Big Catch By Braggs Caps Series

Posted: October 13, 1990

CINCINNATI — Carmelo Martinez swung, and the ball started out toward deep right field. Glenn Braggs faded back . . . and back . . . and back some more, until his back was to the fence. It was a final, breathtaking moment in a National League championship series filled with such moments.

"I said, 'My God, stay in this ballpark,' " Reds manager Lou Piniella said. "And, all of a sudden, I see Braggs reaching up at the last second."

Braggs is 6 feet, 3 inches tall. Any shorter and Martinez's ninth-inning fly ball might have been a game-winning, two-run homer, and the Cincinnati Reds might not have wrapped up the pennant with a 2-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates last night.

"I knew he hit it well," Reds shortstop Barry Larkin said. "It was just a matter if it was going to go out or not. Braggsie went out and made a tremendous catch for us.

"That," he added, exaggerating slightly, "is the advantage of having a 6-4, 6-5 rightfielder."

"It was a home run," shuddered Rob Dibble, who had a perfect view from the right-field bullpen, where he was warming up. "(Braggs) timed it just right and pulled it back. Unbelievable."

Even more unbelievable, perhaps, was the fact that the Pirates, with only one hit and three errors, were that close to forcing a seventh game.

"I'm telling you, against a team like Pittsburgh, you've got to score runs," Piniella said. "Today, we were very fortunate. They had one hit, three errors; we had nine hits, and we end up with two runs. We left a lot of runners stranded."

But the two runners who weren't stranded were enough to touch off a wild celebration the moment Randy Myers got Don Slaught to miss a high, outside 2-2 pitch for the final out. It was quite a scene. In a twinkling, catcher Joe Oliver was at the mound, hugging the pitcher, and players were jumping into each other's arms.

Surely, nobody was happier than Piniella. While the swirling mob of Reds players moved into short right-center field to continue their jumping, hugging, back-slapping orgy, Piniella and third-base coach Sam Perlozzo embraced, then walked slowly, arm in arm, toward second base. It was just about then that Larkin, dashing toward the dugout, did a back flip that would have done Ozzie Smith proud.

One of the first postgame visitors to Piniella's office was Pirates manager Jim Leyland.

"Great job," he told Piniella. "Hell of a win. You did great, man."

And then the Pittsburgh manager, a close friend of Oakland manager Tony La Russa, added: "I've got a buddy out there, but I'm a National Leaguer. Good luck."

For Piniella, fired twice by George Steinbrenner as manager of the New York Yankees, this was a night to savor.

"It's a great feeling," he said. "It's a combination of a lot of hard work, is what it is. I'm thrilled for these guys. I'm proud of them. They worked hard all year. They deserve what they got. It hasn't been easy, but it's been a lot of fun."

The emotional manager kept talking about his team - about Luis Quinones, whose pinch-hit single drove in the winning run in the seventh, about Braggs' game-saving catch, about the bullpen that kept slamming the door on the Pirates. ("Quinones has come through in that role all year," Piniella said. ''He's been the best pinch-hitter we've had. He takes his swings. He's aggressive.")

All richly deserved tributes, to be sure. But what personal feelings were coursing through Lou Piniella's body on this red-letter day in his baseball career?

"How do I feel for myself?" he said, repeating the question. "I'd like to say one thing. George, I can manage. And that's it. THAT'S IT!"

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