The 1993 National League Championship Series pitted the two-time National League champion Atlanta Braves against the gritty and defiant worst-to-first Philadelphia Phillies. It was a classic mismatch between a baseball power looking for a third trip back to the World Series for a potential rematch of the 1992 World Series with the Toronto Blue Jays and a Phillies team predicted to finish the regular season behind the expansion Florida Marlins. The Braves were an overwhelming favorite with a starting rotation featuring three future Hall of Fame pitchers
The Phillies would not be rattled by the star power Atlanta brought to the series though, sending out their starting line-up featuring players having career years and a pitcher who would begin scripting his Hall of Fame worthy postseason legacy. On this night, however, Game 1 would turn out to be a story of redemption for an unheralded player.
Photo: Philadelphia Phillies
Curt Schilling took the mound for the Phillies at Veterans Stadium, and he was quick to set the tone for the home team. Feeding off the crowd of over 62,000, Schilling started the game by striking out the first five batters he faced, with only Terry Pendleton able to avoid a strikeout by hitting in to a ground out to end the second inning. He also picked up an early lead with the Phillies scoring the first run of the series in the bottom of the first inning.
Lead-off batter Lenny Dykstra got the fun started with a double to left center. Dykstra had often been the one to get the Phillies offense started with above average plate discipline and good base running. Mariano Duncan followed Dykstra's double with a single up the middle, placing runners on the corners right out of the gate for the Phillies. First baseman John Kruk would ground in to a double play but the Braves conceded the run in exchange for two outs.
As luck would have it, the first Braves batter to reach base off of Schilling was Braves Game 1 starting pitcher Steve Avery, who doubled in to left field with two outs in the top of the third inning. Otis Nixon would bring Avery home with his own double in to left field, tying the game at 1-1. The Braves would take their first lead of the series in the next inning when David Justice hit a sacrifice fly to left center, scoring Ron Gant from third. Gant had led the inning off with a walk and advanced to third base on a Fred McGriff single to right. McGriff was a major mid-season acquisition for the Braves and added a much-needed bat to the line-up. Of course, the tale goes now the Braves caught fire the same day their stadium did. The day McGriff joined the Braves, a fire broke out in the press box in Atlanta's Fulton County Stadium.
The Phillies were not down for very long. In the bottom of the inning Pete Incaviglia hit the only home run of the game, driving a two-out 3-2 pitch over the wall at the Vet to tie the game, 2-2. It was during an Incaviglia at-bat in the sixth inning that would lead to the Phillies taking the lead off of Avery as well. The Phillies had loaded the bases with Kruk walking, Dave Hollins doubling down the right field line and Darren Daulton being intentionally walked. Avery got in front of Incaviglia with a 1-2 count, but the fourth pitch of the at-bat went wild and allowed Kruk to come home for the go-ahead run.
Meanwhile, Schilling was cruising. The ace of the night pitched eight innings, striking out 10 batters and allowing just the two runs. He left the game after the eighth inning, with manager Jim Fregosi deciding to turn the game over to his closer Mitch Williams. Williams on the mound was just one of the ninth inning changes for Fregosi though. Milt Thompson moved from right field to left to replace Incaviglia, and Jim Eisenreich entered the game to play right field. The other defensive change came at third base, where Fregosi replaced Hollins with Kim Batiste, who had a better defensive glove. It was the change that had been made for months without consequence. The baseball gods had something else in mind though.
Things got dicey early, with Williams walking pinch hitting Bill Pecota on four pitches. Mark Lemke followed with a grounder to Batiste at third base, who was set up for a shot at a routine 5-4-3 double play. Only this time Batiste sent the ball in to the outfield, past second base and in to no-man's land. Pecota moved to third base and the Braves had runners on the corners with nobody out. Nixon would later ground out but the unearned game-tying run crossed the plate on the play. Game tied in the ninth with a lead-off walk, fielding error and an unearned run.
"After that error, I definitely felt bad," Kim Batiste said in this Philadelphia Inquirer game story by Jayson Stark from that night. "I said, 'What have I done now?' I was just sitting there, basically talking to myself, saying: 'What are you doing? Where were you throwing that ball?' There were so many things going through my mind."
Some might suggest the Phillies and their lack of experience in the big spotlight like this was already crumbling a team nobody thought should be there in the first place. But that would not hold true for the story of this 1993 season. Batiste would get a shot to make up for the unfortunate play.
The Phillies went down in order in the bottom of the ninth, sending the game in to a tenth inning. The Braves once again would have runners on the corners off of Williams, who remained on the mound, but this time they got there with two outs and were unable to take a lead. In the bottom of the inning Kruk would line a double to right field with one out, setting the stage for Batiste.
Batiste spent five years in the majors and had a career high seven doubles and 29 runs batted in during the 1993 season. Never a player to take the spotlight with the Phillies, the spotlight was certainly on him in the bottom of the tenth. Baseball has a funny way of allowing a player an opportunity to turn goat to hero. This was Batiste's moment.
Down 1-2 in the count against Braves reliever Greg McMichael, Batiste sent a double in to left field, allowing Kruk to run home from second for the game-winning run. Kruk arrived home to be welcomed by his teammates pouring out of the dugout, Daulton with a bat in hand from the on-deck circle, Dykstra jumping up with his arms stretching for the sky and Wilt Chamberlain looking to bear hug somebody. The scene quickly shifted to second base, where Batiste was carried off the field as the hero of the game. Back to Stark's story from that night...
"It was just an emotional thing," said Thompson, who was in charge of half the heavy lifting. "We all felt so good for him, coming back after the error the way he did. I just looked over, and Danny Jackson was holding him up there, trying to carry him by himself. And I said, 'I better give him a hand. He's got to pitch in this series.' "
So Thompson grabbed a leg. And then the Phillies engaged in a scene you don't often see in this game - professional athletes staging an impromptu parade for the hero of the moment. It was a scene that epitomized exactly why the Phillies have gotten to this point.
Kim Batiste stood at his locker later, unable to wipe the smile off his face. He was asked if he had ever been carried off a field before in his life.
"Not like that," Batiste said. "Maybe I was carried off with a sprained ankle or something like that. But not for getting congratulated."
This was the first run he had driven in since way back on Aug. 15. But there was a certain air of deja vu to this game - because in that game, against the Mets, he had made an error, too - and then came back to stroke a game-winning single.
In the nearly two months since, he had no errors - and no RBIs. And then he wrapped up both of them in one amazing night.
The Phillies had the 4-3 victory in ten innings and a 1-0 lead in their first playoff series in 10 years.