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Braves Come Up Short Again

One for the '90s. Maybe the next decade will be kinder to the Atlanta Braves.

Even while making eight straight postseason appearances a feat unmatched by any other team these Braves will be remembered as the Buffalo Bills of baseball.

Atlanta may object, but its legacy is undeniable after the New York Yankees completed a World Series sweep with a 4-1 victory Wednesday night.

One Series title in 10 years is not enough to secure a loftier place in baseball history. Too many potential championships got away.

"That's unfair," Chipper Jones said in protest. "We've won more championships than about 25 or 26 other teams. When you look at our organization, you can only call it a success."

Unfortunately, these are the moments that endure:

In 1991, Lonnie Smith stops running and Minnesota wins Game 7 in the 10th inning. That one was excused in the tomahawk-chopping euphoria over a miraculous worst-to-first season.

In 1992, the Braves expected to win against Toronto and were on their way to a 2-0 lead in the Series until pinch-hitter Ed Sprague homered in the ninth against ancient Jeff Reardon. The Blue Jays went on claim the title in six games.

In 1996, after winning their lone Series title of the decade over Cleveland the previous year, the Braves were poised to establish themselves as one of the great teams in baseball history. They won the first two games of the '96 Series at Yankee Stadium by a combined score of 16-1, only to lose the next three at old Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. The collapse was completed back in New York, and the Braves have never been so close to another championship.

On Wednesday night, the decade of lost chances ended on a dismal note. The Yankees finished off the Braves with a four-game blitz, marking the first time this decade that Atlanta lost a best-of-7 series in fewer than six games.

"They did it all," Jones said. "They're awesome. They pretty much played a perfect series."

As for the Braves, their plight was summed up by the placard carried by a Yankees fan. "Hey Atlanta. Ever Heard of the Buffalo Bills?"

The message was clear: The Braves now have a place alongside the NFL team that lost four straight Super Bowls in the first half of the '90s.

"Some things that have been written about us are unfair," said John Smoltz, who took the loss in Game 4. "But this is the level we've established for ourslves."

The totality of this defeat overshadowed what had been an amazing season for the Braves. They managed to win 103 games despite losing five players to season-ending illness and injuries.

"There's no solace in scratching and clawing to get here," Smoltz said. "There's just an overwhelming feeling that we've got to win when we get here."

But the final chance for Team of the Decade honors turned out to be a debacle. The Yankees showed Atlanta how it's supposed to be done, celebrating their third title in four years while their fans mocked the Braves with a Bronx version of the "Tomahawk Chop."

Atlanta finished the decade with three straight 100-win seasons and nary a Series title to show for it.

There wasn't a bit of drama to the final game of the '90s, unlike the previous night when the Braves squandered their best chance to make a Series of it by blowing a 5-1 lead.

The Yankees scored all of their runs in the third, taking advantage of a potential double-play grounder that bounced off the right arm of first baseman Ryan Klesko.

While judged a hit by the official scorers, it was clearly a miscue the kind of play the Yankees always seem to make, the kind of play the Braves couldn't make at critical times.

"The best team won," Smoltz said. "The Yanks are head and shoulders above most when it comes to this time of the year. We lost to the best team, simply put."

With Andres Galarraga and Javy Lopez watching from the dugout, sidelined by cancer and a bum knee respectively, the free-swinging Atlanta hitters were thoroughly dominated by New York's starters.

Orlando Hernandez allowed one hit in Game 1. David Cone matched him in Game 2. Roger Clemens surrendered four hits in the clincher, allowing just one Atlanta runner to reach second base when he left with two outs in the eighth.

Manager Bobby Cox will take his share of blame for letting this one get away, too. In Game 1, when the Braves took a 1-0 lead into the eighth, he left starter Greg Maddux in the game four hitters too long.

In Game 3 a contest the Braves had to have flu-ridden Tom Glavine was sent back to the mound in the eighth with a 5-3 lead, even though Cox said beforehand that all he wanted was seven solid innings.

Two batters later the game was tied on Chuck Knoblauch's 315-homer down the right-field line. Two innings later, the series effectively ended when Chad Curtis hit a ball considerably farther into the Braves bullpen for a 6-5 victory.

On Wednesday, the Braves bid adieu to the 1990s. Good riddance.

"It will be nice that we don't have to listen to all that stuff," Jones said. "We can start a new decade and certainly everyone will come in looking to get it kicked off the right way."

©1999 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

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