Braves One Year Wonder: Jeff Reardon

A Braves one year wonder comes in 2 forms; guys who show up out of nowhere to lead the team, only to fade back and move on, and established stars who drop in for a cameo in a memorable season, outperforming expectations. Jeff Reardon is the latter — at least for a while.

Braves One Year Wonder, Jeff Reardon: A Closer Acquired

The giddiness of the 1991 season complete, the Braves were ready to show they belonged in 1992. As the trading deadline approached, they were up 5 games on the Reds (remember back when the Reds were good?)

In 1991, the Braves had acquired Alejandro Peña at the deadline, but his 1992 was subpar: he was 1-6 with a 4.08 ERA and had 15 saves, only 4 more than he had produced in just the month of September the year before.  So they went back to the closer playbook, acquiring Jeff Reardon from the Red Sox for Sean Ross and Nate Minchey. On the surface, though, it is not entirely clear that this was an upgrade.  Reardon was not having a great season either.  His ERA at that point was worse (4.25) and he had a blown two leads and a save in August.  But he did have 27 saves, and was a proven Closer™.  In fact, he had just become the alltime saves leader earlier in that season, passing Rollie Fingers.  He was a 4-time All Star. 

Jeff was from Berkshire County, Massachusetts, where, as it happens, I am typing these words today.  He was named number 3 alltime of Berkshire County athletes in the 20th century, behind only Mark Belanger and Billy Hart, a multisport guy from the 40s and 50s, sort of the Jim Thorpe of the Berkshires.

Braves One Year Wonder, Jeff Reardon: September Dominance

Arriving in Atlanta, Jeff delivered. He pitched in almost half of the remaining games, putting up a 1.15 ERA, a 3-0 record and 3 saves. He did blow 2 saves (one of which was the meaningless last game of the season) but the Braves were 12-2 in the games he pitched. He didn’t give up any extra-base hits. The Braves lead widened from 5 to 8 by the end of the season.

He pitched in three of the 7 games against Pittsburgh in the NLCS, pitching 3 more innings and giving up no hits. He was the winning pitcher when Sid slid, having pitched the top of the 9th. He also saved game 4.

October Surprise…not the Good Kind

Then came the World Series against the Blue Jays. It did not work out so well. The Braves had won the first game on a complete game by Tom Glavine and were pitching John Smoltz in game 2. Reardon came in to nail down a 3-2 lead in the 9th. After getting the initial batter, he walked Derek Bell and then gave up the only extra base hit of his Braves career: a 2 run first-pitch homer to Ed Sprague that ended up tying the series at one apiece. It was a whopping 67% win probability swing. It is the single worst WPA relief appearance in Braves World Series history, and the fifth worst in postseason history. (If you really want to depress yourself, the list of postseason relief pitching debacles can be found here.)

In the next game, in Toronto, Reardon entered with one out and the bases loaded in a 2-2 tie in the bottom of the 9th. Pinch hitter Candy Maldonado singled on a 0-2 pitch to end the game. (That would have been Reardon’s second extra base hit given up as a Brave had the game not ended on the first score.) That outing finishes 8th in Braves World Series pitching disasters, the only pitcher to make two appearances in the top ten. Reardon did not appear in games 4-6 and his Braves career was over.  He signed the next season with Cincinnati, lost the closer’s role and pitched a bit more for the Yankees and was done.

So I’m asked to write about a one-year wonder for the Braves, and I come up with a guy who gave up two of the biggest hits in Braves postseason failure history. I suck at this. Or maybe I just have a tragic view of life. Great September, Jeff.

Thanks for reading on Braves One Year Wonder, Jeff Reardon. If you enjoyed this piece, take a look at this piece on the 1995 World Series.

Author: JonathanF

Alive since 1956. Braves fan since 1966. The first ten years were pretty much wasted. Exiled to Yankees/Mets territory in 1974 --- bearable only with TBS followed by MLB.TV.

14 thoughts on “Braves One Year Wonder: Jeff Reardon”

  1. I always thought that part of Reardon’s revival was changing leagues and the batters weren’t as familiar with him, but then in the World Series, Toronto had been in Boston’s division and the Blue Jay’s had a strategy to pounce.

    As I remember, at that point Bobby was also getting fed up with Mike Stanton. But maybe if Stanton had been “closer” that is a series the Braves win.

  2. Stanton was so good for us, and then he became such an iconic Yankee that everyone forgot he ever pitched for the Braves.

  3. @1: We have two (among the many) competing hypotheses. One is that Toronto was familiar with Reardon. The second is that he happened to throw two bad pitches a couple of days apart. Of course, both could be true. And there is no obvious way to separate these hypotheses.

  4. MLB Network is showing Game 7 of the 1992 NLCS right now (and again this afternoon.) Reardon is pitching now. (11:35 am)

    Edit: And now we go to the bottom f the 9th. (11:39 am)

  5. Thanks for the memories, JonathanF. In my memories, I can almost convince myself that the 1992 season somehow ended gloriously with Sid’s Slide. Then you have to remind us of what came next.

    Hey, I just got a calendar alert of my tickets for tonight’s home opener. Another ugly reminder.

    But at least we have Braves Journal. Thanks to all of you.

  6. Holy crap, the team’s whole 1992 recap video is on YouTube! I think they sent it out to season ticket holders. I watched it over and over as a kid.

  7. @8 and 9–that perks me up more than anything I’ve seen in quite a while! To be sure, that’s quite a low bar at the moment, but still, I look forward to watching those over and over. Thanks for sharing, Alex.

  8. The Astros can have Hinch, Luhnow, and their $5M back in exchange for baseball starting tonight.

  9. Hell, if it would bring baseball back, I’d throw ’em a World Series parade and get a tattoo that says, “They may have cheated but it didn’t help.”

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