MLB

Braves shut out Astros in Game 6 to win 1st World Series since 1995

Nov 2, 2021, 9:01 PM
The Atlanta Braves celebrate after winning baseball's World Series in Game 6 against the Houston As...

The Atlanta Braves celebrate after winning baseball's World Series in Game 6 against the Houston Astros Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021, in Houston. The Braves won 7-0. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

(AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

HOUSTON (AP) — Most of the season, it just seemed this wasn’t their year.

They dropped their first four games, and soon injuries piled up. They lost their most dynamic player before the All-Star break. They were stuck below .500 in August.

Yet out of nowhere, suddenly, these Atlanta Braves transformed themselves and took off.

Jorge Soler, Freddie Freeman and the Braves breezed to their first World Series championship since 1995, hammering the Houston Astros 7-0 Tuesday night in Game 6.

How proud The Hammer himself would’ve been.

Max Fried threw six shutout innings in the signature pitching performance of 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 hit an RBI double and then punctuated the romp with a solo home run in the seventh that made it 7-0.

By then, it was a total team effort. Ailing star Ronald Acuña 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 in the summer heat among the land of the Giants, White Sox and Dodgers, but magnificent in the Fall Classic.

Soler tapped his heart twice before beginning his home run trot after connecting off rookie Luis Garcia in the third inning, sending the ball flying completely out of Minute Maid Park. Dansby Swanson also homered and by the final out, nothing could stop them.

Not a broken leg sustained by starter Charlie Morton in the World Series opener. Not a big blown lead in Game 5.

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 to the greatest Braves player of them all, 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.

For 72-year-old Houston manager Dusty Baker, a disappointment. But for many fans still rooting against the Astros in the wake of their 2017 sign-stealing scandal, some satisfaction.

Major credit for the Braves, too, goes to general manager Alex Anthopoulos. Undaunted by Acuña’s knee injury, he pulled off a flurry of July trades that brought the Fab Four to the outfield — NL Championship Series MVP Eddie Rosario, Adam Duvall, Joc Pederson and Soler.

But even in the Analytics Era, guided by a GM fully versed in new-age ways, the path these Braves took wouldn’t add up in any computer. Especially with how things looked in midseason.

“At that time, we were searching,” third baseman Austin Riley said before Game 6. “I think there’s no question about that.”

Minus Acuña, 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 couldn’t convert a three games-to-one advantage over the Dodgers in the NL Championship Series last year. The Hawks fell short in the NBA Finals last season. 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 in spring training to win their fourth straight NL East title, the Braves lost Acuña to a torn knee in July. Earlier, 2020 Triple Crown contender Marcell Ozuna was injured and later placed on leave while Major League Baseball investigated him under its domestic violence policy. Projected ace Mike Soroka never got back from 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 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.

For sure, plenty of fans around the country were rooting hard against Jose Altuve and the Houston crew. 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.

Certainly a lot of people were cheering for Baker. A World Series winner as a player and a highly respected figure on and off the field, he wasn’t able to check the final box on his resume as a championship 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.

There were the 1914 Boston Braves, too, dubbed the “Miracle Braves” back in the day. In last place on the Fourth of July, they surged to win the pennant, then upset a heavily favored team — the Philadelphia A’s — to earn their nickname.

Sound familiar?

The Braves’ previous title came at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, their first home after moving from Milwaukee to the Deep South in 1966. Then there was Turner Field before the team uprooted from downtown and decided to sprawl into the suburbs.

Truist Park was packed and the outside plazas were jammed over the weekend, and pulsating crowds filled Minute Maid Park.

Quite a change from last October. Only a limited capacity was permitted for that World Series as the Dodgers beat Tampa Bay at a neutral-site stadium in Arlington, Texas — that followed a total shutout for fans during a regular season shortened because of the coronavirus.

Now, all of baseball waits to see whether spring training is on deck in a little over three months. A squabble between owners and players threatens soon to shut down the sport.

In the meantime, the sport can savor a year in which things, slowly, started to get back to normal.

Penguin Air

MLB

Albert Pujols #5 of the St. Louis Cardinals hits career homerun 700 in front of Will Smith #16 of t...
Associated Press

Albert Pujols hits 700th career home run, 4th to reach mark

St. Louis Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols hit his 700th career home run on Friday night, becoming the fourth player to reach the milestone.
4 days ago
Manager Tony La Russa #22 of the Chicago White Sox walks off the field after making a visit to the ...
Associated Press

Tony La Russa out indefinitely with health issue, to undergo tests in Arizona

The Chicago White Sox said manager Tony La Russa is to undergo testing in Arizona with his personal physicians “over the coming days.”
27 days ago
Fernando Tatis Jr. #23 of the San Diego Padres looks on during the second inning of a baseball game...
Associated Press

Padres’ Fernando Tatis Jr. suspended 80 games for positive drug test

San Diego Padres star Fernando Tatis Jr. was suspended 80 games by Major League Baseball on Friday.
2 months ago
Chicago Cubs' Nelson Velazquez celebrates with Patrick Wisdom (16) after scoring in the fourth inni...
Associated Press

Chicago Cubs outlast Cincinnati Reds in ‘Field of Dreams’ game

The Chicago Cubs beat the Cincinnati Reds 4-2 on Thursday night in Major League Baseball’s second annual “Field of Dreams” game.
2 months ago
Retired Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully, left speaks during a pregame ceremony honoring language bro...
Associated Press

Vin Scully, Hall of Fame Dodgers broadcaster for 67 years, dies at 94

Hall of Fame broadcaster Vin Scully, whose dulcet tones provided the soundtrack of summer to Dodgers fans for 67 years, died Tuesday.
2 months ago
Arizona St. center fielder Joe Lampe (5) fouls off a pitch during the game between the Arizona Stat...
Jake Anderson

Here are all the 2022 MLB draftees with Arizona ties

The 2022 MLB Draft is officially in the books and a total of 20 baseball players from Arizona's college and high school ranks were selected.
2 months ago
Braves shut out Astros in Game 6 to win 1st World Series since 1995