No, it wasn’t the World Series. Technically, the setting wasn’t The House That Ruth Built. (This is the new Yankee Stadium.) Still, the game was played in the Bronx, and the opponent wore pinstripes. Close enough.
In his first trip to baseball’s most famous borough (post-Brooklyn division), the 20-year-old Ronald Acuna hit an 11th-inning home run off David Robertson to win a game matching teams with the best records in their respective leagues. And if you’re thinking, “Haven’t I seen something like that before?” … Well, you had. To borrow from something a distinguished Yankee might, or might not, have said: It was déjà vu all over again, kind of.
On Oct. 20, 1996, the 19-year-old Andruw Jones hit a home run his first time up off Andy Pettitte, who would soon claim the American League’s Cy Young Award. His second time up, Jones hit another, this one carrying into Memorial Park of what Braves pitching coach Leo Mazzone had called “the cathedral of baseball.”
Not quite 22 years later, another Braves rookie – like Jones, Acuna was ranked as baseball’s best prospect – made his Bronx debut and tripped the light fantastic. He doubled in a run. He won it in bonus cantos. As of this morning, the Braves lead their division by 3-1/2 games. The Yankees no longer lead theirs.
Jones’ first home run that famous night was pulled down the left-field line. The second was a monster shot to left-center. Acuna’s winner was an opposite-field drive that ticked the glove of Aaron Judge, who’s 6-foot-7, as it descended onto the short porch in right. Still counts, though.
We’ve spent much of the spring/summer drawing comparisons to the worst-to-first 1991, seeing as how these Braves – like those Braves – weren’t expected to do much. Monday night took us back to the Braves at their absolute zenith. Their excursion to the old Yankee Stadium marked their fourth World Series appearance in six years. They had won it all, finally, in 1995.
They rallied from 3-1 down to obliterate St. Louis in the ’96 NLCS. They won 15-0 in Game 7, Jones becoming the youngest player ever to hoist a postseason home run. Then as now, they went from Cardinals to Yankees. Jones hit two more in Game 1 of the Fall Classic, the Braves winning 12-1.
They would win 4-0 the next night. They were two games from becoming back-to-back champions, primed to clinch at an Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium that was about to be razed. Over a five-game stretch, they’d outscored the highest caliber of opposition 48-2. And you know where this is heading, right?
After Game 2, one typist – OK, this typist – offered a missive about which he hears to this doggone day. Its headline: “The ’27 Yankees might lose to these guys.” That was in no way a misrepresentation of sentiments expressed therein.
Second paragraph: “Before Game 2, Marquis Grissom was asked if his is the Team of the '90s. The answer's yes, but the question is too limiting. This is the greatest team of the post-free agency era, among the best ever. You can trot out any of baseball's storied assemblages - the 1927 Yankees, the Gas House Gang, the Big Red Machine - and wonder how these Braves would have fared, but that sword cuts two ways: Would those clubs have seemed so majestic if they'd had to hit against the Braves?”
If memory serves (and it does), the Braves have yet to win another World Series game, let alone another World Series. In the overstuffed file marked “Famous Bradley Last Words,” Paragraph 2 is the most infamous. Being rather older and perhaps a smidgen wiser today, I will offer no grand pronouncements regarding Monday’s result or Acuna’s career path or the likely destination of his team. But …
If you, dear reader, dare to suggest that these Braves might be making another trip to the new Yankee Stadium before the year is done … well, I wouldn’t rise to object.