Flashback Friday: A Fast Start to Interleague Play

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1997 Orioles All Stars

Aug. 22, 2014

The Orioles left Atlanta and headed home to face Montreal with a nine-game lead on the second-place Yankees. John Eisenberg considered the series with the Expos a letdown after what he termed "a celestial series with the Braves."

The Orioles are playing at Wrigley Field this weekend in an Interleague series that is significant if only because of the location. The O's inaugural Interleague series in 1997 was significant because of the opponent. Those games, played against the Atlanta Braves, mattered. As Ken Rosenthal wrote on June 12, 1997, "It's October in June, folks."

The 1997 season has become a common reference point for O's fans this year as the 2014 Orioles chase their first division title since that Wire to Wire run. Those three days in Atlanta in June were a significant part of the story of that '97 season as the O's gave notice that they were contenders to win it all.

I can remember my own case of the nerves entering the weekend showdown with the Braves and the "O's could actually do this" sensibility that emerged for me after they left Atlanta with a sweep. The season hadn't even reached the halfway mark, but sweeping the two-time defending National League champion Braves on their own turf made anything and everything seem possible.

The Braves were already 20 games over .500 and on their way to a 101-win season. The teams would only be separated by five runs over the course of three games and a total of 31 innings played. Remarkably, every game went in the Orioles' favor.

Jimmy Key outdueled Greg Maddux in the Friday night match-up. A four-run sixth inning filled with singles and sacrifices proved to be the difference for the otherwise mighty O's lineup in the 4-3 win. The Birds held on despite some shaky bullpen work from Armando Benitez, who surrendered two eighth-inning home runs.

Mike Mussina and John Smoltz squared off in the Saturday match-up with each starter allowing three runs on seven hits with eight strikeouts and one walk. A two-run double by Chris Hoiles proved to be the difference in the O's 6-4 victory. Mussina also had a hit in this game.

The Orioles earned the sweep on Sunday by a score of 5-3 thanks to Lenny Webster's two-run homer in the 10th inning. Tom Glavine went nine innings for the Braves allowing three unearned runs; the O's scored on a hit batsman and a two-run error by Chipper Jones. Glavine eventually gave way to Mark Wohlers, who allowed Webster's homer. Scott Erickson provided the O's six innings of work and the bullpen tossed four innings of shutout baseball.

The Orioles left Atlanta and headed home to face Montreal with a nine-game lead on the second-place Yankees. John Eisenberg considered the series with the Expos a letdown after what he termed "a celestial series with the Braves."

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