The Atlanta Braves had come up short in the World Series in 1991 and 1992, then been upset in the National League Championship Series in 1993, before their likely playoff berth of 1994 was ended by the players’ strike. The 1995 Atlanta Braves spared the franchise and the fan base from the ignominy of constant playoff defeat by winning the World Series.
Pitching was the reason the team won, as they led the National League in ERA. No one was better than Greg Maddux, who went a surreal 19-2 with a 1.63 ERA and won the Cy Young Award. Tom Glavine and John Smoltz combined to win 28 games and each had an ERA in the low 3s.
Offensively, left fielder Ryan Klesko had a big year, slugging .608, while first baseman Fred McGriff hit .280 with 27 home runs. They led an offense that was good enough to help the pitching carry the team to a 90-54 record (the season was shortened to 144 games after the strike of 1994 spilled over into the early part of the following season). Atlanta blew the NL East wide open, winning the division by 21 games.
In the postseason, the Braves kept finding ways to win games late. They got to a 2-0 series leads in the Division Series against the Colorado Rockies and then over the Cincinnati Reds and their MVP shortstop Barry Larkin in the League Championship Series. It was winning in either the ninth or in extra innings that keyed Atlanta’s quick stranglehold on their first two playoff series.
The clutch gene paved the way for Atlanta eventually dispatching Colorado in four games, in the best-of-five Division Series. The Braves then completed a four-game sweep of the Reds in the NLCS thanks to series MVP Mike Devereaux, and his .357 on-base percentage and .615 slugging percentage over the four games.
It set Atlanta up for a World Series confrontation against the powerful offense of the Cleveland Indians, with Albert Belle, Manny Ramirez and Jim Thome leading the way.
The adage that good pitching beats good hitting held true in this case. Atlanta’s staff kept Cleveland’s lineup under reasonable control, Cleveland had no stopper who could match Atlanta’s Big Three and the Braves won three of the first five games. They had two chances at home to close out what would be the franchise’s first championship since relocating to Atlanta.
Glavine took everything into his own hands, and delivered a masterful outing in Game 6. A solo home run by David Justice was all Glavine needed to produce a 1-0 win that gave his team its long-sought World Series title and himself the honor of Series MVP.
Atlanta would continue to be a fixture in the postseason, winning the NL East every year through 2006, an astonishing display of a divisional dynasty. But they never got back to the top. The 1995 Atlanta Braves were the edition that made sure the franchise at least got on the board once.