They hoisted him on their shoulders after their 4-3 victory, displaying him to an exuberant sellout crowd of 62,012 at Veterans Stadium, which minutes earlier seemed to hate him.
Him and Mitch Williams.
Two outs away from a 3-2 victory, Kim Batiste, a defensive replacement in the ninth inning for the Philadelphia Phillies, threw away an apparently routine double-play ball that eventually allowed the Atlanta Braves to tie the score. When the inning was over, Batiste returned to a dugout that included a disappointed Curt Schilling, who had struck out 10 batters in a superb eight innings.
What did the players say to him?
"Nothing," said John Kruk. "What can you say? We are not going to get down on him."
But Batiste went to the plate in the 10th inning with Kruk on second base and one out and singled down the left-field line on Greg McMichael's third pitch to score Kruk and beat the Braves to take Game 1 of the National League playoffs.
"It's good to get the first one," Kruk said. "I heard Paul Molitor use that last night, so I figured, what the hell, I'll use it, too."
All the Phillies had asked of Williams was for him to save an outstanding pitching performance by Schilling, but he promptly lived up to his nickname of "Wild Thing." Williams threw four consecutive balls to walk leadoff batter and pinch-hitter Bill Pecota, who moved to third when Batiste threw Mark Lemke's potential double-play grounder into right field. Pecota scored on a groundout.
"All I can tell you, is that my hair was black when I first came here," said Phillie Manager Jim Fregosi, talking about Williams, who saved 43 games this season. "I'm fortunate I still have it."
Schilling, who struck out the first five Braves to set a championship series record, begged Fregosi to stay in the game, but Fregosi knew he had thrown more than 140 pitches and felt that was enough.
"I couldn't have pleaded any harder to stay out of the electric chair," Schilling said.
Throwing fastballs and forkballs, a dominating Schilling held the Braves to two runs and seven hits. He held the heart of the Braves' order--Ron Gant, Fred McGriff and David Justice--to two hits, a single by McGriff in the fourth and another single by Gant in the seventh. Gant had 117 runs batted in this season, McGriff 101 and Justice 120.
"Any time a starter throws the ball that well, we have to win," said Williams, wearing a cap that said NO FEAR ATHLETIC DEPT. "I came out flying (with emotion) and didn't even crack 85 m.p.h. I didn't have to worry about hitting anybody, I couldn't even reach them. I was thinking I wanted to get the game over as soon as possible and rushed everything."
Neither Schilling nor Steve Avery, who gave up three runs and five hits in six innings, figured into the decision. Ironically, Williams got the victory with McMichael taking the loss. Brave Manager Bobby Cox pinch-hit for Avery with his team trailing by one run in the seventh inning.
"It was a big run," Cox said. "I thought, on the whole, Avery pitched a great game. He made a couple of bad pitches, like the 3-2 to (Pete) Incaviglia which was right down the middle of the plate."
The Phillies scored in the first inning, the Braves tied it in the third, and went ahead, 2-1, in the fourth. The Phillies came back in the bottom of the inning to tie it, 2-2, on a 423-foot home run to center by Incaviglia.
But Schilling just kept coming at the Braves. In the fifth inning, with one out and runners on first and second, Schilling came back to strike out Jeff Blauser and Gant.
For Blauser, it was the third time he had gone down swinging. For Gant, his second strikeout of the game came on three consecutive pitches--the third one Gant just stared at, then flipped his bat over his head before heading back to third base.
That gave Schilling nine strikeouts, and it was only the fifth inning.
Schilling's five consecutive strikeouts were the most in a championship series to start a game and the most in a row.
But when the Braves tied the score in the ninth, Schilling could do nothing, until Batiste pulled McMichael's 1-and-2 pitch down the third base line. Then, Schilling ran out on the field.
"I'm glad they came out to pick me up to celebrate, " Batiste said, "instead of running out to kill me."