By Marvin A Azrak Crescendo! At 10:33 central time on the first Tuesday night of November, when Dansby Swanson fielded the ground ball and got rid of the baseball that in a split second became history with the out made by 12 year Atlanta veteran Freddie Freeman, the Braves rushed to the field in championship elation, while those fans who were back in Georgia and at Minute-Maid Park, were overjoyed with the excitement of a championship 25 years in the making. Meanwhile, MLB fans had what to celebrate too, with the “Cheaters” having been served justice.
As if out of a movie, trade-deadline acquisition, and eventual World Series MVP Jorge Soler, demolished a 456FT moonshot over the train tracks with Swanson and Freeman each adding bombs of their own to support six scoreless innings of shutout baseball by Max Fried, and three more by the “nightshift” back end of the bullpen to lift the 88 win undermanned Braves to their first title since 1995 with a 7-0 thumping of the Houston Astros in game six at Houston. This Atlanta team lifted a curse off of the city, who had seen their beloved team cough an 11.5 game Wild Card lead in 2011, saw the Falcons blow a 28-3 Super Bowl lead in 2016 in Houston, Georgia blow a late 20-7 lead in the NCAA championship in 2017, and these Braves blow a 3-1 NLCS lead to the world champion Dodgers last year. But these Braves fought through countless doses of adversity, took advantage of one of the worst divisions in baseball history before overcoming behemoths once more, ousting teams during their Herculean run with a . 609 combined win%, which is the 2nd-toughest for any World Series winner in the Wild Card Era (since 1995).
Back in April, it seemed as if even a playoff berth was a fantasy for a team mixed with off-brand veterans, and youngsters hungry to wipe the stain off of the organization, especially manager Brian Snitker and third base coach Ron Washington, all of who were approaching five decades of being in baseball but had no championship to show for it. Now 215 days later, here they were atop the podium as World Series champions. But to truly appreciate how they got to baseball’s highest peak, we need to rewind. So without further ado, here’s a timeline of a run that won’t soon be forgotten in sports or baseball lore.
APRIL 1-6: 0-5
The Braves began the season by being swept in Philadelphia and lost the first two games to the 2019 champions Washington Nationals. It was an auspicious start for a team that had championship aspirations. The team would rebound but only moderately improved, finishing out the month 12-9 for a 12-14 record.
MAY: Braves 2 Mets 13
The Braves were embarrassed by the surging first-place Mets at Citi Field, and dropped to 24-26, ensuring they would finish the month of May under .500. It was also announced that due to issues within his personal life, free agent stat Marvell Ozuna was missing the rest of the 2021 campaign while being on the commissioners’ exempt list. Starting outfielder Cristian Pache would go on the IL this month with a strained left groin, and wouldn’t remain the same for the rest of the season
JUNE 26: Mike Soroka injury
The 4-1 loss to the Reds that day only soured the mood when the news came in that ace Mika Soroka would be sidelined for the season with an ACL tear after he’d worked all offseason to overcome the identical injury he sustained in the summer of 2020, forcing him to miss that year’s playoffs. Three days later, the Braves saw a 3-0 lead against the rival Mets slip away in the seventh for a defeat that saw their record drop to 37-41, now 9.5 games of New York(42-34) for first in the NL East. Even for a cookie division, this team was a laughingstock.
July 12: Acuna hurt, all-star break, still under .500, and the number 0.3%.
The best player in baseball in terms of WAR, a top 5 player in the game today, the young and electric pulse of a struggling franchise like this saw his plug pulled on the season, as it was announced that Ronald Acuna JR would miss the remainder of 2021 with an ACL tear, meaning Atlanta would now have to continue the season without three of its stars, and for a team still yet to navigate over the .500 mark on the campaign. Sitting third place like a paperweight at 44-45 entering the all-star break, fan graphs gave the Braves an 0.3% chance of winning the World Series, and at that moment in time, even Braves fans agreed with them.
July 30: THE TURNING POINT:
The city of Atlanta woke on July 30th and had a reason to feel encouraged for the 51-53 Braves had taken three of five from the suddenly reeling 55-47 first-place Mets at Citi Field. But while the team had closed the gap to five games from 9.5 earlier in the season, their playoff hopes still felt to be hanging by a thread, and sooner or later they would run out of steam to nobody’s astonishment. But GM Alex Anthopoulos decided to take the “Risk it to biscuit” approach, and being that his team still had a fighting chance at the toilet bowl in what many around the industry were calling the “NL Least”, he decided to seize the moment and make moves that would fill the void in the outfield, and on the mound.
Having seen the top of the crop in Kyle Schwarber, Starling Marte, Joey Gallo, and a few other outfielders already been dealt, Alex dipped into tier 2 and worked diligently to acquire 33-year-old Adam Duvall from the Cincinnati Reds in exchange for catcher Alex Jackson. Needing to make room on the roster for their new acquisition, Atlanta traded veteran Pablo Sandoval to the Indians for the injured Eddie Rosario. This was just a cost-savings move for both sides, as Cleveland immediately released Sandoval, and the Braves stashed Rosario in the minors. Still not satisfied, Atlanta was in the hunt for another healthy outfielder, but the 37-55 Royals were unwilling to budge on 2019 HR champ Jorge Soler. Finally, as the buzzer sounded a deal was struck that brought Soler to Atlanta in exchange for Minor League pitcher Kasey Kalich. Also in an under-the-radar move, the Braves acquired Reliever Richard Rodriguez from Pittsburg, who would go on to provide key innings down the stretch of the regular season and provide aid to the team’s late playoff charge.
This was in addition to the acquisition of 2020 World Series champion Joc Pederson who left the Dodgers last winter to sign with the Chicago Cubs, only to be dealt with Atlanta which Joc stated “Wasn’t much better” at the time because they too were struggling back on the north side of in Illinois.
When the dust settled, a new clubhouse gripped Braves country and their fans who just like their GM were suddenly “All-in”, even if it meant they would last anywhere from 1-3 ballgames past October 3rd at maximum.
AUGUST3-5: THE SWEEP
The 52-55 Braves traveled to St Louis to battle a Cardinals team also on the fringe of a playoff run in the Wild Card hunt and swept them with Jorge Soler, Adam Duvall, and Joc Pederson being at the forefront of the 6-1, 7-4, 8-4 triumph that jolted Atlanta to .500, proving they were no longer that “maddening” bunch that “labored” through the first four months of the season. This is where players and coaches said afterward they felt a “New vibe” in the clubhouse at this point in the season and believed that anything was possible. That belief would ring true at Truist Park the next night when the Braves defeated the Nationals 8-4 to move over the .500 mark for the first time this season after 111 games played in 2021(68.51% of the year).
AUGUST 11th: BEHOLD! FIRST PLACE!!
This was a big milestone for the club who felt the “good mojo” coming along at just the most opportune time. The surge would catapult them into the NL East race, where they rekindled spirits when Ozzie Albies walloped a three-run HR in 11th to propel the Braves past the Reds 8-6, sending the fans into euphoria, and them into first place at 59-57 on August 11th. A couple of days later, they kicked off a nine-game win streak, stretching their high-water mark to double-digit games over the tread mark, and a six-game advantage over the Mets. But despite the 16-2 stretch, many didn’t catch wind of the Braves until after they took two of three from the league-best, and eventual 107 win San Francisco Giants(6-5, 0-5, 9-0) at home following being swept at the hands of the Yankees. The next time they took the field in their white uniforms come September 7th, Atlanta enjoyed a 72-65 record, but still needed to fend off the Phillies at 71-66, while the Mets perusal had faded in the dog-days of Summer.
SEPTEMBER 30TH: NL EAST CHAMPS:
The race to become “Beasts of the East” reached the final week of the season, and it inserted the 83-72 Braves against the 81-75 Phillies at Truist Park. As Atlanta said later,” Our playoffs started early”, which is why 29,238 packed the stands with the intensity that relished a postseason affair. In a pitcher’s duel, Jorge Soler’s two-run single in the third, and Charlie Morton’s seven scoreless frames were enough to provide the Braves a 2-1 win that became official when Will Smith struck out Freddy Galvis with the bases juiced to end the ballgame.
The momentum would be carried into the second game in which Atlanta romped Philly 7-2, before “chopping” their way to the division title before a spirited crowd celebrating the 5-3 clincher and the series sweep as the cherry on top.
However, while these Braves’ run was exceptionally implausible, many outside the peach state were doubtful of their title hopes including me, who previously wrote they were the “Worst of the best and “Best of the worst” In their “Putrid Division” countless times. However, I do stand by those comments as at the time for these 88-73 short-handed group from Atlanta were three games worse than the first two teams on the outside looking in the American League, in the 91-71 Toronto Blue Jays, and 90-72 Seattle Mariners, both who missed the dance due to the MLB playoff format. Nevertheless, it was onto the National League division series, where they would begin the run of a lifetime.
It was well-documented as we approached this particular series how both teams were heavily-subserved when it came to their pitching staffs. That’s how the 95-67 Milwaukee Brewers navigated their way to the NL Central title with a three-headed monster of Brandon Woodruff, Freddy Peralta, and CY-young candidate Corbin Burns. Opposite of them were the feisty Braves who sported Charlie Morton, Ian Andreson, and Max Fried as their challengers. The importance of striking first was an understatement in this sprint, for both teams would immediately go for the “KO” and bring their en Fuego bullpens that had helped them reach this stage once they acquired the lead.
Milwaukee took game one at American Family Field 2-1, as Corbin Burnes outdueled Charlie Morton, who served up a two-run shot to Rowdy Tellez in the seventh that would stand up as the difference in the contest. But the next two were highlighted by near-immaculate Atlanta pitching, as they blanked the Brew Crew 3-0 in back-to-back ballgames to push them to the brink of elimination. In-game two, Max Fried went six scoreless with nine k’s, and the bullpen trio of Luke Jackson, AJ Minter, Tyler Matzek, and Will Smith nailed down the final nine outs ensuring RBI knocks by Freddie Freeman, and Ozzie Albies, as well as a solo blast by Austin Riley, was the lone runs in the win.
When they returned home, all Atlanta needed was a three-run bomb out of pinch-hitter Joc “Pearls” Pederson in the fifth, five scoreless innings out of Ian Andreson, and four more out of the bullpen to seize control of the series.
That set the stage for him four which saw Atlanta get behind two runs multiple times, before rallying on using “Small ball” to pull even at 4-4 headed into the bottom of the eighth inning. In a state of despair, Milwaukee sent out fireballer Josh Hader to work the frame but to specifically face left hitting “MR Brave” Freddie Freeman. That eventful meeting came to fruition with two outs, and no men on base. Freddie then demolished a first-pitch fastball to deep right for the first HR Hader had allowed against a lefty all season, as Atlanta took a 5-4 lead they would never relinquish with Will Smith slamming the series shut in the ninth minutes later.
NLCS: SWEET REVENGE:
After the reigning champions in the Wild-card 106 win Dodgers outlasted the 107 win Giants in a classic game five at Oracle Park, the attention shifted to a rematch of the 2020 National League championship series between the Atlanta Braves and the Los Angeles Dodgers. In that tilt, located at Globe Life Field in the MLB bubble down in Texas, the Dodgers rallied from a 3-1 series deficit to take the series in seven games on Cody Bellinger’s epic “shoulder-breaking” two-run blast for a 4-3 win.
Ironically despite the 18 win difference between clubs, this series began in Atlanta because the Braves had “Won their division” and LA had qualified as a Wild Card team. It worked in the Braves benefit, as they astoundingly rallied to walk off the Dodgers twice in 48 hours, to once again grab a two-game lead over their nemesis. Game one saw them win it with speed, as an Ozzie Albies walk & a stolen base allowed Austin Riley to play hero with the RBI single for a 3-2 win which preceded another come from behind victory the following night.
Down 4-2 in the eighth, and facing Julio Urias, Eddie Rosario singled, then risked tagging up on a Freddie Freeman fly ball to left and slid in safely. That set up Ozzie Albies, who lined a single to right, putting third base coach Ron Washington in “Aggressive” mode, and he sent Rosario who wowed the crowd and bowled around the Will Smith tag attempt to get Atlanta within a run. With the fans in full “Chop mode”, game one hero Austin Riley tomahawked a ball over AJ Pollock’s head, to tie the game headed into the ninth, where lightning struck twice. Eddie Rosario lined Kelley Jansen’s first pitch up the middle, which got under the glove of Corey Seager to score the game-winning run, and double Atlanta’s series lead as a result of the 5-4
Rosario wasn’t done and starred at Dodger Stadium, sealing his NLCS MVP candidacy when the series shifted to LA, with a 2HR, 4RBI night in the 9-2 game four Atlanta win that had history staring them in the face as they took a 3-1 series lead.
It seemed as if lightning would strike twice after the Dodgers lit them up 11-2 in game five, and had men on second and third with nobody out in the seventh, trailing 4-2 in-game six at Truist Park; but that’s where Tyler Matzek became enshrined in postseason lore. For a guy that suffered the yips in 2014 and left baseball for five seasons because of it, nobody would’ve blamed the left-hander if his heart was beating a bit quicker in that moment, and on that stage. But the ever so laser-focused 26-year-old struck out Albert Pujos, Corey Seager, and Mookie Betts to strand the runners in scoring position, and let out the biggest yell you will ever see from him drowned out by the jubilant 43,000+ fans in attendance at Braves country. That was as close as LA would get, with Matzek recording a perfect eighth before passing the torch over to Will Smith, whoever so dominantly nailed down sweet revenge for an 88 win team that had knocked off the defending champions, were champs of the NL, and in the World Series.
With 49 of 50 states in America on their side, Atlanta traveled to Minute-Maid park, where game one of the World Series was being played for the third time in five seasons due to the AL dynasty that was the 95-67 Houston Astros.
In-game one at Minute-Maid Park featured a tone-setter and a testament to how these scrappy Atlanta Braves got here. Jorge Soler ignited “solar power” to this series fall classic with a leadoff HR, and the Braves overcame a leg injury to their ace Charlie Morton and saw their bullpen go the final 6.2 frames pitching effectively, in their 6-2 victory to steal home-field advantage in the Fall Classic.
They would get routed 7-2 in game two, but back home at Truist Park in game three, Atlanta rekindled the fire that had to help them vanquish the Brewers and the Dodgers, in meticulous pitching.
In their first World Series game at their new ballpark that opened in 2017, Atlanta “Chopped” their way to a win and a 2-1 series lead. Ian Andreson was as Astros manager Dusty Baker put it “Effectively Wild”, working around two walks and a hit by pitch each in the first and third innings, but also posting perfect frames in the second and fifth, and departed with only four k’s on the night with 76 pitches to set the tone for the “Nightshift” bullpen foursome the rest of the way.
Although they fell six outs short of history, when Tyler Matzek allowed a leadoff single in the eighth, they maintained the shutout when he induced a pop-up to win the lefty-lefty matchup against contact-hitting specialist Micheal Brantley.
Meanwhile, Atlanta didn’t do much on offense, and Eddie Rosario double led to one with two outs by Austin Riley in the third, which had stood up as the lone run to this point in an otherwise immaculate pitching affair. In the bottom of the eighth, Travis Darnu’d unloaded on a two-out solo shot to give his team insurance at 2-0, and give closer Will Smith an extra run to work with heading into the ninth. Although the 32-year-old would allow the team’s a second hit, he would rebound and improve to 4 for 4 in save opportunities in the postseason by locking down the save and the shutout.
21 hours later, down 2-0 in the game, and facing the red-hot Phil Maton, Austin Riley stroked an 0-2, 2 out off-speed offering into left field to score Eddie Rosario, and cut Atlanta’s deficit in half. But Maton would redeem himself, and “Phil” up the strike zone on the 1-2 pitch to freeze Travis Darnu’d, and strand the bases loaded to maintain the 2-1 Houston lead. After a scoreless top half of the seventh by the ardent Matzek, Atlanta received help from
The “16/7duo” as Dansy Swanson lifted an oppo-taco to right field to even the score, before Jorge Soler unglued Georgia, with a “Soler power” blast to left field to go back-back with his teammate as 8-9 hitters in the lineup, putting the Braves in the lead for good at 3-2. The feeling of destiny was in the air when NLCS MVP Eddie Rosario leaped and slammed into the left-field wall coming down with Jose Altuve’s line drive to end the top of the eighth
Atlanta was ready for a party but would have to wait an extra two days for the Astros to overcome an Adam Duvall grand slam for a 9-5 win to send this series back to the lone star state for a game six.
But on Tuesday night, soon to become World Series MVP Jorge Soler announced “I’m here”, and launched a 456FT blast over the train tracks, and there was no doubt after that who the commissioners trophy would go to. Dansby Swanson and Freddie Freeman went yard as well with Max Fried going six scoreless, setting the stage for the “Nightshift” crew to close out what they started. AJ Minter and Luke Jackson were instrumental parts of the “Brave” leap this Atlanta bullpen took this season to become champions, but they wouldn’t be in this position atop the mountain if it weren’t for Tyler Matzek, and closer Will Smith. Rightfully so, manager Brian Snitker sent Matzek for six outs and Smith for the final three with the fates one coming at 10:33 PM ET, when a ground ball went to shortstop Dansby Swanson who fired across the diamond to Freddie Freeman thus ending the series, and kickstarting the euphoria.
Highly improbable to say the least as the team with the least amount of wins entering the playoffs won it all. Now everyone has permission to do the “Chop”
for the next six months until baseball starts up again in 2022.
FUN FACTS ABOUT BRAVES TRIUMPH:
- The Braves were 44-45 at the All-Star Break. Atlanta joins the 1964 Cardinals as the only team to go from losing record at the All-Star Break to World Series champs.
- Since the turn of the century, the NL East is 20-20 in the World Series. Braves: 4-2
- Nationals: 4-3
- Phillies: 6-5, Marlins: 4-2 Mets: 2-8
- Jorge Soler outhomered the Astros in this World Series.
- After over 50 years in professional baseball, third base coach Ron Washington finally has his ring
- The Braves are the first team to lose in the LCS, and then win it all the following year.
- Braves manager Brian Snitker bested his son Troy, who is the Astros third base coach.
- Jorge Soler, 2021 World Series MVP.
- Who saw that coming when he was hitting .183/.277/.313 in mid-July for a 37-55 Royals team?
- Good for him. Good for the Braves.
- At the all-star break, Atlanta had a 0.3% chance of winning the World Series, behind 15 other teams. This is what happens when those 15 teams are above .500 and you are not.
- 0.3% is not 0%. It’s roughly the same thing as throwing three dice all landing on six.
- The Braves are the first team to win the World Series despite having none of their Opening Day starting outfielders (Marcell Ozuna, Cristian Pache, Ronald Acuña Jr.) play in the series.
- The Astros have still never won a legitimate World Series. (2017 they won but the scandal took the validation away)
- Trevor Plouffe predicted back on March 31st the Braves would defeat the Astros in six games come the World Series. He was right!
- Since 2003, 4 different NL East teams have won the World Series: Marlins (’03), Phillies (’08), Nationals (’19), Braves (’21). No other current division has had more than 2 different teams win
- Braves closer Will Smith had a 0.00 ERA, 0.73 WHIP, and .139 opponents’ average in 11 postseason appearances, and was 2-0 with 6 saves in 6 opportunities. No other pitcher on any team had more than 1 save this postseason.
- Ronald Acuna JR is a World Series champion
- Joc Pederson has now won back-back World Series and is the 9th player to do so with two different teams.
- The Braves won 44 games before the All-Star break and won 44 games after the break. And they won the World Series in the 44th week of 2021. Hank Aaron’s number was also #44.
- A different team has won the World Series in each of the last eight seasons That ties an MLB record for consecutive seasons without a team winning multiple titles. It was done one other time from 1979 to 1987
“Dansby Swanson, born and raised 20 minutes away from Truist Park in Atlanta, said he was in attendance at the Super Bowl when the Falcons blew the 28-3 lead to New England” (CBS sports)
“I was here at the game in Houston. [It’s] come full circle, right? This kind of felt like destiny.”
“Everything was thrown at us, and we overcame it. That’s incredible to me”-Freddie Freeman
It felt like a lost year at times, yet they did it. Enjoy every single second of this, Braves fans. You never know when the next time it will happen!
Thank you baseball fans for an incredible season, and thank you to the Jewish Voice for the opportunity! This was truly an incredible season to cover, and BH I was able to display my voice and passion for it. I appreciate all of the readers even those who’ve only read one article. Enjoy the offseason everyone, I’ll catch you again come the Winter Meetings in December.
But for now, I’ll use the time and will focus more on writing about football, basketball, and hockey.