When you talk about the Atlanta Braves of the early 1990s, the players you probably most often reference are the ace pitchers — Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz, along with outfielder David Justice and first baseman Fred McGriff. And when I bring up walk-offs, the obvious name that comes to mind is Francisco Cabrera, who had the winning hit in Game 7 of the 1992 NLCS against the Pirates.
But you’re forgetting someone who was very important to the early part of that run. I’m referring to their version of Mr. Walk-Off, Ron Gant. Gant was a pretty good player in his time. He hit 321 home runs and finished in the top 15 of the MVP voting four times. He was there for the Braves bad times and for the good ones as well.
Gant had eight walk-off RBIs for the Braves from 1991 to 1993, the first three years of the Braves divisional dominance. That included four that were vital to the Braves winning the NL West in those years — two in September 1991 and two in September 1993.
He put the Braves back into first place by a half-game over the Dodgers with 20 games remaining with a bases-loaded hit off the wall against Dodgers reliever Roger McDowell on September 14, 1991. Eleven days later he got the winning hit in the opener of a doubleheader against the Reds, at the conclusion of which the Braves were 1 ½ games back with 10 to play. They would rally to win the division in the final weekend of the season.
In 1993, he had two walk-offs in a three-day span (September 15 and 17) to help the Braves hold off the Giants. The first is the best story of the bunch. The Braves trailed the Reds 6-2 in the ninth inning. Ryan Klesko hit a two-run home run to make it 6-4. Then after Otis Nixon and Jeff Blauser got hits off Jeff Reardon, Rob Dibble came into the game in relief.
Gant was 2-for-16 with seven strikeouts in his career against Dibble, so he couldn’t afford to get behind in the count. He took what I believe to be a highly-awkward swing (judge for yourself here) and hit a line drive down the left field line. The ball hit the top of the fence, but rather than come back into play, it went over the fence for a walk-off three-run home run.
“The fans that left, they should never let them see a game again,” Gant told reporters afterwards. “They aren’t true fans.”
Brief editorial comment: I’m inclined to agree, albeit with allowances for emergencies. Fans who leave in the bottom of the ninth inning of games are a pet peeve of mine.
The other win was a 2-1 victory over the Mets, won in the 10th inning when Gant doubled over the head of center fielder Dave Gallagher to plate Otis Nixon with the winning run.
“I don’t want to make it a habit, that’s for sure,” Gant said of walk-offs. “We need to start scoring more runs because this is making me feel old.”