Baseball-Almanac.com's Divisional Series section
1997 National League Divisional Series:
Atlanta Braves (3),
Houston Astros (0)
Once again, the Atlanta Braves had returned to participate in their third consecutive National League Divisional Series. Amazingly consistent, Ted Turner's team would eventually appear in every NLDS since it's inception from 1995-2003. The Braves continued to set record-after-record in 1997 and boasted a major league high 101 wins and an unprecedented sixth straight division title. Their six consecutive first-place finishes eclipsed the old mark of five straight set by the New York Yankees (1949-53) and the Oakland A's (1971-75). While playing their inaugural season at Turner Field, Atlanta won 12 of their first 13 home games, and retained sole possession of first place from mid-April through the remainder of the season. As usual Atlanta's pitching remained dominant, leading the majors with a 3.18 ERA and 17 shutouts. Denny Neagle turned in the National League's only 20-victory campaign, going 20-5 with a 2.97 ERA, while Greg Maddux (19-4, 2.20) narrowly missed 20-wins. John Smoltz (15-12, 3.02) led the National League with 255.0 innings pitched, and became the first pitcher in franchise history to notch at least 200 strikeouts in four seasons. Their opponents, the Houston Astros, had set some records of their own after capturing their first NL Central title and their first division title in 11 years. Slugger Jeff Bagwell knocked in 43 homers and stole 31 bases to become Houston's first "30-30" man. He also set new single-season club records in homers (43), RBIs (135), total bases (335) and extra-base hits (85) Catcher Craig Biggio became the first player in major league history to have not grounded into a double play in a 162-game season and Larry Dierker became one of only 6 skippers in major league history to win a division title in their first year as manager. Regardless of the Texan's accomplishments though, most experts favored the perennial Braves and predicted yet another sweep.
Atlanta's veteran ace Greg Maddux clearly controlled Game 1 after limiting Houston's line-up to only seven singles en route to a 2-1 victory. Teammate Kenny Lofton (who had entered the league as an Astro in 1991) set the pace on the offensive side after scoring a first-inning run with some daring base running. Unlike the opener, Game 2 belonged to the hitters (Atlanta's that is) as the Braves' bats lit up Houston's rotation for a 13-3 victory and a two-games-to-none lead in the Series. Jeff Blauser led the rally with a 3-run homer. As predicted, the Braves continued to dominate in Game 3 thanks to John Smoltz, who pitched a beautiful 3-hitter for a 4-1 Series-clincher. The 3-game sweep gave the Braves a 9-1 mark in Division Series competition and a ticket to a record 6th straight National League Championship Series.
Unlike Atlanta, Florida was making their first playoff appearance and boasted a line-up full of "mercenaries" who were intentionally brought in with short-term contracts for the sole purpose of competing for a championship. In June of 1991, the National League had awarded the expansion franchise to H. Wayne Huizenga, the chief executive officer of Blockbuster Entertainment Corporation, owner of the Miami Dolphins football team, and chairman of the board for the Florida Panthers hockey team. In just their fourth season, the Marlins (led by General Manager Jim Leyland) had invested millions of dollars in "free-agent" players who earned their paychecks (and a Wild-Card) while finishing 92-70. In addition, the Marlins line-up featured several All-Stars including Moises Alou, Kevin Brown and Charles Johnson who became the only National League catcher ever to play an entire season (starting 124 games) without committing an error. He would later extend that streak to 171 games far exceeding the league record set by Buddy Rosar of the Philadelphia Athletics (117 games in 1946). Unlike their "rookie" opponents, the Giants had a long and storied history in the post season (New York) although the last few seasons had left much to be desired. After their second-straight last-place finish in 1996 (with a devastating 94 losses) San Francisco's management put together some controversial trades and changed their slogan to ""It's Giants baseball; anything can happen." The result was a 16-5 record at the start of the '97 season, en route to a six-game advantage over Los Angeles at the All-Star break. Both teams battled back and forth throughout the year but in the end the Giants prevailed. San Francisco's line-up also featured its share of standouts including Barry Bonds, who hit his 40th home run of the season to put him over the 100 RBI mark thus, giving San Francisco its first 100 RBI trio in Bonds, Jeff Kent and J.T. Snow.
Game 1 belonged to anyone as both teams went neck-and-neck down to the wire. Florida's Edgar Renteria "nosed ahead" though with a clutch, two-out, bases-loaded single in the bottom of the ninth inning for the 2-1 opening victory. Little changed in Game 2 as once again, both teams entered the final inning tied. This time it was Moises Alou who knocked in the winning run (with no outs) for a 7-6 Marlin win and a two-games-to-none lead in the Series. Devon White finished the job for Florida in Game 3 with a storybook grand slam (in the 6th-inning) capping a 6-2 triumph and a three-game sweep moving the Florida Marlins into the NL Championship Series against Atlanta. Florida would go on to beat the Braves (4 games to 3) for their first World Series title. Unfortunately, the "mercenary" roster that got them there would immediately disband over the next few seasons resulting in the departure of skipper Jim Leyland along with any chances for the post season. To this day, many fans still believe that the '97 Marlins "bought" their rings and refuse to give them the respect granted to other major league baseball champions.
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