HOUSTON — Most of the season, it just seemed this wasn’t their year.
They dropped their first four games and injuries quickly piled up. They lost their most dynamic player just before the All-Star break. They were below. 500 in August.
But suddenly, these Atlanta Braves changed their minds and took off.
How proud The Hammer would have been.
Max Fried pitched six shutout innings, a signature performance for the Series. Soler, a July acquisition who tested positive for COVID-19 in the playoffs, backed him early with a monster three-run shot for his third homer against the Astros.
Freeman scored an RBI double, and then he added a solo homer in the seventh to make it 7-0.
It was a team effort. Ailing star Ronald Acuna Jr., the dynamo of Atlanta‘s future, bounded from the dugout to join the celebration for Freeman, the longtime face of the franchise.
A mere afterthought amongst the heat of summer amongst the Dodgers and Giants, but a magnificent addition to the Fall Classic.
Soler touched his heart twice before he began his home run trot. He hit a rookie Luis Garcia in third inning and sent the ball flying out of Minute Maid Park. Dansby Swanson also hit a home run, and they were unstoppable by the end.
Starter Charlie Morton did not break his leg in the World Series opener. In Game 5, there was not a huge lead.
Steadied by 66-year-old manager Brian Snitker, an organization man for four decades, the underdog Braves won the franchise’s fourth title.
Consider it a tribute for the greatest Braves player, Mr. Hank Aaron. The Hall of Fame slugger died Jan. 22 at 86, still rooting for his old team, and his legacy was stamped all over this Series.
Major credit for the Braves, too, goes to general manager Alex Anthopoulos. Acuna’s injury to his knee didn’t stop him from making a flurry trades in July that brought the Fab Four into the outfield – NL Championship Series MVP Eddie Rosario and Joc Pederson, as well as Soler.
But even with the Analytics Era under the guidance of a GM who is well-versed in modern-age methods, the path these Braves took would not add up on any computer. This is especially true when you consider how things looked midseason.
” “At that moment, we were looking,” Austin Riley, third baseman, said before Game 6. “I believe there’s no doubt about that .”
,” third baseman Austin Riley said before Game 6.
Minus Acuna, Atlanta wasn’t over . 500 for a single day until the first week in August. The Braves finished 88-73 for the 12th-best record in the majors and fewest victories among playoff teams; their win total was the lowest for a World Series champion since St. Louis’ 83 in 2006.
Plus, the agonizing history of sports in Atlanta, a city where no team had won a title in the four major pro sports besides 1995.
The Braves could not convert a three-game advantage over the Dodgers last year in the NL Championship Series. Last season, the Hawks lost in the NBA Finals. And then there was the big one, the Falcons blowing a 28-3 lead to the Patriots in the Super Bowl.
But these Braves, not this time.
Favored spring training to win their fourth consecutive NL East title. However, the Braves suffered a torn right knee in July and lost Acuna. Marcell Ozuna, 2020 Triple Crown candidate, was later injured and placed on leave. Major League Baseball also investigated him as a domestic violence suspect. Mike Soroka, the projected ace, never recovered from an Achilles injury.
Going in to the playoffs, their bullpen looked like a patchwork.
They had a guy who made his big league debut in October, a lefty who was pitching in 2019 for the Texas AirHogs in a now-defunct independent league and a righty who was stacking boxes at an appliance warehouse a decade ago. Toss in a rookie who was off the roster a week ago as he watched Game 1 at a hotel in suburban Atlanta.
There was no doubt that many fans across the country were rooting against Jose Altuve’s Houston team. Many continue to heckle them as the “Cheatin’ Astros” for an illegal sign-stealing scheme on the way to their 2017 title, and those feelings might last forever.
There was a lot of cheering for Baker. Baker was a World Series winner as both a player as well as a respected figure on the field. However, he couldn’t check the last box as a champion skipper.
The Braves‘ crowns have been spread out over more than a century.
The 1995 Atlanta champs featured five future Hall of Famers – rookie Chipper Jones, aces Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux and John Smoltz, and manager Bobby Cox. Those rings were the lone pieces of hardware that resulted from 14 straight division titles.
The 1957 Milwaukee Braves were led by Aaron in his only NL MVP season. His 44 was painted in large numbers on the outfield grass at Truist Park, and Baker and Snitker often mentioned how much he’d meant to them.
The Braves‘ previous title came at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, their first home after moving from Milwaukee to the Deep South in 1966. Turner Field was the first venue before the team moved from downtown to the suburbs.
Truist Park was jammed, with people thronging Minute Maid Park’s outside plazas.
This is quite a departure from last October. The World Series was played at a very limited capacity as the Dodgers defeated Tampa Bay at Arlington’s neutral-site stadium. This followed a complete shutout for fans in a season that was cut short by the coronavirus.
Now all of baseball awaits to see if spring training will be on the horizon in just a little more than three months. The sport could soon be shut down due to a dispute between players and owners.
In the meantime, the sport may enjoy a year when things slowly started to get back on track.
Braves: A victory party and probably a parade.
Astros: Scheduled to start the spring training schedule on Feb. 26 vs. St. Louis.
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