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ATLANTA – Surely, the city thought, the Atlanta Braves would, as usual, find a way to screw it up.
Not this time (or at least not yet).
Atlanta, which didn’t break a record above .500 as of Aug. 6, was unlikely to take the National League pennant on Saturday when it beat the Los Angeles Dodgers 4-2 in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series.
By beating reigning champions Dodgers, four to two games, Atlanta advanced to its first World Series since 1999. The final best-of-seven showdown of the season kicks off Tuesday when Atlanta meets the Astros, who won the American League pennant. in Houston.
Whether Atlanta will be able to go all the way will not be clear for at least another week. However, in a city where off-season under-season falls are about as common as flying Delta Air Lines, Atlanta has already exceeded expectations.
Atlanta last reached the World Series when it had a Hall of Fame manager, Bobby Cox, in the dugout and long-time generation stars like Chipper Jones, Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine on its list. This club is decidedly different, it was ravaged by injuries earlier this season and then renovated, not just tweaked, by close of trading. In fact, some of the signature moments of the Atlanta postseason came from players who didn’t appear on the roster until July, including Eddie Rosario and Joc Pederson.
“We weren’t a bad team,” said manager Brian Snitker early on Sunday. “We found it difficult to put everything together for a longer period of the season. But we were a good team and I always thought, man, our best baseball is in front of us someday. “
His guess was correct – and that was evident in Game 6.
Rosario, whose homer gave Atlanta the cushion to win with three runs in the fourth inning on Saturday, was named NLCS Most Valuable Player nine RBI. He had a walk-off single in Game 2 that was the offense trigger in one Blowout game 4 and came through again in game 6.
“We just couldn’t understand him,” said Dave Roberts, the Los Angeles manager. “He hit us the other way. He hit us on the train side. He’s got hits from left-handed people, from right-handed people. We tried to spin him. We went hard. We just didn’t have an answer for him and when this big guy comes up behind him it’s just difficult to take care of him. “
Though much of Atlanta’s postseason magic came late – it won the first two games of the series with walk-off hits – the home team quickly scored a goal on Saturday night.
With two outs at the end of the first inning, Ozzie Albies Walker Bühler doubled up. Austin Riley worked a full count, and when the crowd started to explode in a sold-out Truist Park, the young third baseman delivered a graceful, fluid swing that floated the ball toward the left field fence. It hopped on the warning lane once before hopping over the wall for a ground rule double, which allowed Albies to score.
It wasn’t much, of course, not against an offensive powerhouse like Los Angeles.
However, the Dodgers initially fought Ian Anderson, the Atlanta starter, and his move. Los Angeles didn’t have a base runner until the third time when AJ Pollock doubled up to the center. Anderson escaped the threat by getting a flyball, strikeout, and grounder.
Los Angeles had another opportunity in the next inning. Trea Turner drew a gear with an out, and Will Smith hit the shift with a single to the right. Chris Taylor, who hammered Atlanta with three home runs in California on Thursday, struck on the seventh pitch of his at-bat.
The trouble with Los Angeles comes from the reality that another threat is almost always lurking. The role fell to Cody Bellinger at that moment, who delivered a single to left field to hit Turner and tie the game. With runners in first and third places, however, Pollock couldn’t find the kind of strength he’d enjoyed just one frame before; this time he showed up to end the inning.
Fast forward a few minutes. Atlanta’s first two thugs in the fourth were quick outs. Travis d’Arnaud then left and Atlanta announced that Ehire would beat Adrianza for Anderson, even though Anderson had only thrown 66 throws and allowed only three hits.
All doubts about the decision that simmered in Atlanta did not last. Adrianza doubled a cutter into the right corner of the field, where Mookie Betts, a five-time gold glove winner, crawled and fired towards the infield. Ron Washington, Atlanta’s aggressive third base coach, held d’Arnaud before scurrying home.
It was the kind of setup that could have gone down in Atlanta history as a missed opportunity, yet another debacle in a city that occupied a dozen postseason berths between World Series appearances. It had only been a year since Atlanta gambled away a three-game-one-one lead against the Dodgers in the NLCS – a superbowl.
As it turned out, all of Saturday’s uncertainty was another prelude for Rosario. Bühler fired a pair of 93-mile-per-hour cutters. Rosario swung towards both of them and missed them. A third cutter went wrong. A plumb line is missing. Two more fouls.
Bühler looked inside, a little way from ending his misery. Rosario looked out, a little way from opening the game. The tailor came back.
Rosario didn’t miss it. The ball climbed higher, raced along the first baseline and over the fence, giving Atlanta an abrupt 4-1 lead. Bühler hung around until the end of the inning, but ended his outing with seven hits, four runs, six strikeouts and three walks.
Los Angeles, which added a second run in run seven but didn’t score beyond it, due in part to a dazzling performance by reliever Tyler Matzek, had planned to start Max Scherzer in Game 6, saying his arm had been “locked in for the past few days “and instead turned to Bühler, who last served on Tuesday.
Scherzer, thought the Los Angeles clubhouse, might be ready for Game 7 – if they could have got there.
But at least for this moment in Atlanta, another place will make the second guess.
“I think this could be the definition of sheer joy,” said Freddie Freeman, the first Atlanta baseman who has gone through many ups and downs since making his major league debut in 2010.
“We usually sit in our locker, you know, and just think about the whole season and prepare for the next year,” he added. “And we actually did it.”
Scott Miller contributed to the coverage.