Justice's Shot In 9th Lifts Braves

Posted: October 02, 1991

CINCINNATI — The never-say-die Atlanta Braves found out last night that there is Justice in this world, after all.

His first name is David, and he hit a towering, two-run ninth-inning home run into the right-field seats off Rob Dibble to give the Atlanta Braves a remarkable, 7-6 victory over the Cincinnati Reds at Riverfront Stadium.

The win kept the Braves one game behind the first-place Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League West with four games to go. The Dodgers beat the San Diego Padres, 3-1, last night.

The Braves made it five in a row on their final regular-season road trip despite spotting Jose Rijo, the NL's ERA leader, a six-run lead in the first inning.

And they did it despite a crushing disappointment in the seventh inning, when, with the bases loaded, two out and his team down a run, Braves catcher Greg Olson hit a ball just about as hard as you can hit one - only to have it caught by leaping third baseman Chris Sabo.

"He snow coned it, too," said Braves manager Bobby Cox, who understandably was hard pressed to find words to describe his team's implausible comeback. "I thought it was over his head, (then) I thought it was going to come out of his glove."

But the Braves weren't dead yet. Mark Lemke, leading off the ninth against the flame-throwing Dibble, barely checked his swing on a 2-2 pitch, then lined a single to center field.

Deion Sanders, the two-sport speedster, ran for Lemke and went diving headfirst into second base with his 11th steal. Then came what had the look of a major setback: Terry Pendleton, whose four straight hits included a home run, failed to move the tying run to third, hitting a soft fly to medium center.

"Pick me up," Pendleton told Justice as he passed him on the way back to the dugout.

"OK," Justice said he told him, "I'm going to pick you up."

The Cincinnati native wasted no time, driving Dibble's first pitch out of sight.

"I just wanted to hit the ball," Justice said. "The last time, Dibble struck me out. He's tough."

As Justice's 21st homer soared high over rightfielder Paul O'Neill, Olson jumped out of the dugout in glee, touching off a wild celebration.

There would be another one when Alejandro Pena, a lifesaver in short relief for the Braves in their late-season surge, put down the Reds in order in the ninth, throwing a called third strike past Barry Larkin to end it. Pena, the ex-Dodger and ex-Met, darted off the mound, pounding his fist into his glove, as his jubilant teammates stormed out of the dugout.

They had won a game that seemed irretrievably lost when Joe Oliver, who specializes in hitting Atlanta pitchers, capped a six-run first inning against Charlie Leibrandt with the first grand slam of his career.

"I know you're not supposed to win a ball game when they've got a six-run lead, Rijo pitching and (Norm) Charlton and Dibble in the bullpen," Cox said. ''I can't explain it."

Truly, it defied explanation. The Braves got their first two runs against Rijo on successive, two-out pinch-hits by Tommy Gregg and ex-Phillie farmhand Jerry Willard, closed to within three on Pendleton's homer in the fifth, then came within an inch or so of getting the lead in the seventh.

Charlton, his suspension for intentionally throwing at Dodgers catcher Mike Scioscia lifted for this series by league president Bill White, came on with two on and nobody out. Lemke greeted him with a drive to deep center that just cleared centerfierlder Mariano Duncan's head and short-hopped the fence for what turned out to be a long single because of a baserunning mixup. If not for a high relay to the plate by Bill Doran, the Braves would have run themselves into a critical out.

Pendleton's fourth hit, an infield single off Larkin's glove, made it 6-5, but Charlton got Justice on a first-pitch foul pop before his wild pitch advanced the runners to second and third. An intentional walk to Ron Gant loaded the bases, and they stayed loaded when pinch-hitter Brian Hunter went down swinging on three pitches and Sabo stopped Olson's smash on its way to left field.

"We weren't completely deflated by it," said Cox, "but we were ticked off, I'll tell you that."

The Braves had barely recovered from that disappointment when the Reds loaded the bases with two out in the seventh. Lefthander Mike Stanton came in, and got behind on Doran, who hit a 3-1 pitch wide of third base. Pendleton made a good play going to his left to keep the Braves close.

Justice did the rest, making up for his seventh-inning pop foul in a hurry.

"It's probably one of the biggest moments of my career," he said, still pumped up from the excitement. "I consider myself a clutch hitter. Tonight was just another example."

He hit a fastball that was right down the middle, he said.

"I will definitely remember this finish - especially if we win the National League West," Justice said. "I'll tell you what, we battled. It's a great game for our whole team. We're not going to give up. They (the Dodgers) are going to have to win every game."

"Good players make things happen," said Cox. "We've got good players."

That is becoming more apparent with each day.

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