'Pure joy' for Braves: 1st pennant since '99

Series MVP Rosario helps Atlanta overcome loss of star outfielder Acuña

October 26th, 2021

ATLANTA -- As his team was concluding the National League Championship Series with a 4-2 win in Game 6 on Saturday night at Truist Park, Braves president of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos was in manager Brian Snitker’s office, nervously organizing old media guides while watching the television broadcast.

“When we got the last out, I said, ‘We’re going to the World Series, I can’t believe it,’” Anthopoulos said.

Disbelief seemed to be a common reaction as Atlanta earned its first trip to the World Series since 1999. As Dansby Swanson made a diving stop and threw AJ Pollock out to end the game, Snitker stayed seated in the dugout as bench coach Walt Weiss and other coaches swarmed him.

“One of them was yelling in my ear,” Snitker said. “Instead of jumping up, Walt grabbed me and it took a minute, honestly, just to -- it's like, ‘Oh, my God, this is really happening.’ What a special feeling though, my God. Yeah, it's pretty cool.”

During the 1990s, the Braves played 29 World Series games -- more than double any other franchise. (The Yankees were second with 14.) But from 2000-20, Atlanta was one of only 10 franchises to play zero World Series games.

That drought ends courtesy of this NLCS upset victory. The 88-win Braves didn’t produce a winning record until Aug. 6 this season, the latest date for a World Series-bound club to reach .500 in MLB history. But they needed just six games to eliminate the 106-win Dodgers, who were recently weakened by injuries to Max Muncy, Justin Turner, Max Scherzer and Clayton Kershaw.

“I don't want to take anything away from the Braves,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “They beat us in a series. We put our best foot forward. We fought. And they beat us in a series.”

When the Braves were making their near-annual trips to the World Series in the 1990s, Snitker was a Minor League coach and manager within the organization. His first trip to the Fall Classic will be extra special, as it will give him a chance to compete against his son Troy, who is the Astros’ hitting coach.

The Braves and Astros will begin the World Series on Tuesday night at Minute Maid Park. This will also be the first Fall Classic for , who has endured plenty of highs and lows since debuting for Atlanta in 2010.

“I think this might be the definition of pure joy,” he said.

Other than the worst-to-first Braves who advanced to Game 7 of the 1991 World Series, this might be the most unexpected -- or at least the most satisfying -- Fall Classic trip in Atlanta history. Potential ace Mike Soroka never pitched and Marcell Ozuna hasn’t played since the end of May. Then of course Ronald Acuña Jr. suffered a season-ending right knee injury on July 10.

“We’re up here going to the World Series without Ronald Acuña Jr.,” Freeman said. “It’s amazing what this team did.”

Now the Braves, who ended their MLB-long skid of playoff appearances (12) without reaching the World Series, are seeking to capture their first championship since 1995. They have overcome much greater obstacles over the past few months.

Instead of letting his club sink after losing Acuña, Anthopoulos sent a message to his clubhouse by acquiring from the Cubs on July 15. Pederson brought swagger, a winning mentality and the chance for some team other than the Dodgers to celebrate Joctober.

Pederson has produced some great moments over the past couple of weeks, but this postseason has belonged to NLCS MVP , who hit .560 (14-for-25) with three homers and a 1.647 OPS in six games against the Dodgers. Rosario’s 14 hits are tied for the most by a player in any postseason series.

That’s certainly more than the Braves expected when they acquired him from the Indians in exchange for Pablo Sandoval on July 30. Rosario was still a month away from returning from an abdominal strain.

“It's just amazing how locked in he is,” Snitker said. “It doesn't matter what arm they're throwing with, he's just so locked in. I don't know that I've ever seen a guy like that for, this has been a long while now that he's been doing this.”

Rosario electrified the home crowd in the fourth inning by hitting a go-ahead three-run homer off Walker Buehler, who started on short rest because Max Scherzer’s sore right arm wasn’t ready for him to make his scheduled start.

When Rosario’s homer dropped over the outfield wall just inside the right-field foul pole, the crowd erupted and began anticipating how the night might end. The roar rivaled the one heard when Acuña hit a grand slam off Buehler in Game 3 of the 2018 NL Division Series.

“It's truly a great moment, not just in my career, but in my life as well, but I want more,” Rosario said. “I want to win the World Series.”

Rosario, who had a .685 OPS in 306 plate appearances with Cleveland this year, wasn’t the only surprise contributor of the bunch. was sent back to Triple-A Gwinnett a couple of times this year, and is two years removed from Braves director of amateur scouting Dana Brown finding him pitching for the independent Texas AirHogs. Each struck out four while recording six critical outs in Game 6.

After Braves starter Ian Anderson allowed one run over four innings, Minter continued to baffle Dodgers hitters by tossing two perfect innings. Matzek then added to his tremendous October with a game-saving escape act.

Matzek entered with runners at second and third in the seventh. The dominant lefty killed that threat with three consecutive strikeouts of Albert Pujols, Steven Souza Jr. and Mookie Betts. He recorded one more strikeout in a perfect eighth.

“What makes this team so dangerous is we all have a story,” Minter said. “We've all been through failure. It's good to see it finally pay off. Hopefully we keep it going.”