Game 7 of the 1992 NLCS is most remembered for the 90-foot sprint that ended it: Sid Bream, chugging around third, bad knee and all, and just beating a throw from the Pirates' Barry Bonds to score the winning run — and give the Braves their second straight World Series berth.
But there was another sprint that night at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, and it belonged to Mike Hill, an attendant in the visiting clubhouse. Like Bream's dash, Hill's was unexpected and dramatic. And like Bream, Hill had to find another gear for everything to work out the way he wanted.
He describes what unfolded in the roughly 10 minutes after the Braves won as the wildest experience he had in more than two decades as a team employee. But before we go further, a little background:
The Braves jumped out to a 3-1 series lead in the 1992 NLCS, with Game 5 set to be played in Pittsburgh. The team had 25 cases of champagne on hand in case it clinched the pennant that night. But they lost. So they brought it all back to Atlanta in anticipation of a Game 6 clinch. But they lost that night too. Then came Game 7.
With Pittsburgh now having just as good a chance to break the bubbly as the Braves, it was arranged that the Pirates would just use those 25 cases of booze if they won Game 7, then send the Braves a check later. For most of the night, it looked like the Pirates would be the ones popping corks. They led 2-0 into the ninth inning as the Braves failed to muster any significant offense against Pirates starter Doug Drabek.
“The game was kind of boring,” Hill told Sporting News, “but it looked like we were not going to win.”
So, around the sixth inning, around the time the Braves loaded the bases with nobody out and failed to score, the visiting clubhouse crew prepared for a celebration.
“We started putting up the plastic,” Hill said. “CBS is coming in, building their stage, slowly.”
Then, in the seventh inning, the concession vendor rolled those 25 cases of champagne into the Pirates’ clubhouse.
“There was a little bit of a lobby area before you actually walked into the clubhouse, so the champagne stood right there,” Hill said.
And there it sat. Through the seventh. Through the eighth. Into the bottom of the ninth. With only three more outs, the contents of those bottles would flood the floors and decorate the walls in celebratory goodness. But, of course, those three outs never came and yada, yada, yada, the Braves ripped out Pittsburgh’s collective heart with a stunning victory, courtesy of Atlanta legend Francisco Cabrera’s mighty bat and Sid Bream’s good-enough legs.
As the stadium went crazy, Hill got his own shot of adrenaline.
“The champagne that the Braves sprayed and celebrated with when Sid slid was sitting the Pirates’ clubhouse at that very second,” Hill said.
And now he had to move it — quickly — a long way down the hall. Without having to be told, Hill began to awkwardly sprint-push a large flatbed of champagne to the home clubhouse. There was no steering wheel, no easy way to keep the thing steady — just a set of handles on one end that Hill used to hurriedly navigate the oblong conveyance through the bowels of the stadium.
“It was a solid 50 or 60 yards from one clubhouse door to the other, pushing this thing without spilling any champagne,” he said.
As Hill did his best to speed the hundreds of pounds of champagne toward the Braves’ clubhouse, two attendants from the home side passed by.
“The didn’t even know what I was doing,” he said. “I kept running, but I looked back and said, 'Hey! Come open up the door!'
“So they come and open up the front door the Braves clubhouse, and I wheel it to the other side right as the guys were just beginning to come up the ramp to enter the Braves’ clubhouse (to celebrate).”
Just in time. No one was ever the wiser.
But given his timing and proximity to the bottles, Hill suddenly found himself in the middle of the Braves’ wild celebration. His gray shirt was soaked. There was no hiding it. He didn’t really mind — it was a fun moment. But he wasn’t supposed to even be in there. His assignment was the visitors’ clubhouse. He didn’t want to get in trouble.
“After a little bit, I felt like, ‘Man, I’ve gotta go down to the other side. John (Holland, his boss) is probably gonna kick my butt if I just stay here,” Hill said.
So, once again, he dashed from one clubhouse to the other.
“I’m telling you, I ran as hard as I could,” he said.
Remember: This was only a few minutes after he ran with full effort while also pushing a heavy shipment of champagne roughly 200 feet to the Braves’ clubhouse. Naturally, he was winded. But not just winded. He was huffing and puffing — the kind of noise that would’ve shattered the devastating silence in the heartbroken Pittsburgh clubhouse and, when paired with that gray shirt — soaked in champagne and smelling every bit like you’d imagine — wouldn’t have gone over well with a group of guys who just received the most intense gut punch of their careers.
Thankfully for Hill, he was intercepted.
“As I walk back into the visiting clubhouse, John happened to be standing just inside the door, and basically just said, ‘Shut the f—k up!’” Hill said. “And then he goes, “And take that f—king shirt off!”
Hill made his way to a back office and put on a dry shirt, then went about his business as the Pirates attended their own funeral without having to see — or smell — a hint of the joy they thought would belong to them.
Hill's wild October didn't end there. He also worked the World Series that year, which the Braves lost, but he got to be in the Blue Jays’ clubhouse as they celebrated their championship. There was no need to hide that time. Though he worked for the home team, it was still a cool thing to witness.
Having worked for the Braves from 1982 through 2005, Hill saw other wild and memorable games through years — the Braves-Padres “brawlgame” of 1984 and the presentation of the All-Century Team before Game 2 of the 1999 World Series among them — but nothing compared to Oct. 14, 1992, when Hill became an unsung hero of the Braves’ pennant-clinching celebration.
Put simply, he said, “That was probably the most exciting time ever for me.”