What he did: For a few seconds on Oct. 28, 1995, the entire city of Atlanta stood on its feet as Mark Wohlers faced Cleveland Indians second baseman Carlos Baerga. The Braves were leading 1-0 in the ninth inning and needed only one out to deliver the city a world championship.
Wohlers threw a fastball on the first pitch, and Baerga popped it deep to left-center, the ball falling softly into glove of Marquis Grissom. Pandemonium ensued at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium and all over the city as catcher Javier Lopez ran and jumped into the arms of his relief pitcher, a photo seen all over the world.
Wohlers and the Braves had delivered Atlanta something it will always cherish — its first and still only world championship among the big four major professional sports — and the big right-hander from Holyoke, Mass., will forever be remembered for that moment.
The baby-faced Wohlers, who threw his first pitch in Atlanta at the age of 21, was the Braves’ best reliever during their glory years in the 1990s. In nine seasons he finished with 112 saves, 437 strikeouts in 386 1/3 innings and appeared in 38 postseason games including 13 in the World Series.
The 6-foot-4 Wohlers was picked by the Braves in the eighth round of the ‘88 amateur draft and moved quickly through the organization. He spent much of the ’91 season in the minors but was called up in August and pitched in 17 games in the regular season and six in the postseason. One of those September games was the first National League combined no-hitter. The game against San Diego was started by Kent Mercker with Wohlers coming in for two innings and Alejandro Pena closing it out.
In ’95, Wohlers became the fulltime closer, saving 25 games as well as five in the postseason and the title clincher against the Indians. He was even more dominant in ’96, making the All-Star team and finishing the regular season with 39 saves. But after a strong division and championship series against the Dodgers and Cardinals, he gave up the three-run, game-tying homer in the eighth inning to Yankees pinch hitter Jim Leyritz in Game 4 of the World Series, a pitch that clearly changed the direction of the Series.
While Wohlers gets most of the heat in a Series the Braves would lose 4-2, many forget they were up six runs in the sixth inning when starter Denny Neagle faltered, and the Yankees comeback started. Wohlers has said he felt the slider was the right pitch to throw, and he never shied away from saying he didn’t throw it well.
From there, Wohlers battled with control problems. In April, 1999, he was traded to Cincinnati, and he spent the next four seasons with the Reds, Yankees and Indians and underwent two Tommy John surgeries, the last one in 2003.
Between surgeries, he came back in 2001 and helped the Yankees make the playoffs. But the surgeries eventually took a toll, and he wanted to rejoin his family fulltime here in Atlanta, so he retired. Wohlers went through a tragedy in March 2011 when his home in Milton burned down and was a total loss, but he and his family escaped safely.
Where he lives: Wohlers, 45, has been married to Kimberly for 14 years, and they rebuilt their home on the same lot in Milton. He has four children, daughter Austyn, 18, from a previous marriage and Jake, 11, Mia, 9, and Charlie, 7.
What he does now: Wohlers and his wife are residential real estate agents and call themselves Team Wohlers. He also spends a lot of time working in sports with his three youngest children.
On the memorable last pitch of the 1995 season: “I think it was a great sense of pride. It was a great group of guys that I played with in Atlanta. … It wasn’t like the other clubs I played on where some players had their own agendas. … When Marquis caught that ball, I don’t know if it was a sense of relief or pride. There were many emotions. … It was just goosebumps from head to toe.’’
On a recent fantasy camp in Florida with many former teammates: “It was an absolute blast. We were all telling stories. It’s funny because when we all stopped playing, we all went our separate ways. But ever since Greg McMichael has been in charge of (Braves) alumni, we are seeing and hearing a lot more of each other.’’
On how he threw at fantasy camp: “Horrible. It was the first time I have thrown from 60 feet in about 12 years. I threw it pretty hard, but I was all over the place.’’
On the Hall of Fame induction of Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux and John Smoltz pending entrance this summer: “They are all very different. John had the best stuff of any pitcher I ever played with. Greg was the smartest player I played with, and Tom was the most mentally tough. It made them all different, but they were the best in the business.’’
On whether he misses baseball: “What I miss is the time I spent with the guys in the clubhouse. I had my 15 minutes of fame, and then you kind of turn the page and do the right thing as a father.’’
On the Leyritz homer: “It was tough because it was a turning point in the series. He fouled a couple of pitches straight back, and I thought he was catching up with my fastball. A lot of people don’t realize that even if you are throwing 150 miles an hour, a major league hitter is eventually going to hit the fastball. I had a good slider, and I just didn’t locate it where I wanted it to go. I hung it. Greg Maddux used to tell me if the batter got a hit, then you either threw the wrong pitch or put it in the wrong location. It was bad location.’’
On Hall of Fame manager Bobby Cox: “You always knew where you stood with Bobby. … Bobby was a great guy to play for, and he always stuck up for you with the umpires and the media.’’
On the loss of his home to fire: “They said it was caused by lightning. I got up, and I saw the fire on the side of the porch. I thought it looked manageable, but we called 911, and my wife got the kids out of the house. It was a windy night, and we had a cedar roof, and it just burned quickly. I had my (World Series) rings in a fireproof safe and in my closet, and they were able to find them, and we got them cleaned up.’’
On his legacy: “I think I was pretty good teammate, I never rocked the boat and never got in trouble. I am proud of my career and what I accomplished.’’
On the current Braves: “We had such an amazing run that I can certainly understand their retooling, and there might be some bumps in the runs. But we proved in the ’90s what can happen.’’