The 1990s Atlanta Braves may have been the most consistently great team in baseball history. Anchored by a rotation featuring Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz with contributions from players like Andruw Jones, Javy Lopez, Ryan Klesko, and future Hall of Famer Chipper Jones, the Braves were a powerhouse team in almost every way. When they returned to Boston on August 29, 1997, they were almost the antithesis of the Braves that called Boston home for decades. The Braves that Boston knew were consistently awful with a couple of bright spots (1914 and 1948, most notably). While the Boston Braves consistently played second fiddle to the Red Sox, the Atlanta Braves had a captive national audience because of team owner Ted Turner’s ownership of TBS. The Braves that returned to Boston were almost the polar opposite of the Braves that left after the 1952 season.
For all of the Braves’s success in consistently winning the National League East however, they only won one World Series for their troubles, over the Cleveland Indians in 1995 in a rematch of the 1948 World Series. The ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory was a Boston trait that the Braves had taken with them to Atlanta.
On August 29, 1997, the Braves suited up in Boston for the first time since September 21, 1952. The 1997 Red Sox were a team in transition, having just let long time ace Roger Clemens walk away over the previous off-season. The team was starting to plant the seeds for what was to come in the later part of the 90s and into the 2000s. Nomar Garciaparra was having a stellar rookie year and would enter this game with a 29 game hitting streak. Just a month before this game, the team had pulled off possibly the most lopsided trade in baseball history when they sent Heathcliff Slocumb to the Seattle Mariners for Jason Varitek and Derek Lowe. Tim Wakefield was honing his craft as the team’s resident knuckleball pitcher and proving to be one of the most consistent pitchers in the game. Trot Nixon was tearing it up in the minor leagues and on the cusp of being called up. However, the team also had to deal with a couple of high profile off the field incidents with 1995 MVP first baseman Mo Vaughn and outfielder Wil Cordero. The raw ingredients for future success were there but there were still some kinks to be worked out.
These two teams, on wildly different paths, were set to collide in their first regular or even postseason encounter. While they never faced off in any official capacity, the Braves and Red Sox had faced off in multiple preseason “city series” during their joint time in Boston and came within one Red Sox win of playing each other in the 1948 World Series. History was truly set to be made on August 29, 1997.
The Braves were welcomed back to Boston by a small but loyal fanbase, headed up by George Altison, who had started the Boston Braves Historical Association in 1988 in order to commemorate the history of the team. The Red Sox paid tribute to the Braves by scheduling former Boston Braves players to throw out first pitches throughout the weekend series. The teams also wore throwback uniforms, the Braves wearing a B on their caps for the first time in over 45 years. John Smoltz was set to take the mound for the Braves and Aaron Sele was to take the mound for the Sox.
For Braves fans, the game must have been a spectacular affair. Fred McGriff struck first with a solo home run in the 2nd. After a sixth inning that saw 4 runs score, Sele was pulled from the game and replaced with Ron Mahay in the 7th. The Braves did not stop scoring and would ultimately win the game, 9-1. The Red Sox’s lone run came from a Reggie Jefferson home run off of Kerry Ligtenburg in the bottom of the ninth.
It was a grand return for the Braves and surely sent the small group of Boston Braves fans home happy. Sox fans could take solace in having seen Nomar extend his hit streak to 30 games, tying Tris Speaker for the second longest hitting streak in the team’s history. The Braves ended Nomar’s streak the next night and prevented him from reaching Dom DiMaggio’s record of 34 consecutive games with a hit.
The Braves would sweep the weekend in pretty dominant fashion. They would win the next night, 15-2 and then again on Sunday, 7-3. The Red Sox would have to wait until 1998 to get their first win over the Braves. The Braves would ultimately finish the season, 101-61 and cruise to another National League East championship. The Florida Marlins would knock them out in the NLCS and then go on to upset the New York Yankees to win their first World Series.
As for the 1997 Boston Red Sox, they would finish 78-84, 4th in the American League East. It would be their last losing season until the Bobby Valentine fiasco of 2012.
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