by ben walker
HOUSTON (AP) — For most of the season, it looked like this just wasn’t his year.
He lost his first four games and soon the injuries piled up. He lost his most dynamic player before the All-Star break. They were trapped below .500 in August.
Yet suddenly out of nowhere, these Atlanta Braves turned themselves in and took off.
George Soler, Freddie Freeman and the Braves entered their first World Series championship since 1995, defeating the Houston Astros 7-0 in Game 6 on Tuesday night.
“We hit every problem, every bump you could possibly hit this year,” Freeman said. “Injuries, all kinds of things that could have happened, that could have gone wrong, went wrong, and we got over every one of them.”
How proud Hammer himself would have been.
Max Fried bowled six major innings in a stellar pitching performance of the series. Soler, a July takeover 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 hit an RBI double and then punctuated Romp in the seventh with a solo home run that made it 7-0.
Till then, it was a total team effort. Sick star Ronald Acuna Jr., Atlanta’s future dynamo, is bound to join the celebration of Freeman, the longtime face of the franchise, from the dugout.
A mere thought in the summer heat among the land of the Giants, White Sox and Dodgers, but spectacular in the Fall Classic.
After adding rookie Luis Garcia in the third innings, Soler tapped his heart twice before opening his home run trot, sending the ball completely out of the minute maiden park and securing the Series MVP award.
Dansby Swanson also made a comeback at home and no one could stop her from being eliminated in the final. Not a broken leg sustained by starter Charlie Morton in the World Series opener. No big lead in Game 5.
Under the leadership of 66-year-old manager Brian Snitker, who has been an organization man for four decades, the underdog Braves won their fourth title of the franchise.
“He never gave up on himself,” he said on the postgame victory podium. “We lost a lot of pieces during the summer and it was just the next guy.”
Consider it a tribute to the greatest brave player of them all, Mr. Hank Aaron. The Hall of Fame slugger died on January 22 at the age of 86, still at the side of his old team, and the series sealed his legacy.
And note that the Braves defeated the top scoring team in the Majors, 11-2.
There is disappointment for Dusty Baker, the 72-year-old Houston manager. But many fans still have some satisfaction against the Astros in the wake of their 2017 sign-theft scandal.
“Yeah, it’s tough, but you know something? You have to keep driving trucks, and that will give you even more incentive next year,” Baker said.
“It is hard to take now, but this too shall pass. I mean, it really hurts, but it’s over,” he said.
Major credit for the Braves also goes to General Manager Alex Anthopoulos. Irrespective of Acuna’s knee injury, he made a flurry of July trades that brought the Fab Four into the outfield – NL Championship Series MVP Eddie Rosario, Adam Duvall, Jock Pedersen and Soler.
But even in the age of analytics, guided by a GM fully versed in new-age methods, the path these bravehearts took would not add up to any computer. Especially how things looked in midseason.
“At the time, we were searching,” third baseman Austin Riley said before Game 6. “I guess there’s no question about it.”
Minus Acuna, Atlanta did not exceed .500 for a day until the first week of August. The Braves scored 88–73 for a record-best 12th record in the Majors and had the fewest wins among playoff teams; His win total was the lowest for a World Series champion since St. Louis’ 83 in 2006.
Also, some painful history in Atlanta, a city where no team had won the title in the four major pro sports other than 1995.
The Braves couldn’t convert a 3-1 series advantage over the Dodgers in the NLCS last year. The Hawks lost in the Eastern Conference finals last season. And then there was the big one, with the Falcons giving the Patriots a 28-3 lead in the Super Bowl.
But this brave, not this time.
Favored in spring training to win their fourth straight NL East title, the Braves lost Akuna to a torn knee in July. Earlier, 2020 Triple Crown contender Marcel Ozuna was injured and later placed on leave while Major League Baseball investigated him as part of its domestic violence policy. Predicted ace Mike Soroka never held back from an Achilles injury.
Going into the playoffs, their bullpen was a crazy patchwork.
They had a guy who made his big league debut in October, a lefty who was pitching for the Texas Airhogs in a now-defunct independent league in 2019 and piled up boxes in an equipment warehouse a decade ago. Toss in a rookie who was kicked off the roster the week before while watching Game 1 at a hotel in suburban Atlanta.
Sure enough, a lot of fans across the country were fighting hard against Jose Altuve and the Houston Crew. Many continue to hail them as “Cheatin’ Astros” for an illegal sign-theft scheme on their way to the 2017 title, and those feelings could last forever.
Surely a lot of people were cheering on Baker. As a player a World Series winner and a highly respected figure on and off the field, he was not able to check the last box on his resume as championship captain.
The Crowns of the Braves stretch back more than a century.
The 1995 Atlanta Champs included five future Hall of Famers – rookie Chipper Jones, aces Tom Glavin, Greg Maddux and John Smoltz – and manager Bobby Cox. Those rings were the only pieces of hardware that originated from 14 straight Division titles.
The 1957 Milwaukee Braves were led by Aaron in his only NL MVP season. His 44 was pictured in great numbers on the outfield grass at Truist Park, and Baker and Snitker often mentioned how much he meant to them.
There was also the Boston Braves of 1914, known as the “Miracle Brave”. In last place on the Fourth of July, they rose to win the pennant, then upset a heavily favored team – the Philadelphia A – to earn their nickname.
The Braves’ previous title came at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, their first home since moving from Milwaukee to the Deep South in 1966. Then there was Turner Field, before the team was dislodged from downtown and decided to expand into the suburbs.
Truist Park was packed and the plazas outside were jammed over the weekend, and throbbing crowds filled Minute Maid Park.
Quite a change from last October. Only a limited capacity was allowed for that World Series as the Dodgers beat Tampa Bay at a neutral-venue stadium in Arlington, Texas – a total shutout for fans during a regular season that was shortened due to the coronavirus. .
Now, all baseball is waiting to see if spring training is on deck in a little more than three months. An altercation between owners and players threatens to shut down the game soon.
Meanwhile, the game could be savoring a year in which things slowly started returning to normal.
Brave: A victory party and maybe a parade.
Astros: Scheduled to begin spring training program on February 26 vs. St. Louis.
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