Dealt to destiny, Rosario MVP of epic NLCS

After Game 6 HR, Braves OF becomes 8th player to win LCS award after midseason trade

October 26th, 2021

ATLANTA -- ’s son, Lucas, bounded back and forth between the front edge of the podium and the spot where his father was standing a few feet away. Lucas wore a blue-and-red jacket over a blue-and-red T-shirt, and he clutched a pop-it toy in one hand. He looked around in awe as tens of thousands of Braves fans chanted his father’s name.

Those fans had chanted early in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series on Saturday night at Truist Park, then again after Rosario was named series MVP. “ED-DIE! ED-DIE!” came the shouts, while father and son listened. Rosario held the trophy aloft, shaking it above his head.

“That’s something you have to earn,” he said afterward.

Rosario had earned it by being the most dynamic player of the NLCS: one of only five players to record 14 hits in a postseason series, one of only three qualified players to hit .560 or better in a series, one of only two to piece together multiple four-hit games, and so on and so forth until the statistics begin to blur. By the waning moments of Atlanta’s 4-2 victory in Game 6, it was obvious that Rosario would be the MVP, becoming the eighth player to win that LCS honor following a midseason trade, joining the Astros' Justin Verlander (2017), the Indians' Andrew Miller ('16), the Giants' Marco Scutaro ('12), the Giants' Cody Ross ('10), the Yankees' David Justice ('00), the Braves' Mike Devereaux (1995) and the A's Rickey Henderson ('89).

“We just couldn’t figure him out,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “We just didn’t have an answer for him.”

Roberts ticked through all the solutions the Dodgers tried, from fastballs to soft stuff, from pitches designed to jam Rosario to those designed to mitigate his power. Rosario hit them all, finishing with three homers, one triple, one double and nine RBIs.

His final and most impactful hit occurred in the fourth inning of Game 6, delivering the Dodgers a staggering blow. With two men on base and two outs, Rosario came to the plate against Walker Buehler, who remained in the game despite the fact that lefty reliever Alex Vesia was warm. Roberts liked the matchup and felt confident about Buehler, whose pitches still seemed lively.

As if to prove it, Buehler quickly jumped ahead in the count, showing Rosario nothing but hard stuff: cutters on the fists, sinkers away. Rosario took a ball outside and fouled off two more. Finally, on the seventh pitch of the at-bat, Buehler sent another cutter careening toward the inside corner of the strike zone, where Rosario dropped his hands and ripped it just inside the right-field foul pole.

When he did, Rosario did not jog around the bases so much as he floated, screaming and pumping his fists. Red and gold fireworks exploded over Truist Park as Rosario grabbed the brim of his helmet and glided over third base, then dipped low to slap third-base coach Ron Washington’s palm. A line of Braves awaited Rosario beyond home plate, then still more in the dugout, all paying their respects until Ronald Acuña Jr. finally pushed Rosario back onto the field for a curtain call. Several other Braves pointed emphatically at Rosario as he pumped his fist to the crowd.

“This is obviously my greatest accomplishment of my career so far,” Rosario said.

In retrospect, as first baseman Freddie Freeman put it, Rosario wound up being a perfect fit for Atlanta. And yet his performance was well beyond what anyone imagined when the team acquired him in a July 30 salary dump from Cleveland, which received Pablo Sandoval in exchange and then released him hours later.

“If we were that right,” Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos said of the deal, “we would have signed [Rosario] in the offseason.”

Instead, seeking outfield depth at the Trade Deadline, Anthopoulos acquired so much of it that even once Rosario returned from the injured list in late August, he still had to jockey for playing time with fellow additions Joc Pederson, Adam Duvall and Jorge Soler. Once Rosario earned a full-time job in mid-September, few noticed the hints he began dropping that something significant could be happening: a .591 slugging percentage and five home runs over his final 19 regular-season games.

Freeman joked that “we just had little weapons waiting in the wings all over the place, and then we unleashed them.” But he didn’t know either what sort of impact Rosario would bring. Perhaps manager Brian Snitker had a sense, making Rosario his leadoff hitter after Soler tested positive for COVID-19 the day of Game 4 of the NL Division Series. Immediately, Rosario rewarded Snitker’s faith when he singled, stole a base and scored in his first at-bat of Game 1 of the NLCS.

The real theatrics came later -- a four-hit effort in Game 2 and a multihomer barrage in Game 4. Rosario’s three-run shot in the clincher was his 14th hit of the series, matching Marco Scutaro (2012 NLCS), Kevin Youkilis (2007 ALCS), Hideki Matsui (2004 ALCS) and Albert Pujols (2004 NLCS) for the most in a postseason series. Of those five players, only Rosario accomplished the feat in fewer than seven games.

That is how the 30-year-old Rosario found himself on a hastily constructed podium at Truist Park, holding the MVP trophy high as his son dashed back and forth in front of him. He is now a part of postseason history, given the inflated nature of his statistics. And the seven-year veteran is a part of his country’s history, as one of nine Puerto Rican-born players to win a postseason MVP award. And he is of course a part of Braves history.

“But I want more -- I want to win the World Series,” Rosario said, proud and pleased that he has given himself the chance.