Bill Shanks

Atlanta Braves fans yearning for playoff baseball

Atlanta Braves manager Brian Snitker, Freddie Freeman and the team celebrate beating the Detroit Tigers 1-0 on Sunday.
Atlanta Braves manager Brian Snitker, Freddie Freeman and the team celebrate beating the Detroit Tigers 1-0 on Sunday. TNS

Remember the good old days of the 1990s, when the Atlanta Braves were in the playoffs every year? In fact, they were in the playoffs for 14 straight seasons from 1991 through 2005.

When the Braves first returned to the playoffs in 1991, it was magical. They hadn’t played a postseason game in nine years, so it was an event. The Braves had not even won a postseason game in their first 26 years of the franchise being in Atlanta, as they were swept in both 1969 and 1982.

It’s hard to believe it has been 25 Octobers since that unbelievable 1991 World Series. The Braves had a great series against Pittsburgh to win the NL pennant before moving on to face the Minnesota Twins. And we were then treated to perhaps the best World Series in history.

Well, it was great except for the fact the Braves lost. But hey, we all know the Twins cheated, right? We all know they pumped up the crowd noise in the Metrodome. We all know Kent Hrbek pushed Ron Gant off first base in the Game 2. We all know Lonnie Smith shouldn’t have fallen for the decoy in Game 7.

OK, let me stop. My blood pressure was rising as I wrote that. It was the greatest World Series and the most painful. To see a team go from worst to first and then lose in extra innings of Game 7 of the World Series … well, it still hurts, doesn’t it?

But that started an incredible journey for the Braves. They made the playoffs again the next year and then again and again and again. The Braves made the World Series five times in the 1990s, winning only in 1995. But every series was dramatic and exciting, even if we were disappointed in the end, except for that one great Saturday night in October 21 years ago.

After the 14-year run of consecutive playoff appearances that ended in 2005, the Braves have only been to the playoffs three times in the past 11 years. They lost the NLDS to the San Francisco Giants in 2010, the outfield-fly rule wild card game against the St. Louis Cardinals in 2012 and then the NLDS to the Los Angeles Dodgers three years ago.

Those teams, and even the stadium they played in, are long gone. It’s definitely a new era of Braves baseball as we look toward 2017. But the final few days of Turner Field reminded us how great October baseball can be in Atlanta.

The crowds there to say goodbye to Turner Field were outstanding, and they witnessed a last-place team play like it was playing for a playoff spot. You never would believe a team with one of the worst records in the sport would be playing with their hair on fire, but the Braves did that last week.

Brian Snitker’s team finished with a record (68-93) better than last season (67-95). The Braves were 12-2 in their final 14 games and 20-10 in their final 30 games. And for a team that had a 31-58 record before the All-Star Break to turn it around and have a 37-35 record after the All-Star Break was simply incredible.

It got the fan base’s attention, and people wanted to go to Turner Field to say goodbye to a stadium and also watch a good team play baseball. The great finish got fans wishing the season was not over.

We’ll see later this week if the Braves take “interim” tag off Snitker’s title and give him the managerial job. They should probably build a statue of him considering how well the Braves played after he took over in May. It’ll likely either be Snitker or Bud Black, the former manager in San Diego, to lead the Braves into SunTrust Park.

The playoffs started Tuesday. And as we watch other fans live and breathe on every pitch of every playoff game, we can only hope that drama will return to Atlanta soon. Last week was fun, so we can only imagine how great it will be when the Braves return to baseball’s postseason.

Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on “Middle Georgia’s ESPN” – 93.1 FM in Macon and 99.5 FM in Warner Robins. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at thebillshanksshow@yahoo.com.

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