This article was originally published in “Braves Win! Braves Win! Braves Win! The 1995 World Champion Atlanta Braves” (SABR, 2020), edited by Tom Hufford and Bill Nowlin.
For Atlanta Braves ace Greg Maddux, his long-awaited World Series debut was a chance to shake off a reputation of playoff futility for himself and his team. For the Cleveland Indians, it was a chance to shake off the rust from a 41-year postseason drought. For major-league baseball, it was a welcome respite from the painful memories of the previous October, when the World Series was not played at all due to a labor dispute between the owners and players.
When Maddux took the mound on October 21, 1995, at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, it had been 728 days since the last World Series game. The players’ strike and subsequent owners’ lockout had canceled the 1994 World Series and delayed the start of the 1995 regular season, alienating many fans in the process. The raucous crowds that greeted the Braves and brought Atlanta to a standstill during their first two World Series trips in 1991 and ’92 were nowhere to be found; the city greeted its third National League pennant with skeptical restraint.1
In Cleveland the mood was much more festive as 50,000 fans gathered for a pep rally downtown2 before the World Series opener. The Indians’ 100-win season and their first American League pennant since 1954 captivated a fan base that had waited a long time for success. The last time the Indians had won it all, back in 1948, the Braves played their home games in Boston.
All eyes were on Maddux, baseball’s best pitcher, who was soon to win his fourth consecutive NL Cy Young Award after posting a dominant 19-2 record with a 1.63 ERA. His 260 ERA+, which compares his ERA relative to the league average, ranks as the fifth-best in major-league history. But after signing with the Braves as a free agent in 1993, Maddux had struggled in October, bringing a 5.57 career postseason ERA into Game One.3
No one questioned Maddux’s counterpart on the mound when it came to postseason pedigree. Orel Hershiser had never lost a game in the playoffs (7-0, 1.47 ERA) and was coming off a dominant ALCS against the Seattle Mariners in which he captured MVP honors. When asked how he was able to raise his game in October, the 37-year-old right-hander said, “It’s that nervousness, that little extra edge, like little butterflies. It’s always a constant reminder that something special is going on.”4
The Indians also brought one of the most potent offenses in baseball history to Atlanta. Powered by Albert Belle, Jim Thome, Manny Ramirez, and Eddie Murray, the Tribe led all major-league teams in hits, runs, home runs, slugging, and on-base percentage in 1995. With seven .300 hitters in the Indians’ lineup for Game One, they were so loaded that future Hall of Famer Dave Winfield — who had driven in the World Series-winning run for the Toronto Blue Jays against the Braves in 1992 — was left off the postseason roster.
Within minutes of Maddux’s first pitch, Kenny Lofton, Cleveland’s speedy leadoff hitter, manufactured the first run of the World Series by reaching on an error, stealing second and third base, and scoring on a groundout by Carlos Baerga. The Braves got the run back on Fred McGriff’s long home run, 436 feet deep into the right-center-field seats, to lead off the second inning. Then the game settled into a tight pitching duel between the two aces.
The Indians broke up Maddux’s no-hitter on a single by Thome with one out in the fifth inning, but they could not break the 1-1 tie. Meanwhile, the Braves could not break through against Hershiser, either. Only one Atlanta baserunner had advanced into scoring position, back in the first inning, but shortstop Omar Vizquel made a diving stop of Chipper Jones’s line drive to start a double play and end the threat. Through six innings, Hershiser had allowed three hits and Maddux only one. But Vizquel’s Gold Glove-winning hands failed him in the game’s most critical moment.
After walking the first two hitters in the seventh, a frustrated Hershiser took himself out of the game after 101 pitches. “Orel was pitching well,” Indians manager Mike Hargrove said. “There was no indication he had run out of gas. … He caught us off-guard, he caught us by surprise.”5
Reliever Paul Assenmacher’s control wasn’t much better, as he loaded the bases with a walk to Mike Devereaux. Julian Tavarez came on to face pinch-hitter Luis Polonia, who hit a soft grounder up the middle that was misplayed by Vizquel. He was still juggling the baseball when he stepped on second base to force out Devereaux, but McGriff came home with the go-ahead run to give the Braves a 2-1 lead. Manager Bobby Cox argued with umpire Bruce Froemming to overturn the call at second base, hoping to keep the bases loaded and play for a big inning. When Cox returned to the dugout, he called for a small-ball strategy instead. Rafael Belliard perfectly executed a squeeze bunt, bringing home David Justice with the Braves’ third run. Not a single ball left the infield in the entire inning.
Maddux mowed down the heart of the Indians’ order in the eighth, dispatching Thome and Ramirez on easy groundballs and inducing Sandy Alomar Jr. to pop out to first base. In the ninth, the Indians threatened briefly — thanks again to the speed of Kenny Lofton. With one out, he sliced a single to left field for the Indians’ second hit of the game. He boldly tried to advance to third base on Vizquel’s groundout and scored when McGriff’s throw across the diamond skipped past Chipper Jones. But Maddux retired Baerga on a foul popup to Jones to end the game and give the Braves a 3-2 win.
Maddux threw 95 pitches, 63 for strikes. It was only the third recorded instance in World Series history that a pitcher threw a complete game in fewer than 100 pitches.6 He allowed just four balls to reach the outfield and faced three batters over the minimum.
“I don’t think you will ever see anyone pitch better than you saw Greg Maddux pitch tonight,” Hargrove said. “He just dominated that game.”7
Maddux’s teammate, John Smoltz, called it a “masterpiece,” adding, “One thing [is] for sure: He put to rest the tag that he can’t pitch in the postseason. I don’t think he’ll ever have to hear that again.”8
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author consulted box scores and play-by-play at Baseball-Reference.com and Retrosheet.org.
1 Charmagne Helton, “No Clean-Up or Festivities for Downtown,” Atlanta Journal-Constitution, October 22, 1995: E9; Bill Torpy, “City Begins to Don a Series Game Face,” Atlanta Journal-Constitution, October 22, 1995: E11.
2 Jim Auchmutey, “Baseball’s Old Maid,” Atlanta Journal-Constitution, October 21, 1995: D10.
3 Greg Maddux, Postseason Pitching Game Log, Baseball-Reference.com, baseball-reference.com/players/gl.fcgi?id=maddugr01&t=p&year=0&post=1. Two of Maddux’s seven postseason starts were with the Chicago Cubs in 1989.
4 David Falkner, “Postseason Traumatic Shock Syndrome,” The Sporting News, October 23, 1995: 17.
5 Ross Newhan, “Hershiser Walks Out on Indians at Crucial Moment,” Los Angeles Times, October 22, 1995: C12.
7 I.J. Rosenberg, “Game 1’s a Maddux 2-hitter,” Atlanta Journal-Constitution, October 22, 1995: E1.
8 Phil Sheridan, “Maddux Weaves Some Game 1 Magic,” Philadelphia Inquirer, October 22, 1995: D1.