They say you don't know what you've got until it's gone, but I never knew that could apply to a pennant race. Though I never quit being an Atlanta Braves fan, my interest waned over the past couple of seasons in direct correlation with the team's winning percentage.
Just like I got used to all the winning and division titles, took them for granted -- really, I did the same with subpar seasons. They became the norm, so much so that October baseball without the Braves became something I accepted.
I didn't expect that to change this season. Sure, it would be the last go-around for manager Bobby Cox, and the team added Troy Glaus and Melky Cabrera, but that wasn't change I could believe in. Early on there was a nine-game losing streak that only led to my pessimism.
But things changed. The Braves started winning. And winning some more. They started leading the National League East, evoking memories of the way they once were. Back came those worst-to-first feelings of excitement at the possibilities and nervousness about the competition. Back came the pennant race.
Tell me that didn't feel like the old days Monday night when an improbable rally in the ninth netted a 4-3 win over the Dodgers. It was like 1991 all over again -- a team no one expected getting it done in heart-stopping fashion.
The Braves have had a lot of those type of games this season. Twenty to be exact. They are the come-from-behind kids, a team that somehow manages to win despite not always hitting or fielding the greatest. But they have pitching, man do they have pitching.
And like the old days, that is carrying them. Good pitching is supposed to beat good hitting, and the Braves are backing that up. So even though Chipper Jones is out of the season and Martin Prado has missed a bunch of time with an injury, the team remains ahead of the Phillies, in first place in the NL East.
The pennant race means scoreboard watching, and that's been fun as well. In years past it was look at the box score and see how local favorite Brian McCann fared. Now Braves fans have two games they're always keeping tabs on -- theirs and the one involving the Phillies.
The race isn't over. The ultra-talented Phillies may eventually catch them, but the Braves have shown they're there for the long run. And after a couple of seasons without that, it's sure nice to have that feeling again.
E-mail Todd Cline at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column appears on Wednesdays.