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Saturday, September 16, 2017

Francisco Cabrera became Braves playoff hero, saw 5 seasons

Francisco Cabrera 1990 Richmond Braves card
It was not six years after the hit that made him a household name. Now, in August 1998, Francisco Cabrera was about as far away from where he got that hit as could be possible, playing independent ball in Colonie, NY.

"I know it's like starting all over again," Cabrera told The New York Daily News. "I feel young and I feel like I can still play in the big leagues. I see a lot of guys who are older than me and they're still doing the job. I feel good, so why shouldn't I try hard to come back?"

Cabrera was trying to get back to the majors, a place he'd been for parts of five seasons, but never really found a permanent home.

He didn't even find a permanent home after becoming the hero of the 1992 National League Championship Series, providing the game-winning hit in Game 7 to send the Braves to the World Series and send the Pirates home.

He played just one more season in the majors.

Cabrera's career began back in 1985, signed by the Blue Jays out of his native Dominican Republic. He played his first year in 1986 at short-season St. Catharines, moving to single-A Myrtle Beach in 1987.

He made AA Knoxville in 1988, then AAA Syracuse in 1989. He debuted in the majors with three games for Toronto in late July, getting two hits in 12 at bats.

Cabrera arrived in the Braves system in August 1989 and made Atlanta for four more major league games that year, getting three hits in 14 at bats.

Cabrera returned to Atlanta for 63 games in 1990, hitting .277 with seven home runs. Called up in mid-May, Cabrera picked up the game-winning RBI in his first outing.

"The last two times they called me up to the big leagues, I didn't get a hit in the first time at bat," Cabrera told The Associated Press after that May game. "Now I got it, and the winning RBI. I feel happy."
In 1991, Cabrera got into 44 games for the Braves, hitting .242. He also got three appearances in the World Series that year, he got one at bat without a hit.

For 1992, Cabrera got into just 12 games for the Braves, then three more in the post-season. The one that counted, though, was that Game 7 of the NLCS.

Coming on as a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the ninth, the Braves were down 2-1 with runners on second and third, Cabrera singled to left to win the game and the series.

"My father in the Dominican always said I would be a hero one day," Cabrera told The South Florida Sun-Sentinel afterward.

The glow of that single, though, didn't last long. By March, Cabrera was back fighting for a roster spot. Early in the spring, Cabrera told The AP he was just going to be patient and not worry about it.

If the Braves didn't work out, Cabrera also had the option of going to Japan, according to The AP. But he didn't want to go.

"I hope to stay with Atlanta, even if it doesn't mean playing much," Cabrera told The AP in late March. I love my teammates, the manager and coaching staff, the fans, all the people. I want to stay here."

Cabrera ended up making the team, getting into 70 games, the most of his career. For 1994, though, Cabrera took up an offer to play in Japan, with the Orix Blue Wave. He returned to the Braves for 1995, but only played at AAA.

Cabrera returned in 1998, for that comeback with independent Albany-Colonie. But that lasted just 15 games. In 2003, he tried the Canadian Baseball League, with London, finishing out his career.
Originally published Aug. 17, 2011 

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