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THE HOMESTRETCH
Steve Rushin
September 30, 1991
The Los Angeles Dodgers slid past the Atlanta Braves in another thrilling dustup in the National League West
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September 30, 1991

The Homestretch

The Los Angeles Dodgers slid past the Atlanta Braves in another thrilling dustup in the National League West

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"I don't really like to show my emotions," Samuel said afterward. "We all know it was a big victory, but I try not to show it." And just when you thought someone needed to tell him what it's all about, the heroic stoic let go a small smile. "I will show it more," said Samuel, "if we clinch it."

L.A. was in no danger of doing that anytime soon. It went into Sunday's game with a scant half-game lead on Atlanta. The Braves' Cy Young winner-to-be, Tom Glavine, pitching on three days' rest, gave up two runs on three hits in the first inning of Game 3. This deficit appeared to be eminently surmountable as struggling Dodger starter Ramon Martinez allowed three base runners of his own in the first. "My arm felt fine," Martinez would say later with candor. "I was just worried. This was a big game."

If few of us can fulfill our childhood dreams, fewer yet can fulfill them while still children. The 175-pound Martinez is the anti-Avery: He is 23 but seems much younger. "People act like he's been around for five years," says Strawberry. "But he's still really young, still just finding himself." Difficulties with the English language—Martinez is a native of the Dominican Republic—and the hyper-foreign culture of L.A. make him seem all the more ingenuous.

So when he swung at a fastball from the league's best pitcher in the fourth inning, and the ball carried 385 feet and over the fence in rightfield for his first home run since Little League, Martinez resembled one of those bobble-head baseball dolls as he circled the bases: There was an enormous enamel smile painted on his face, and the visor of his overlarge helmet kept falling over his eyes. His would be the final run scored in the Braves-Dodgers series this season, for he settled down to hold Atlanta to two hits in Los Angeles's 3-0 win. "Today, I feel like the first game when I come to the big leagues," Martinez said afterward, searching for the right words and finding them. "Because of the home run, I was very excited."

Still, when all was said and done last weekend, little was said and nothing was done. "You can't say anything yet," Martinez went on. "It's not over." No, it most certainly isn't. This could have been a story about one team seizing the division from another. Instead, some breathtaking baseball is all it's about.

And yet, isn't that what it's all about?

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