The situation is thus… In Game Two of the World Series, the Braves (having already taken the first game) lead 4-2 in the eighth. Smoltz gets the first man but then allows three straight hits and it’s first and third, one out. Bobby comes in with Stanton, who gets Olerud to pop out. Kelly Gruber, a righthander, is up, so Bobby brings in his closer, Jeff Reardon, who strikes Gruber out.
In the ninth inning, though, Reardon walks pinch-hitter Derek Bell (a rookie with a .324 OBP) with one out. And pinch-hitter Ed Sprague follows with a two-run homer. Reardon gets the next two, the Braves get Gant to second with two out but Pendleton pops up to end the game.
Game Three. The Braves take a 2-1 lead in the top of the eighth, only to relinquish it on a leadoff homer by Gruber in the bottom of the inning. In the ninth, the Braves intentionally walk the bases loaded with one out and Reardon comes in and allows a single to Candy Maldonado to end the game.
Reardon didn’t pitch again in the series, which the Braves lost in six despite outscoring the Jays and leading most of the time. Was the loss Reardon’s fault? He has to take a lot of the blame for the Game 2 loss; any closer who comes in with a lead and leaves trailing has to. Game 3 was a very difficult situation, bases loaded and one out on the road; the chance of actually getting out of that situation against a team like the Jays is probably less than fifty percent.
Was Bobby to blame for bringing in Reardon? Absolutely not.
You may not remember this, but Jeff Reardon pitched exceedingly well down the stretch for the Braves in 1992. Nobody really remembers it, because there was no stretch drive (the Braves ran away with the division). But he pitched 15 2/3 innings in fourteen games for Atlanta, allowing just two runs, and went 3-0 with three saves. In the NLCS, he pitched three innings, didn’t allow even a hit, and had a win (in the famous Game 7) and a save.
Apparently, some people think, Bobby should have known that Reardon was about to melt down. To me, that’s nonsense. We know now that Reardon was done and that the strikeout of Gruber was basically the last good thing that ever happened to him, while Mike Stanton was a good enough pitcher to still be around fourteen years later. But right then, Reardon was by all available evidence the best reliever that the Braves had. It just so happened that he broke down at the worst possible moment.
If there’s anything to criticize Bobby about, it’s that he was uncharactistically impatient and benched Reardon for the rest of the series. Reardon would have had a much better chance of getting Dave Winfield in the eleventh of Game 6 than Charlie Leibrandt, who wound up losing his second straight extra-inning Game 6, with a lot less justification.