The 1996 National League Championship Series (NLCS) matched the East Division champion Atlanta Braves and the Central Division champion St. Louis Cardinals. It was the second NLCS meeting of the two teams and first since 1982. The Braves won in seven games, after a stunning comeback down three games to one in the series. They became only the eighth team in baseball history to win a best-of-seven postseason series after being down 3–1, and the first to overcome such a deficit in the NLCS. Also, Bobby Cox became the only manager to be on both the winning and losing end of such a comeback in postseason history, having previously blown the 1985 American League Championship Series with the Toronto Blue Jays against the Kansas City Royals. The Braves came back in decisive fashion, outscoring the Cardinals 32–1 over the final three games of the series.
Atlanta won the series, 4–3.
Wednesday, October 9, 1996, at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia
Game 1 was played in Atlanta with 24-game winner John Smoltz on the mound for the Braves. Brian Jordan tripled and scored the first run of the series for St. Louis, but Mark Lemke singled in two runs in the fifth. St. Louis tied the game in the seventh, but Atlanta catcher Javy López gave Atlanta back the lead for good with a two-run single in the bottom of the eighth. Mark Wohlers got the save after Smoltz threw eight innings with two runs allowed. The Braves held on to a 4–2 victory and it seemed as if heavily favored Atlanta would go to the World Series easily, having already swept the Los Angeles Dodgers in the Division Series.
Thursday, October 10, 1996, at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia
The Braves sent Greg Maddux to the mound looking to go up two games to none on St. Louis. The Cardinals had a 3–0 lead in the third inning, but a home run by Marquis Grissom made the score 3–2. The Braves eventually tied the game at 3–3 in the sixth inning. In the seventh inning, an error by Chipper Jones helped the Cardinals to score a run and to load the bases off Maddux. With two outs, Gary Gaetti drove a pitch from Maddux over the fence for a grand slam home run. This tremendous and shocking blow left the score 8–3. Dennis Eckersley pitched the final 1 1⁄3 innings for the Cardinals and the series was evened at 1–1 and play moved to St. Louis.
Saturday, October 12, 1996, at Busch Stadium (II) in St. Louis, Missouri
In Game 3 at Busch Stadium, Ron Gant had a big game against his former team, hitting two home runs off loser Tom Glavine and driving in all the runs scored in the game for St. Louis. Donovan Osborne pitched seven innings and only allowed two runs. Trailing 3–2, the Braves went quietly again in the ninth to Dennis Eckersley as St. Louis took a series lead.
Sunday, October 13, 1996, at Busch Stadium (II) in St. Louis, Missouri
Needing the win to help stave off an upset, the Braves built a 3–0 lead with solo home runs by Ryan Klesko and Mark Lemke as well as a two-out RBI single by Jermaine Dye in the sixth. Denny Neagle was on the mound for Atlanta and looked sharp until the seventh inning. In that inning, the Cardinals rallied when the relatively unknown Dmitri Young rocketed a pinch-hit triple that scored two runs, and then Royce Clayton singled in the tying run. In the eighth inning, Brian Jordan homered off of Braves reliever Greg McMichael. Down 4–3, the Braves again could not crack Dennis Eckersley, who pitched the final 1 1⁄3, striking out Terry Pendleton and Marquis Grissom to finish off the Braves. It was a grueling loss for the Braves, and after the game the Cardinals players were already celebrating, believing that they had the Championship Series all but wrapped up.
Monday, October 14, 1996, at Busch Stadium (II) in St. Louis, Missouri
With their backs to the wall, the defending champion Braves struck back with a vengeance. The Braves knocked Cardinals starter Todd Stottlemyre out of the game early, taking a 5–0 lead in the first inning, with the big blows coming from an opposite field double by Chipper Jones and a triple by Jeff Blauser (aided by miscommunication from the St Louis outfielders). The Braves added on two more runs in the second inning and a blowout was ongoing. Behind 24-game winner John Smoltz and 22 hits (an LCS record), the Braves swept to a 14–0 win over the Cardinals. With Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium still scheduled for demolition over the fall and winter, the Championship Series moved back to Atlanta, with at least one more game to be played in that stadium.
Wednesday, October 16, 1996, at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia
After his rattling defeat in Game 2, Greg Maddux stepped up in Game 6 and outdueled Cardinals starter Alan Benes to keep Atlanta's comeback hopes alive. While Maddux mowed down the Cardinals, with some help from a great catch by center fielder Marquis Grissom, the Braves offense chipped away to take a 2–0 lead into the eighth. A wild pitch by Mark Wohlers led to the Cardinals' only run of the game. Then Wohlers pitched a perfect ninth inning to finish off the Cardinals and to extend the Championship Series to its seventh game.
Thursday, October 17, 1996, at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia
The final game of the series was another blowout by the Braves behind their star left-handed pitcher Tom Glavine. Their offense quickly took a 3–0 lead in the first inning, with two outs and the bases still loaded. Then Glavine himself hit a line drive past Cardinals left fielder Ron Gant, who made an ill-advised dive for the ball, and the hit turned into a triple. This cleared the bases and increased the Braves' lead to 6–0. The Cardinals starting pitcher, Donovan Osborne, was taken out of the game.
A two-run homer by Javy López highlighted the four-run fourth inning as the Braves increased their lead to 10–0. First baseman Fred McGriff and the young outfielder Andruw Jones slammed home runs later on in the game, and the Braves took a commanding and final lead of 15-0 over the Cardinals. Tom Glavine, who pitched seven innings, combined with relief pitchers for a shutout, and the Braves were on their way back to the World Series.
1996 NLCS (4–3): Atlanta Braves over St. Louis Cardinals
Javy López was named the MVP for having a role in each Atlanta victory. In Game 1, he snapped a 2–2 tie with a two-run single; in Game 5, he hit a home run, two doubles, and scored four runs; in Game 6, he singled and scored after being hit by a pitch; and in Game 7, he went two for four with a double, a home run, three RBIs, and scored three runs. Overall, he batted .545 (13 for 24) with eight runs scored, five doubles, two home runs and six RBIs in the Championship Series.