Atlanta, the wait is over: The Braves are in the World Series

Coming back to Atlanta, the Braves finally slew Goliath and sent the Dodgers back to LA with a 4-2 victory. The win was punctuated with masterful relief pitching from Tyler Matzek, who shut down a late-inning rally by Los Angeles. Photo by MatthewGrimesMedia and Major League Baseball

Sunday, October 24th, 2021. 

The sun is out, and there have rarely been warmer days in Atlanta. It seems too good to be true. But it’s not: the Atlanta Braves are going to the World Series for the first time since 1999 after defeating the Los Angeles Dodgers in six games.

But the road wasn’t easy, especially for us.

Ask an Atlanta sports fan about these dates, and they likely can recount them perfectly: February 5th, 2017, January 8th, 2018, August 3rd, 2020, October 18th, 2020. 

Over three years, we watched the Falcons castrate a 28-3 lead to the New England Patriots in the most incredible Super Bowl comeback of all time. The Georgia Bulldogs were stunned by Nick Saban and then-Alabama Crimson Tide backup quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and, falling 26-23 in the 2018 National Championship after leading 13-0 at halftime. 

The Braves lost Mike Soroka, the ace of their pitching staff, for the season after he tore his Achilles last summer. Soroka was expected to return as the ace but suffered a setback and later found out he re-tore it again his Achilles this past summer. 

Fast forward to this summer, and an even worse collective fate arrived: baserunning blunders, untimely hitting and everything in between. 

Photo by MatthewGrimesMedia and Major League Baseball

The Braves blew a 3-1 lead in last year’s NLCS as Cody Bellinger, Mookie Betts and the Dodgers’ infamously ripped out the hearts of Braves fans. Three years of heartbreaks and questions. 

“Are we cursed? Every Atlanta fan’s mind kept wondering when it would be their turn to rejoice. 

The list could go on, as fans could only watch from outside, stuck in a storm of angry despair as major franchises continued to reach the championship game but failed to capture the trophy. Yes, Atlanta United won the 2018 MLS Cup in their inaugural season, but it’s different for Braves fans who have waited for over 20 years. 

There was hope in the 2020-21 offseason. In April, we would roll out a 2021 Opening Day roster with Silver Slugger Travis d’Arnaud, reigning NL MVP Freddie Freeman, a healthy Ozzie Albies, consistent Dansby Swanson, and questions about Austin Riley. 

We would also have a healthy Ronald Acuna, Jr., the future center field in Cristian Pache, and another Silver Slugger in Marcell Ozuna.

New additions Charlie Morton and Drew Smyly gave the Braves legitimate starting pitching while waiting for Soroka’s return. The 2021 roster looked ready to march their way back to the playoffs––so we thought.

A lineup that was top two in pretty much every offensive statistical category returned. General manager Alex Anthopoulos rebuilt the starting staff. Fans saw the bullpen and bench depth as weak points, but as long as everyone stayed healthy, the NL East would run through Atlanta, right?

How wrong we were. 

An abysmal start to 2021 saw the Braves get off to an 0-4 record, with lackluster offense and averager pitching. The team displayed all-around inconsistency, with the lone average play coming from a shaky bullpen that would plague them for the first half of the season. 

Freeman had the worst luck of his career when he would make contact, Albies started 0-19, Ozuna could not find his rhythm, and Swanson must have been seeing ghosts with all the swings and misses he had at the beginning. 

Pache was woefully overmatched at the plate, though fans expected that due to wanting his glove in center. 

Photo by MatthewGrimesMedia and Major League Baseball

Even Max Fried, the ace of the staff, was struggling, along with Smyly and Morton. The Braves looked like a seller at the trade deadline.  Everything that could go wrong went wrong for the Braves in the first half. Even with Acuna healthy, the Braves could never get out their way to go above .500 early in the season. 

The team was in low spirits, then the injuries: Pache, Inciarte, Soroka re-tearing his Achilles (he may never pitch again), Fried’s blisters, d’Arnaud was lost for three months with torn ligaments in his thumb, prompting Triple-A level catchers to don the mask with a different one almost every month. 

None of those were as fateful as July 10 when Acuna, Jr, the NL MVP front-runner, and 40/40 candidate, tore his ACL trying to make a great play. Between that injury, all the other struggles, and being demolished by Duvall, who the Braves decided not to re-sign, things were looking rather miserable for a team that was a dismal 30-35 at the All-Star break.

MLB moved the All-Star Game from its original spot at Truist Park to Colorado to add to the myriad of issues facing the team and fans. Aside from that alone being a rotten deal for fans, the organization would honor Hank Aaron’s life and legacy but did not have the chance at that.

Even in the despair and darkness, the frustrating 2021 season was not lost on Anthopoulos, though it certainly looked like it to the fans.

Photo by MatthewGrimesMedia and Major League Baseball

Following the All-Star Break, hopes of the Braves repeating in the division were dim. Not only were the Braves without Acuna, Jr. for the rest of the season, but they were set to face the American League-leading Tampa Bay Rays and San Diego Padres in a six-game homestand. 

The Braves shocked fans and weathered the storm, playing good baseball against top competition. However, on July 26, the Braves faced the Mets in Citi Field in a pivotal NL East Division Series to determine if the Braves would be buyers or sellers at the deadline. 

After splitting the double-header, the Braves took three-out five in New York and pulled within five games of the Mets in the NL East. Anthopoulos made a flurry of moves with the team showing fights during the trade deadline, arguably the best trade deadline in the team’s history.  

The Braves acquired three outfielders, including Duvall, who played for the team last season, Jorge Soler and Eddie Rosario. Atlanta also received bullpen help with Richard Rodgruiez from the Pittsburgh Pirates. 

Fans feared the worst, but the Braves finished July 14-13 and remained in the division hunt by August. 

By the start of August, it was evident that this was a different Braves team. The Braves acquired Duvall, Soler and Joc Pederson from the Cubs after Acuna, Jr.’s injury, the offense slumping without Acuna, and the suspended Ozuna receiving some much-needed rejuvenation. 

The Braves bats struggled in the first half hitting just .238 as a team and slugging a disappointing .425 by the All-Star Game break. Following the trendline, the offense went a tear hitting .250 and slugging near .450 in the second half of the season.

August became a renaissance for the Braves, finishing the 18-8 and on top of the NL East. The team was firing on all cylinders, with Fried and Morton solidifying the pitching rotation and the offense returning to life.

The new-look offense for the Braves cut down the strikeouts declining from 236 in July to 212 in August. They increased in home runs and RBIs, with Duvall and Austin Riley becoming juggernauts in the lineup. 

Riley, in particular, took great strides in 2021 and excelled as an all-around player. He went from being a possible trade chip following 2020 to an NL MVP candidate this season. 

Some were calling for the Braves to trade for another third baseman and move Riley to left field. The Braves stuck with him, and he rewarded them. He batted .303 with 33 home runs and team-leading 137 RBIs during the regular season. 

The Braves swept the Phillies in a ruckus Truist Park by the season’s final week to win their fourth straight NL East crown. Many people counted the Braves out in the division series against the NL Central-winning Milwaukee Brewers.

However, they split the first two games in Milwaukee to take home the best-of-three series. After taking a 2-1 series lead, the Braves closed Milwaukee in a back-and-forth Game 4. In the eighth, Freeman delivered the series blow to Milwaukee to take a 5-4 lead and eventually the series. 

The Braves faced the Dodgers, who sent them packing in the postseason two of the last three postseasons in the 2021 NLCS. This time, it was different. 

The Braves killed the narrative and beat the Dodgers in six with timely hitting and excellent relief pitching. Thanks to Riley and Rosario, the Braves walked off the first two games in Truist. 

Coming back to Atlanta, the Braves finally slew Goliath and sent the Dodgers back to LA with a 4-2 victory. The win was punctuated with masterful relief pitching from Tyler Matzek, who shut down a late-inning Dodgers’ rally. 

Both of us remember that final out of the 2020 NLCS. 

One of us was in his dorm room, crying. Tears were falling profusely, yet, lifelessly. This bludgeoning despair was worse than the Super Bowl because the Braves were in it until they weren’t. 

Photo by MatthewGrimesMedia and Major League Baseball

There are only a few times where the other’s been left speechless from a Braves game. Cody Bellinger’s go-ahead home run in the bottom of the seventh inning of Game 5 of the 2020 NLCS was one of those that will never be easy to discuss for him.

This past weekend brought happy cries. The two will never forget where they were when they watched their hometown team punch their ticket to a World Series.

To Anthopolous and the Braves organization, on behalf of Braves Country: thank you. Thank you for continuing the fight and not giving up. Now, two college students will join millions of Atlanta fans as they embark on a two-week journey that the city will remember for years to come.