It was the last day the Pirates were any good, and Doug Drabek occasionally has found himself daydreaming about an alternate ending to that incredibly disappointing evening.
Francisco Cabrera, of all people, got the hit. Barry Bonds made that lousy throw. Sid Bream lumbered around and scored.
Doug Drabek took a shutout into the ninth in Game 7 of the 1992 NLCS.
Mini-dynasty over for Pirates.
Drabek, the last great Bucco pitcher, would try not to think about the disastrous ending to the 1992 National League Championship Series against the Braves. But he couldn't always stop himself from doing so.
"I was hoping the more I could think about it," Drabek said, "that they'd call us back out and say, 'Oops, there was a mistake. Come on back out here and let's do it over.'"
The show will go on
Despite poor weather, the Curve's Spring Training Festival will be held today. Doug Drabek and former Curve star Josh Bonifay highlight the event, which includes a carnival at Logan Valley Mall from 1 to 4 p.m. ($12 tickets) and evening dinner at Ramada Inn. The dinner is sold out.
There are no do-overs in baseball. The saying goes that there's no crying, either, but ever since that day - Oct. 14, 1992 - there's been nothing but crying for Pirates fans as they've suffered through 17 consecutive losing seasons.
Three great seasons in the early '90s are pretty much all that any Pirates fan under the age of 35 can cling to, and Drabek was one of the biggest reasons the club won three straight division titles.
Drabek said his favorite memory occurred in 1990 when the team clinched the first division crown in St. Louis.
"That was the first time for a lot of the guys on the team to be in the playoffs," said Drabek, who won the Cy Young award that year after going 22-6 with a 2.76 ERA.
Plenty of great memories followed the next two years, but no World Series appearances. The main reason for that was the most painful memory of Drabek's career.
The right-hander had thrown a gem for eight innings, shutting out the Braves in Game 7 of the NLCS and taking a 2-0 lead into the bottom of the ninth. The Pirates were three outs away from the World Series and had their ace on the mound, but disaster followed as the Braves rallied for a 3-2 win in Atlanta.
Drabek, who was pulled after getting in a jam in the ninth, still vividly recalls the infamous final play.
"I was in the dugout on the far end standing next to [third base coach] Rich Donnelly, kind of like where our on-deck circle was," Drabek said. "When [Cabrera] hit it, I just figured, OK, it's a tie game, Sid is going to stop at third. And then when I saw him go, I thought we've got a chance to throw him out and the worst is it's a tie game and we go into extra innings."
Shockingly, though, Bonds could not throw out the slow-footed Bream, who slid safely ahead of catcher Mike LaValliere's tag.
"Just standing there and watching the throw and watching Sid and watching Spanky reach for it and dive for Sid, that could have gone either way," Drabek said. "I always would talk to Sid and keep telling him, 'You know you were out. Don't keep lying. Just tell everybody you were out. Just admit it.' And he would start laughing.
"It was just such a close play, and then when you saw [the ump] call him safe, it just took the air out of you."
Bonds has been heavily criticized for years for the throw. Drabek saw it this way:
"I thought he had a real good chance. It could have been one of those things where he just tried to overthrow it or just tried to throw it too quick and it either just didn't come out of his hand like he wanted it to or not. I guess there are so many different things that could have gone wrong. After it happened, you keep going through things, 'what if, what if, what if,' but it doesn't do any good."
Donnelly also remembers standing next to Drabek for the final sequence, which he called "eerie."
"I just felt so bad for Doug because he pitched his butt off, not only in that game, but all year," Donnelly said.
"He was standing there, and we both looked at one another. I know what we wanted to say. We wanted to say, 'I can't believe what I just saw. I can't believe this is happening.'"
The craziness of the ninth inning unfolded so quickly that plans already had been put in motion for the Pirates to celebrate going to the World Series.
"Doug and I were two of the first ones in the clubhouse," Donnelly said, "and as we got to the clubhouse, they were ripping down the stage for NBC and they were taking our National League trophy out of there. It was like somebody had come into your house and stole something out of your house."
The Pirates had failed to win the NLCS and reach the World Series in '90 and '91, but '92 was different for one big reason. Outfielder Bobby Bonilla already had left the team for free agency following the '91 season, and everyone knew Bonds and Drabek likely were on their way out for big offers elsewhere following the '92 campaign.
"It was kind of in the back of people's minds just because a lot of attention was brought to it, either by the media or whatever," Drabek said. "Everybody kind of knew that there were some guys that it was their time. No one really knew what was going to happen, but in the back of your mind you kind of had a feeling or idea that it could be the end."
Sure enough, Bonds signed with the Giants and Drabek with the Astros, leaving outfielder Andy Van Slyke as the last remaining member of what had been a great nucleus. The Bucs started their 17-year skid with a 75-87 record the following year.
Drabek mostly struggled after leaving the Pirates, save for a 12-6 record and 2.84 ERA during the strike-shortened '94 season. He retired in 1998, finishing with a career record of 155-134 and a 3.73 ERA.
This summer he will begin his first season as a minor league pitching coach at short-season Yakima in the Diamondbacks' system. He also will keep tabs on his son, Kyle, one of the best pitching prospects in baseball.
Drabek hasn't kept close ties on the Pirates since leaving but knows the franchise has struggled mightily.
"I feel bad for the fans," Drabek said. "Every city wants a winning team.
"I enjoyed the people there, and I hope they can get back to that and put a winning team out there."
Until they do, Drabek's teams from the early '90s will remain the biggest and only thrill for an entire generation of Pirates fans.
Cory Giger can be reached at 949-7031 and firstname.lastname@example.org.