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back by popular demand

this year's nlcs represents the first rematch between prior-year opponents since 1992, when the braves and pirates squared off for the 2d consecutive season. the braves had won the '91 series in seven games, getting three of their four wins by shutout -- including two 1-0 victories. (pittsburgh also notched a 1-0 victory in that series.) atlanta trailed 2-3 after five games and had to win the last two on the road. in game 6 steve avery and alejandro pena combined on a four-hitter, and gregg olson doubled in the game's only run in the top of the 9th; in game 7 john smoltz tossed a complete-game 6-hitter, and brian hunter jacked a three-run shot off of john smiley in the top of the 1st, and the braves won 4-0. they went on to lose to the twins in perhaps the tightest world series ever played.

(greg olson and alejandro pena and brian hunter et alia have now lived through the entire has-been cycle and entered the gregg who? alejandro who? years of their lives; and yet the braves haven't missed a postseason since, and john smoltz is still their postseason ace. unref**kingmarkable.)

in the rematch against pittsburgh in the 1992 nlcs, atlanta went up 3 games to 1, outscoring the bucs 26-13 in the process. but the pirates won the next two games by a combined 20-5, evening the series, and they led game 7 2-0 heading into the bottom of the 9th. those of us who watched the frame will never forget it:

Pendleton doubled to right; Justice reached on an error by Lind [Pendleton to third]; Bream walked [Justice to second]; BELINDA REPLACED DRABEK (PITCHING); Gant lined out on a sacrifice fly to left [Pendleton scored]; Berryhill walked [Justice to third, Bream to second]; HUNTER BATTED FOR BELLIARD; Hunter popped to shortstop; CABRERA BATTED FOR REARDON; Cabrera singled to left [Justice scored (unearned), Bream scored (unearned).
i don't know that i've ever seen a more dramatic play than cabrera's game-winning single.

before 1992, the only other encore match in the nlcs occurred in 1978, when the phillies and dodgers renewed acquaintances. the phils lost that in heart-breaking fashion: down 2 games to 1, they took game 4 to the bottom of the 10th tied 3-3. tug mcgraw got reggie smith and steve garvey for the first two outs, then issued a walk to ron cey. dusty baker then drove one to center field to end the inning, except perennial gold-glover gary maddux dropped the ball. bill russell promptly singled cey home, and the series was over.


rematches have been far more common in the alcs for some reason, happening in 1970, 1974, 1977, 1978, 2001, and 2004 -- six times. but in the nlcs this is only the 3d such in 36 years -- a rare occurrence indeed. in fact, no single team (much less both) has returned to the nlcs for a 2d straight year since the 2000 mets. prior to that, of course, there were the braves, always the braves -- eight consecutive nlcs appearances going back to, um, 1991 . . .

i ever tell you about that series?