braves win. Braves win. Braves win. They may have to hospitalize Sid Bream. He's down at the bottom of a huge pile at the plate. They help him to his feet. Frank Cabrera got the game-winner. The Atlanta Braves are National League champions again.
"This crowd has gone berserk. Listen.
"Meanwhile, Barry Bonds is just now walking off the field. Andy Van Slyke is sitting on his glove in center field in shock."
There was another scene for the ages involving Van Slyke that night (or shall I say during the early morning) at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, but let's return to the present for the moment. Van Slyke just said the most fascinating thing about the Sid Bream Game to MLB Network as part of its series on MLB's 20 Greatest Games.
According to Van Slyke, he asked Bonds to move in a few steps for the light-hitting Cabrera.
Bonds reportedly refused.
Boy, did he. Said Van Slyke to the MLB Network, "He turned and looked at me and gave me the international peace sign. So I said, 'Fine, you play where you want.' "
Van Slyke wasn't just any center fielder, by the way. He was on the verge of capturing the last of his five consecutive Gold Gloves. Not only that, he was playing a position whose occupants are generally allowed to bark orders to the other outfielders.
And, generally, those other outfielders listen. But, generally, they aren't as famously strong-minded and talented as the guy who was in the midst of snatching eight consecutive Gold Gloves.
So Bonds didn't listen.
Soon afterward, Cabrera dropped a single to the left of Bonds that required the left-handed outfielder to race toward the ball and throw home across his body. The throw was off slightly in the direction of the first base, but Pirates catcher Mike LaValliere made the grab and then whirled with his glove toward the plate for the tag.
It's just that Bream and his knees that required five surgeries through the years reached home about a millisecond earlier.
I was there, listening to those inside the Braves' packed house jumping and yelling like they never had before. Their defending NL champions had done little throughout the night at the plate. Even so, before the Braves began to hit in the bottom of the ninth with their 2-0 deficit, the crowd kept getting louder and louder for no particular reason.
A Braves miracle, perhaps?
No way it could happen. These were the big and bad Pirates in the NLCS for the third consecutive time. They were shocked in 1990 by a team of destiny from Cincinnati with its Nasty Boys. The year after that, the Braves completed their worst-to-first trip to the World Series by outpitching the Pirates during another seven-game NLCS.
So here were the Pirates in the bottom of the ninth of this Game 7 against the Braves, holding what felt like a 20-0 lead. They had Doug Drabek dominating hitters for eight innings, and they had Gold Glove second baseman Jose Lind ... booting an easy grounder.
That was after Drabek allowed a double to start the ninth.
Before long, with bullpen ace Stan Belinda replacing Drabek on the pitcher's mound, everything began moving toward Van Slyke and Bonds along the way to Cabrera and Bream.
Later, with the pennant won for the Braves, and with their fans threatening to scream forever, Van Slyke sat in center field. He couldn't move. He eventually found enough strength to head in the direction of the most morbid visiting clubhouse you'd ever see.
As a columnist for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution back then, my priority was the Braves. So I spent considerable time in the home clubhouse after a brief trip to the visitors' side to study the carnage. I later went upstairs to the pressbox to bang out a column on deadline, and then I packed up my computer to make another swing through the home clubhouse before I headed for the parking lot.
Just so you know, the other team in sports is always long gone after devastating losses -- especially if it is the visiting team -- but something told me to check the Pirates' clubhouse.
I turned, and then I walked totally the other way from the parking lot to the visitors' place on the other side of the stadium. What a wasted trip, I thought, after I moved inside to the sound of silence, with not even a clubhouse attendant present.
Well, there was one person across the way.
I almost missed him. Sitting motionlessly in a metal chair was Van Slyke, staring into the distance. He wasn't dressed. In fact, he was nude, showing no signs of going anywhere for a while.
At the time, I thought I understood the primary reason for Van Slyke's despair, but I didn't.
Now I do.
Terence Moore is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.