The Atlanta Braves were the team of the 90’s. Well, at least that’s how history was supposed to remember them. Beginning with their dramatic worst-to-first season of 1991, culminating in a thrilling seven-game loss in the World Series to the Minnesota Twins, the Braves began an unprecedented run of dominance……in the regular season.
From 1991 through 2005, the Braves won EVERY division title (3 NL West, 11 NL East) with the exception of the strike-shortened 1994 season in which there was no postseason.
The Braves earned five World Series berths in the 90’s, winning just the one in 1995. In 1996 however, it appeared that the Braves were in the driver’s seat to claim back-to-back titles.
Atlanta opened the Fall Classic in the Bronx and swept both games by a combined score of 16-1. Heading back to Atlanta for the next three, the Braves felt great about their chances. Game 3 went to the Yankees but in Game 4, the Braves jumped out to an early lead and took a 6-3 lead into the top of the 8th.
Braves manager Bobby Cox went to closer Mark Wohlers for a six-out save. Wohlers quickly got into trouble against the lower part of the Yankees order. With two on and one out, Jim Leyritz stepped to the plate and destroyed a 2-2 slider for a game-tying three-run homer. The Yanks eventually won in the 10th.
The Braves have not won a World Series game since. They lost the next two games to lose that Series and they were swept by the Yankees in the 1999 Series.
Wohlers never recovered. After dominating the National League in previous seasons, the wheels started coming off in 1997. He still managed 33 saves, but he had lost control of many of his pitches. His walk rate nearly doubled, his ERA climbed a half run and he blew more saves than in any previous season.
By 1998, he was completely off the map. In 27 games, Wohlers allowed 23 runs, struck out 22 and walked 33 – 12 more than he walked in 77 games in 1996. He bounced around from team to team both in the minors and the Majors until he retired after the 2002 season.
With one swing of the bat, Jim Leyritz launched the Yankees onto their run of four World titles in six years. But more devastatingly for Braves fans, with one swing of the bat, Jim Leyritz broke Mark Wohlers. And in doing so, kept the Braves from fulfilling their destiny as the Team of the 90’s.