HOUSTON — So, this is the Braves team that found a way to match the great Atlanta teams of the 1990s. This team had no Hall of Fame aces or legendary managers, but somehow managed to find a way.
The current edition of Atlanta’s storied ball club could never equal the star power of its forebears, but it has already drawn even with them in championship trophies, achieving in one trip to baseball’s mountaintop what its predecessors could do only once in five tries.
On a cool Tuesday night with the roof open at Minute Maid Park, Atlanta beat the Houston Astros, 7-0, in Game 6 to win the World Series in its first appearance in the Fall Classic since 1999, and capture Atlanta’s first title in 26 years.
“This city has been hungry for a championship for so long,” said Freddie Freeman, the longest-serving member of the team, who homered and caught the final out. “I cannot wait to see the crowds in the next couple days when we get back home. I’m just so thankful that we were able to bring them home a championship.”
It was the first title for club since 1995 when a remarkable collection of superstar pitching and multitalented position players such as Chipper Jones or Fred McGriff, supported by Bobby Cox, the Hall of Fame manager, won the first major championship for Atlanta.
They were expected to win multiple rings with these great teams. They didn’t win a championship until their third appearance as World Series participants. They were in five of the five rounds and despite having a lot talent, they never won another.
The 2021 team is managed by Brian Snitker and features lesser-known players such as Jorge Soler or Dansby Swanson. Both of them hit thunderous home runs to propel Atlanta forward on Tuesday. Soler hit a three-run homer in third inning, while Swanson smashed a two-run homer fifth.
Many teams, including the Mariners and Rockies, Rangers and Padres, would be happy to accept a single championship. The old Atlanta teams won more than 100 games six different times. They were also underachievers due to a pitching staff that included Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine. The franchise won 14 consecutive divisional crowns (there wasn’t a division title in the strike-shortened 1994 season).
The current team is not even close to the previous teams. It was not expected to win the World Series this season.
“It’s way different,” said Eddie Perez, a coach on the current team, who made his debut as a player in 1995. “You know why? We had to fight here. We knew that we had a great team and that we would win. We have come a long way this year. I never thought we were going to be here.”
It is a group of plucky overachievers who could barely put together a full starting pitching team, let alone one that was the best.
Max Fried, a worthy descendant of this lineage, pitched six shutout innings for victory and helped to restore the image the starting pitcher in a postseason that was dominated by relievers.
The team had a year marked by injuries, and the controversy surrounding Major League Baseball’s decision to move the All-Star Game out of Atlanta, but the Braves somehow bent the rest of baseball to its will, forcing Manfred to hand over the coveted trophy. The crowd of thousands that sat behind the visitors’ dugout booed him loudly when he did.
It all seemed so improbable back in July when Atlanta lost its best player, outfielder Ronald Acuña, Jr., to a torn knee ligament. In August, the team was just.500 and in third in the National League East. Alex Anthopoulos, the General Manager, made several moves at the trade deadline to strengthen the lineup, including Soler, Eddie Rosario, and Adam Duval.
Rosario was the M.V.P., Soler was the most valuable player in the World Series. Atlanta became the first team in the National League Championship Series to acquire both award winners via trades.
However, the Braves won only 88% of their regular season games, making them the smallest of the 10 playoff teams. Soler was positive for coronavirus in their division series and missed several games. The team’s most dependable veteran starter, Charlie Morton suffered a broken leg in the Game 1 of the World Series.
“We hit every pothole, every bump you could possibly hit this year,” Freeman said, “and somehow the car still made it onto the other side. It’s just an incredible group.”
The noisy crowd of orange-clad Houstonians gathered to watch Game 6 as their team fought back from a three-game deficit. Thousands of Houstonians gathered to cheer Soler’s atmospheric blast at 446 feet. This was just a few feet from the train tracks above the left-field stands.
Luis Garcia, Houston’s starting pitcher, was one strike away from escaping the inning, but he hung a slider to Soler, who smashed it onto the street outside the stadium. Soler dropped his bat, turned toward his dugout, tapped twice, and then shouted something towards his teammates.
“I just said, ‘I’m here,’” he explained through an interpreter, and he was not exaggerating.
It was Soler’s third home run of the series, and he joined Hank Aaron, who did the same in 1957 for the Milwaukee Braves, Lonnie Smith (1991) and Ryan Klesko (1995) as the franchise’s only players to hit three home runs in a World Series.
Swanson, the No. 9 hitter, hit a two-run homer off Cristian Javier.
Freeman’s home run in the seventh — along with his R.B.I. double in the fifth — accounted for the final two Atlanta runs and provided the perfect exclamation for a World Series that will not be remembered long outside of Atlanta.
Only two of the six games had lead changes, and four of them were decided by at most four runs.
It was a beauty for Atlantans, who yearned for another champion over the past 26 years, but often suffered from sporting heartbreak.
Atlanta lost the World Series in 1991, 1992, 1996 and 1999, and the N.F.L.’s Falcons catastrophically collapsed in the Super Bowl after the 2016 season, when the New England Patriots wiped out a 25-point deficit with a little over 18 minutes to play and won the game in overtime. The Atlanta Dream lost three W.N.B.A. In a span of four years, the Atlanta Dream lost three W.N.B.A. finals. Yes, the city’s Major League Soccer team, Atlanta United, won the M.L.S. Cup in 2018, but had only been around for two years.
The Braves won championships in Boston in 1914, and in Milwaukee in 1957.
It was a missed chance for the Astros to win a championship without controversy and taint. Houston won the World Series in 2017 but was later found to have used illicit means to steal and transmit opponents’ signals throughout the season. The scheme came to light before the 2020 season, and ever since the Astros, who led the majors in runs scored this season, have been heckled as “cheaters” by fans of opposing teams.
Carlos Correa, the shortstop, who could leave the team in free agency this off-season, said the players could not control what he called the “outside noise.”
“Second place is not good enough for us,” he said. “But it speaks volumes of how good our organization, our talent in the clubhouse is. Five A.L.C.S. Five consecutive A.L.C.S., three World Series in five year. I mean, I don’t know what else you want to ask from a great ball club.”
The loss also stung for Manager Dusty Baker, the popular skipper who has yet to win a World Series in 24 seasons as a manager — though he is the only manager to take five different teams to the postseason. Baker managed the Giants’ loss to the Angels in Game 7 in 2002 World Series.
“It’s tough, but you know something, you’ve got to keep on trucking,” Baker said, “and that gives you even more incentive next year. It’s tough to take now, but this too shall pass. I mean, it really hurts, but it’s over.”
Yuli Gurriel hit a bouncing ball with the bat to score the final out of the season. Swanson caught it, and he fired to Freeman at first. Who better than the player Atlanta drafted in 2007 to make the final pitch and to tuck it safely in his back pocket, before celebrating with his teammates?
“When I got to first and turned and he started throwing it to me, I was like, ‘Oh, man, I’m going to catch the last out of the World Series,’” Freeman said. “Pretty special.”
It was also memorable in 1995 when Marquis Grissom captured the final out for Atlanta. But that team was sure to win. The 2021 version is Atlanta’s pleasant surprise.
Source: NY Times