MLB playoffs: Looking back at 1995 NLDS between Reds, Braves

Starting with 1995 sweep, Reds are 2-11 in the postseason

Twenty five years after they met in the National League Championship Series, the Cincinnati Reds and Atlanta Braves will play in the first round of the 2020 playoffs this week.

Game 1 of the best-of-three wild-card series starts Wednesday at noon and will be televised by ESPN. All the games will take place at Truist Park in Atlanta.

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In 1995, the Reds played host to the Braves in the first two games at Riverfront Stadium, which was renamed Cinergy Field a year later. Empty seats were a big storyline as the Reds failed to sell out their first NLCS games in five years.

The Reds swept the Los Angeles Dodgers in the divisional series in 1995 to earn the matchup with the Braves. That remains their last playoff series victory. Since that series, the Reds are 2-11 in the postseason. That includes four losses, the firs two in extra innings, in the 1995 NLCS.

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The Braves made the fourth of 14 straight playoff appearances in 1995 and went on to beat the Cleveland Indians in the World Series. The Reds suffered three straight losing seasons after 1995 and didn’t return to the playoffs until 2010.

Here’s a look back at that 1995 series through the game stories of Baseball Hall of Fame writer Hal McCoy.

Game 1

Date: Oct. 10.

Site: Riverfront Stadium

Score: Braves 2, Reds 1 (11 innings)

Game story excerpt: A sign near the left-field foul pole in the upper-deck red seats said: Red October. It should have read: Red-faced October.

An embarrassingly small crowd of 36,762 turned out to see the Cincinnati Reds lose Game 1 of the National League Championship Series to the Atlanta Braves, 2-1, in 11 innings Tuesday night in Riverfront Stadium.

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The smallest crowd ever to wander into the concrete saucer on the banks of the Ohio for a postseason game witnessed a pitching duel between Cincinnati’s Pete Schourek and Atlanta’s Tom Glavine.

And they watched the Braves get outs two-by-two — five double plays.

“We could have won this game. We should have won this game,” said shortstop Barry Larkin, who had a triple and a double off Glavine and scored Cincinnati’s only run. “We blew opportunity after opportunity, especially hitting into five double plays. We didn’t give it away, they took it away.”

Game 2

Date: Oct. 11.

Site: Riverfront Stadium.

Score: Braves 6, Reds 2 (10 innings).

Game story excerpt: The Cincinnati Reds jammed a stick in their eyes Wednesday night in Riverfront Stadium and probably blinded themselves for 1995.

They are dangling on the precipice of elimination from the National League Playoffs today, down two games to none in the best of seven series.The Atlanta Braves scored four times in the tenth inning — the first on a bases-loaded wild pitch by Mark Portugal and three more on Javy Lopez’s home run against the left field foul pole — for a 6-2 victory in front of 43,257 attendees, most of whom booed and departed after the home run.

Portugal, making his first relief appearance of the season, was asked to protect a 2-2 tie in the tenth, but gave up a single to Mark Lemke to open the tenth. Lemke moved up on a grounder by Chipper Jones and Fred McGriff was walked intentionally. David Justice singled to load the bases.

Portugal made pinch-hitter Ryan Klesko seem helpless with the first two pitches, jumping ahead 0-and-2. Portugal’s third pitch was in the dirt and thundered past catcher Benito Santiago and rolled to the backstop as Lemke scored.

"On 0-and-2 I didn’t want to throw one over the plate, but I didn’t want to make it that bad,'' said Portugal, bravely facing the kleig lights and pen-bearers shortly afterward. "I snapped it too hard, a curveball. There was nothing (catcher) Benny Santiago could do. It bounced four feet in front of the plate.''

One pitch later it was out of reach — Lopez’s three-run homer.

“A sinker, inside," said Lopez. "I was ready for a fastball inside, but he made a mistake and put the ball over the middle of the plate and I hit it as hard as I could.''

Game 3

Date: Oct. 13, 1995.

Site: Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium.

Score: Braves 5, Reds 2.

Game story excerpt: Kaiser, a bomb-sniffing dog with the Atlanta K-9 corps, searched the Cincinnati Reds clubhouse before Game 3 of the National League Championship Series on Friday night, a precautionary measure.

Funny how he hustled right past the bat rack without a pause.

Kaiser knew there were no bombs to be found there, only duds. The German shepherd hesitated briefly to sniff the life-sized stuffed St. Bernard in Manager Davey Johnson’s office, probably to offer condolences.

The Cincinnati Reds are about to become the biggest bomb since the movie Ishtar.

They flopped for the third straight time in the NLCS, losing 5-2 to Atlanta, and The Team Built to Beat the Braves is about to bow out with less than a whimper.

All they need is four straight wins to earn a trip to the World Series. All they need for a long winter’s nap is one more defeat, which could come tonight.

“This was Friday the 13th and I thought we might get them, but we seem to be snake-bitten,” shortstop Barry Larkin said. “Somebody has to win, somebody has to lose. Unfortunately, we’re the ones losing. We should have won the two in Cincinnati (2-1 and 6-2 defeats in extra innings), but they went out and beat us tonight.”

Game 4

Date: Oct. 14, 1995.

Site: Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium.

Score: Braves 6, Reds 0.

Game story excerpt: CEO Marge Schott should have played another pre-game video for her Cincinnati Reds Saturday afternoon: The Poseidon Adventure.

The 1995 National League Championship Series was totally upside down for the Reds and they finished bottoms up for the fourth straight time Saturday night — a four-game sweep at the hands, arms and feet of the Atlanta Braves.

By bashing the Reds, 6-0, in front of 52,067 in Atlanta/Fulton County Stadium, the Braves qualify for the World Series for the third time since 1991.

All Cincinnati Manager Davey Johnson’s wife, Susan, wanted for her birthday Saturday was a victory — one lonely victory to savor before she and her husband disappear from the Cincinnati scene, pushed out of town on the whim of an eccentric CEO.

There was no chance. Better she wished for a hit here and there.

“I didn’t expect to not win a game,” said shortstop and de facto captain Barry Larkin. "I’m just numb right now. Dumbfounded.''

As it was all four games, the Reds had no use for baseball bats when they went to the box. They could have brought a good book and a nice glass of wine to the plate because bats were useless. They hit .209 to Atlanta’s .282.

Game 4 was the worst.

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