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The 2021 Atlanta Braves will forever be remembered as the team that defined resiliency.
So about last night …
After having one too many cocktails in the early hours of Wednesday morning, I’ve had enough time to reflect on the magical season it was for my beloved Atlanta Braves.
It was an emotional experience to even get to the World Series, but to win the whole damn thing, holy hell, man. How could this have possibly happened? To this team? In this city? No way!
It hit the fan for this team pretty much right out of the gate. The city of Atlanta got its All-Star Game ripped away from them. Alec Bohm never touched home. All the while, Braves Country was in mourning over the losses of Hank Aaron, Phil Niekro and Don Sutton. It really felt like this team that had so much promise coming out of spring training would be defined by Murphy’s law.
This rough April was only compounded by Travis d’Arnaud busting his thumb, Huascar Ynoa breaking his hand out of frustration and the entire Marcell Ozuna catastrophe. Mike Soroka having his Achilles pop for the second time in two years was brutal. Watching Ronald Acuña Jr. blow out his knee on the warning track in Miami was death.
There was no coming back from this. It was over.
But as the old adage goes, it is always darkest before the dawn.
Alex Anthopoulos made the necessary deals to turn this team into a champion
Knowing he had to do something with the season hanging in the balances, general manager Alex Anthopoulos made the first of a series of trades. He dealt for outfielder Joc Pederson from the Chicago Cubs. The thought was he would take Acuña’s spot in right field and lead off for the Braves. Even during a first-half spawned from hell, the Braves still had a division title to win.
For the better part of the season, this team was not above .500. In fact, there was about a three-week stretch where the Braves would win a game, lose a game, win a game, lose a game to get within a game of .500, but never over it. This was the asymptote of pure madness during the dog days of summer. This was right around the time when the Braves started to heat up and take off.
Anthopoulos was not done dealing. He added three more outfielders at the deadline in Adam Duvall, Eddie Rosario, and Jorge Soler. All three played as big of a role as Pederson did to take this team on a ride of a lifetime. Once the outfield improved, the infield played looser. Once the lineup was set, the bullpen rounded into form. Once The Nightshift was established, the rotation shoved.
Against all odds, this team finally started to gel. We couldn’t believe what we were seeing.
Getting to October was huge for the Braves, but these boys were not done
With the delightful New York Mets spontaneously combusting and those fighting Philadelphia Phillies starting to run out of gas, the Braves snuck into the playoffs by winning the worst division in baseball. Everybody outside of Braves Country had no faith in this team, shoving every tired narrative and redundant cliche in our faces in an attempt to make themselves feel better.
Well, guess what? That didn’t work out at all. In fact, it only fueled the fire inside this baseball team and its loyal fanbase.
Getting a relatively favorable draw in the NLDS vs. the Milwaukee Brewers, Atlanta had a decent chance of getting back to the NLCS. Anything beyond that would have been gravy. With Pederson and his pearl necklace, this bad bitch provided the necessary spark to beat the Brewers in four. It was only fitting that the Braves’ NLCS opponent was the team they lost to last October up 3-1.
The Los Angeles Dodgers may have been a Wild Card team, but they were 18 wins better than the Braves during the regular season. They too made a series of moves to bolster their roster down the stretch. While everybody outside of Atlanta picked the Dodgers to win in four, this wasn’t the same Dodgers team from a year ago. Then again, this wasn’t the same Atlanta Braves team either.
Were there moments when the “here we go again” crowd wouldn’t shut up vs. LA? Most definitely. It was aggravating, but the narrative had been established. However, I could tell the Dodgers were not as insurmountable as they were a year ago. They were really beaten up. While one could argue the Braves wanted it a bit more, there was no arguing about who the best player in that series was.
This was Eddie Rosario’s postseason and we were just living in it.
Getting to the World Series is great and all, but winning it is even sweeter
Rosario got hotter than Hansel in Zoolander for those six games vs. the Dodgers. He put up Little League numbers vs. the defending World Series champs. With Jorge Soler missing the NLCS due to COVID-19, it was Rosario’s turn to answer the call. To think Anthopoulos traded essentially a panda head and some cash to the Cleveland Indians for Rosario makes this an all-time great trade.
Of course, getting to the World Series is only half the battle.
Upon arrival in Houston, it was pretty clear that the so-tired narrative was changing. Pretty much everyone outside of Texas was pulling for this team. Who doesn’t love to see a team win its first championship in a generation? However, this is the same city that the Atlanta Falcons blew a 28-3 in Super Bowl 51. In the history of Earth, there will never be a loss more soul-crushing than that.
But this time around in Houston, it was different.
Soler was able to rejoin the team for the World Series. During batting practice ahead of Game 1, he crushed a ball off the giant Crane sign in left-center. This was foreshadowing all the good things that were to come from him.
He hit three home runs in the World Series, all three to put the Braves on top in games they went on to win. Soler went yard in the first at-bat of the 2021 World Series. That one felt different. After Dansby Swanson went yard to tie it up in Game 4, Soler came off the bench and hit what was the game-winning solo shot on Saturday night. His three-run blast killed the narrative on Tuesday.
In a series that the Braves lost their ace, Charlie Morton, to a broken leg, one that he recorded three outs on before exiting Game 1, Atlanta had to pitch back-to-back bullpen games at home. Winning one of them is tough, but two in a row is next to impossible. The return trip to Houston was inevitable. The “here we go again” got louder. Too bad the Braves let their bats do the talking.
It is only fitting that left-hander Max Fried pitched the game of his life in Game 6, nearly 26 years ago since Tom Glavine did the same in the defining moment of his baseball hall of fame career.
So where does Braves Country go from here? How do we even process this?
While the three-run bomb off Soler’s bat was enough, Swanson’s two-run blast put this one out of reach. Freddie Freeman’s two RBIs after that made this dream a reality. The Atlanta Braves were going to win the World Series, in Houston, Texas of all places.
As I reflect on the final half-inning, I’m still numb from it like manager Brian Snitker said. I think we all are. There weren’t as many tears of joy streaming down my face like when the Braves finally got back to the World Series. It was arguably the most pleasant surprise of my life. I’m still in shock. The Braves actually won the World Series. They didn’t blow a lead. They were resilient.
It’s still early in the process of even remotely comprehending this, but two things stand out to me the most from the last half inning and shortly thereafter: The final out and the manager who got us there.
It had to be Will Smith getting Yuli Gurriel to ground out to Dansby Swanson at short with a quick throw over to Freddie Freeman at first. It was the same three Braves who recorded the final out to beat LA and get them to the Fall Classic. What are the odds of that happening … twice?
The best part is this. It was the kid from Newnan getting the AL batting champion to ground out to the kid from Marietta and then him throwing the ball over to the face of the franchise at first. All three had their struggles at times this season. Braves Country wanted Smith DFA’d. Swanson was never going to live up to his lofty draft status. Freeman was no longer playing at an MVP level.
But when it mattered most, all three rose to the occasion to give their city a championship.
As emotional as it was to see those three do it again, Snitker finally got his day in the sun, a Braves baseball dream some 45 years in the making.
A failed minor league player turned coach, Snitker spent the bulk of his professional career coaching in the shadows. When one Bobby Cox protege failed miserably, it was another brought in to save the franchise and breathe back hope into the city and the fanbase.
Snitker is not the best manager in baseball, but he managed his ass off this postseason. There were so many tough decisions he had to make but ended up making more smart moves than Craig Counsell, Dave Roberts and Dusty Baker did head-to-head.
Of all the people to hoist the Commissioner’s Trophy last night, I was the happiest for Snit.
What the 2021 Atlanta Braves taught me that I will carry for the rest of my life
While there are so many lessons to be learned from what this team did, now and in the future, the biggest thing I got out of this journey is to keep the faith and stay positive. There is so much negativity in the world, but you have the power to filter a lot of that crap out if you really want to. There are people who want to see you fail, but there are so many others who want you to succeed.
It sounds silly and a bit of wishful thinking, but I believe you have the power to inject positivity into your life and into the things you care about. While the Braves were going to win and lose games regardless of how I lived my life, they bred positivity into me. I tried to make better decisions in my life in the hopes it would positively impact the team’s performance. We all came out better from it.
One last thing before I close the laptop and fly off to Mexico to be there for my best friend getting married, you as a fan have every right to refer to your team as we or us. You may not play in these games, but you are part of the team. You are the driving force into making big games like this matter. You have invested so much time and money into this one thing. We are in this together.
There may never be a more battle-tested champion than the 2021 Atlanta Braves, and it makes me very proud to say that the battle is won.