World Series: Atlanta dominates Astros in Game 6 to win title
This year’s World Series once seemed destined to be a titanic clash, one woven with narratives of revenge and vindication in an emotionally charged rematch.
The Dodgers and Houston Astros, after all, were on the verge of reprising their 2017 Fall Classic meeting, squaring off again for the title after the Astros cheating scandal became public, settling a much-anticipated final score.
Since that Series they’ve been baseball’s premier powerhouses, almost annually the two biggest juggernauts in the sport.
Their paths, however, never ended up crossing. This time, they were nothing more than footnotes in someone else’s fairy tale.
For the first time since 1995, it is the Atlanta Braves who are champions of baseball, claiming the franchise’s fourth World Series title with a 7-0 rout of the Astros in Game 6 on Tuesday behind a scoreless six-inning gem from left-hander Max Fried and home runs from Jorge Soler, Dansby Swanson and Freddie Freeman.
It was the team that was under .500 for the first four months, that finished the regular season with just 88 wins, and that was an underdog in each of its three playoff series — as well as Tuesday’s clincher — that proved to be this postseason’s unstoppable force.
“It’s such a long, hard haul to do this,” said Braves manager Brian Snitker, who has spent his entire professional career in the organization as a player and coach. “They never gave up on themselves.”
Atlanta’s Max Fried was a pitcher without a home heading into his senior year of high school, but he overcame the setback on his major league path.
Soler, who was named the series most valuable player, struck Tuesday’s opening blow in the third inning, unloading on a cutter at the knees from Astros starter Luis Garcia for a three-run home run that sailed over Minute Maid Park’s left-field train tracks and out of the stadium.
In the fifth, Swanson hit a two-run blast nearly as far, the ball clanging off the top of a marble facade before dropping into the Crawford Box seats. Freeman followed with an RBI double later in the inning, then delivered the knockout punch in the seventh, driving a solo home run to left-center.
“We’ve been waiting for a championship in this city for a long time,” said Freeman, the Orange County native who has spent all 12 years of his career in Atlanta. “I’m glad we delivered it.”
That was more than enough offense for Fried, who after being knocked around for six runs in Game 2 responded with one of the best outings of his career.
After escaping a first-inning jam in which his ankle was stomped on during a contested play at first, the Studio City Harvard-Westlake alum found a groove, retiring the side in order in the second inning, getting double plays in the third and fourth, and stranding another runner in the sixth inning with his sixth and final strikeout of the night.
“We just believed,” said Fried, who scattered four singles. “We believed we had a really good group and the right guys to do it.”
Back in spring training, this wouldn’t have been considered a stunning result. The Braves were strong contenders, a burgeoning squad that, despite squandering a 3-1 lead in last year’s National League Championship Series to the Dodgers, had promising young starting pitching, a deep and talented lineup, and the requisite experience to make a deep run in the fall.
But pitcher Mike Soroka never returned from an Achilles injury, suffering multiple setbacks that kept him out for the year. In late May, outfielder Marcell Ozuna was arrested on domestic violence charges and spent the remainder of the campaign on administrative leave. Then in early July, the club was dealt its most demoralizing blow, losing superstar outfielder Ronald Acuña Jr. to a torn knee ligament.
At one point, the Braves were as many as eight games back in their division. They never appeared to be in the same realm as the Dodgers, Astros or other title favorites.
The Atlanta Braves’ recent October success can be attributed to Angels GM Perry Minasian’s involvement when he was recently with the club.
And even after they won the NL East with a closing 36-18 run, then dispatched the Milwaukee Brewers in four games in the division series, the idea they could defeat both the Dodgers and Astros felt far-fetched.
But the Braves team that celebrated Tuesday was not the same outfit that trudged through much of the summer.
General manager Alex Anthopoulos’ acquisition of four outfielders in July, including Soler and Joc Pederson, the former Dodger who will have back-to-back championship rings, reignited belief in the clubhouse.
The emergence of a bullpen hierarchy as stifling as any in the sport, which took care of the final three innings Tuesday, made playoff success increasingly attainable.
And as the last month progressed and the Braves continued to overcome obstacles — including Soler’s COVID-19 absence for most of the NLCS and pitcher Charlie Morton’s broken leg in Game 1 of this series — what once seemed impossible began to become reality, culminating in the World Series’ most lopsided clinching win since 1985.
“This team went through everything possible, hit every pothole we could possibly hit,” Freeman said. “But we overcame every single one of them.”
And when the final out was recorded, by which point the Braves’ traveling faithful had long started to drown out the dwindling Astros majority, the Cinderella run was complete.
No repeat for the Dodgers. No redemption for the Astros. Just a euphoric release for a franchise and a fan base 26 years in the making.
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