From the Bleachers: Atlanta Deserves This World Series
On Tuesday, the Astros and Braves face off in Game 1 of the 2021 World Series. The end to Atlanta’s 26-year title drought may be waiting in the wings.
Two weeks ago, I wrote about how the highly anticipated Giants vs. Dodgers winner-take-all Game 5 was the most crucial game of the MLB season. With 107 and 106 regular-season wins, respectively, San Francisco and Los Angeles had been battling all season for NL West supremacy. So surely the series winner, having overcome its most formidable obstacle, would coast to the World Series.
Unfortunately for myself, the Bay Area and every baseball fan outside of Orange County, the Giants fell short. The Dodgers, who some predicted would be the “greatest team in baseball history” by the end of this season, eked out a 2-1 win to advance to the National League Championship Series. Only the 88-win Atlanta Braves stood in their way, and in a seven-game series, logic indicated that the better team would prevail.
But that’s the funny thing about October, and that’s why we endure three-hour baseball games on a nightly basis. The hottest team sometimes takes the cake over the best team. Somehow, the Braves squeaked past those 106-win Dodgers in six games to advance to the World Series against the Houston Astros.
Atlanta won the first two games on walk-off singles, but after blowing a 5-2 lead in Game 3, fear crept in. The wheels may have started to come off for the Cinderella story. Just last year, the Braves squandered a 3-1 NLCS lead to the very same Dodgers, and here they were, facing arguably a better version of those 2020 champions.
And, given the city of Atlanta’s history with big leads in the playoffs, who could blame a Braves fan for fearing déjà vu?
But the Braves fought back in Game 4, building that same 3-1 lead that teams seem to lose more and more often these days. The Dodgers won Game 5 to send the series back to Atlanta, but the result was different this time. In the fourth inning of Game 6, this year’s Mr. October, Eddie Rosario, hit a three-run home run to give Atlanta a 4-1 lead it ultimately wouldn’t surrender.
The Braves held firm in the top of the seventh inning, even with the tying runs on second and third base and nobody out. Reliever Tyler Matzek came in and struck out three consecutive hitters in an unimaginably high-pressure situation, one in which any bloop single could have tied the game and shifted the momentum. Instead, Matzek pitched two huge scoreless innings. And, in the ninth, Dansby Swanson ended the game with a sliding stop and throw to first base. Truist Park broke into a frenzy, and the biggest spenders in baseball went home.
Ian Anderson outpitched Walker Buehler. Rosario, who hit a whopping .560 in the series, outhit Mookie Betts from the leadoff spot. America’s pastime is alive, well, and full of surprises, just like it always has been.
After dethroning the widely disliked Dodgers, the Braves have a similar test ahead in the World Series. A major cheating scandal has severely tainted the Houston Astros’ legacy, yet the same core of Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman and company remains dominant atop the American League. The Astros came back from a 2-1 series deficit to topple the Red Sox, and they enter the Fall Classic as heavy favorites to win their second championship in five years.
The Braves, on the other hand, are 22 years removed from their last World Series appearance, a sweep at the hands of the New York Yankees in 1999. Their last World Series victory came just four years prior, in 1995, and represents the most recent championship for any of the major Atlanta sports teams. The Atlanta Hawks have zero NBA titles since 1958, when they played in St. Louis. The Atlanta Falcons have zero Super Bowl victories. And, the Atlanta Thrashers no longer exist, and even they had zero Stanley Cups when they did.
In other words, the city could use a break.
While the Astros have the better lineup on paper, that hasn’t stopped these Braves yet. The Braves stood at 51-54 about two-thirds of the way through the season, with their slim playoff hopes remaining alive because they played in the worst division in baseball. However, they turned on the jets down the home stretch, then powered through the talented Milwaukee Brewers and now the juggernaut Dodgers. Their toughest opponent is behind them. But the most challenging task may be keeping the ball rolling against a similarly-dominant opponent on baseball’s brightest stage.
As a Giants fan, I’ve grown accustomed to cheering for teams that win games off of good pitching, good defense, and good chemistry rather than stacked lineups. Atlanta’s lineup has been firing on all cylinders lately, but they fit that same underdog mold that fans have to love. They’re easy to root for, especially when their opponent is the most-hated team in baseball.
Milwaukee got its NBA Finals victory this past July, its first championship in 50 years. Kansas City won its first Super Bowl in 50 years last February. Even the city of Cleveland has seen a champion in the last five years. So it’s only fair that Atlanta finally gets its coveted ring to cap off an exhilarating October run.
But, when the Astros are involved, sometimes fair doesn’t quite cut it.