HOUSTON -- They’ll play it in perpetuity, whenever Atlantans assemble to remember the good times. They’ll play it in the reel with David Justice’s game-winner and Sid Bream’s slide. They’ll play it with the peace of knowing that, unlike so many moments of hope in their city’s tortured sports history, it did not come undone in the aftermath.
What they’ll see is Jorge Soler, dropping his bat, turning to his teammates and smacking his chest as the ball he’d just belted sailed over the railroad tracks that line Minute Maid Park’s outermost edge. They’ll watch that indelible image from World Series Game 6 and know it was the night that the Braves’ 7-0 victory over the Astros on Tuesday night completed one of the most spectacular late-season surges in baseball history.
“Immediately after I hit it,” Soler said through an interpreter, “I turned around just to look at our dugout and start celebrating.”
They’re really celebrating now.
The Braves -- the 88-win team that, via Joc Pederson’s playoff prowess, inspired men, women and children to don pearl necklaces -- will now be fitted with diamond rings. They are World Series champs for the fourth time in franchise history and just the second since moving to Atlanta in 1966.
They are World Series champs not just because Soler, who was given the Willie Mays World Series MVP Award presented by Chevrolet after hitting three go-ahead homers in the six games, literally knocked one out of the park with his mammoth three-run shot off Astros right-hander Luis Garcia in the third inning, but because general manager Alex Anthopoulos figuratively knocked it out of the park by acquiring Soler and several other impact players leading up to the July 30 Trade Deadline.
“He's never going to cash the chips in, ever,” manager Brian Snitker said of Anthopoulos, who had to miss Game 6 after testing positive for COVID-19. “If there's ever slightly a chance or a glimmer of hope, he's going to go out and go for it.”
They are World Series champs not just because Max Fried was fantastic in the finale -- going six scoreless innings in which he allowed just four hits with no free passes and six strikeouts -- but because of the patchwork pitching plan successfully executed after Game 1 starter Charlie Morton fractured his right fibula.
“They were pitching us tough,” said Dusty Baker, whose Astros were held to a .596 team OPS in this World Series after putting up the second-best OPS in the Majors (.784) in the regular season. “I mean, they were pitching us real tough. You've got to give them credit for pitching this tough. They scouted us big-time.”
They are World Series champs not just because the “homegrown” Freddie Freeman and the truly homegrown Georgia boy Dansby Swanson added important insurance runs -- Freeman with an RBI double in the fifth and one final home run before free agency in the seventh, Swanson with a seismic two-run shot in the fifth off the facade behind the Crawford Boxes -- but because a complete and resilient roster overcame the injury loss of the Braves’ best player in Ronald Acuña Jr. and the suspension of their biggest offseason signing in Marcell Ozuna.
“We hit every pothole, every bump you could possibly hit this year, and somehow the car still made it onto the other side,” Freeman said. “We’ve been the best team since the Trade Deadline, and we played like it all the way into the postseason. We just got hot, and we just carried it over.”
Their crowning night -- Game 6 -- will be defined by the “Before” and “After” of Soler’s Shot Retweeted ‘Round the World. It was a home run outlandish in both length (the Statcast projection of 446 feet doesn’t do it justice) and significance. It instantly conjured up memories of future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols’ most famous blast in this building during the 2005 National League Championship Series.
Before that blast, the Astros still had the aura of an October-tested giant that had risen from the floor time and again -- even after a major sign-stealing scandal -- and was still capable of winning its second World Series title in five seasons. Before that blast, the Braves still carried the historical weight of all those Atlanta teams that had their hearts ripped out, especially after the way Game 5 had gotten away from them on Sunday night.
After that blast, everything felt different. The Astros were still involved and engaged, but Soler, who had delivered after Eddie Rosario’s two-out walk had put two aboard, forced Houston into its bullpen agonizingly early. And unlike in Game 5, the Braves weren’t piecing it together in the ‘pen from the first out, but instead they were riding Fried’s electric stuff (“He was almost unhittable,” Jose Altuve said) and their best, rested relief arms -- Tyler Matzek and Will Smith -- in the late innings only.
This clinching win came remarkably easy for a team in which “easy” rarely applied.
The Braves’ 1995 title team had a haul of Hall of Famers -- manager Bobby Cox, rookie third baseman Chipper Jones and the great rotation of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz -- to guide it to the Promised Land.
This 2021 team had to go about things a bit differently.
Atlanta frantically added underrated outfield options after Acuña Jr. crumpled to the warning track on July 10 with a torn right ACL, then relied heavily on the bullpen when the World Series rotation was upended by the Morton mishap. And when Game 5 got away from the Braves on what they had hoped would be a party night in the Battery, they didn’t let that setback reshape this Series. They came back to Houston -- in the face of all those waving orange towels and a crowd as loud as Texas is big -- and dominated Game 6.
“Guys that are in baseball, that's what we do,” Snitker said. “We fight through adversities. We grind. After a while, it's what you do. It's not who you are, it's what you do.”
With this win and this awesome October, an organization -- and a city -- rife with playoff pain, including a record streak of 16 postseason appearances without a championship, got one over on the baseball gods and killed the so-called “Atlanta Curse.”
“Wow, it's been broken, I guess it's been broken,” Swanson said. “We're coming back home as World Series champions.”
Atlanta completed a mathematically improbable journey to Tuesday’s champagne bath. The NL East champs didn’t have a winning record until Aug. 6, and they had the lowest win total of any team to reach MLB’s postseason this year, including the Wild Card clubs. The Braves are just the eighth sub-90-win team to win a World Series in a non-shortened season.
The key to the whole darn thing was Atlanta going for it even amid some iffy midseason math.
“It was kind of one of those things where we were all taking turns,” Soler said. “We weren't playing every day. Whoever was sitting out that day, we were supporting the other ones. It felt like we had very good chemistry from the very beginning. It felt like we all truly supported each other and helped each other out whenever we could.”
When all was said and done this year, the Braves received an MLB-record 59 home runs from players who began the season with other teams, right up to and including the one that left the building.
That’s the moment Atlanta fans will remember when they look back at the 2021 World Series champs. The moment a team that never stopped swinging got its biggest swing of all.