HOUSTON -- A small group of people gathered in a ballroom in the Ritz-Carlton Key Biscayne hotel in Miami in the early hours July 11 for what felt like an after party. The Atlanta Braves had struggled to achieve a record of 44-44 over the past three months. They were a legitimate contender for the 2021 championship. Ronald Acua Jr, the Braves' bright, 23-year-old centerfielder, was the best part of the team. He sat in the spacious room with a dour expression, his face flat and his right anteriorcruciate ligament torn.
Only a few hours after his knee was injured on the warning track, the Braves wanted him to be with them. Brian Snitker, Braves manager, was present. Walt Weiss, his bench coach, was there as well. Freddie Freeman showed up. Ozzie Albies stopped by to support his friend, with whom he had made a deal: They would sign long-term contracts extensions with Atlanta. This would bring another World Series title to a city that has suffered from a terrible sporting past.
This felt too much, even for a town that had suffered some heartbreaking losses. The National League MVP favorite was lost in July, a year after they lost a 3-1 lead at the National League Championship Series. The season seemed to be over at the halfway point when a 1 inch-long and half-inch-wide strip of tissue surrounded them. Atlanta Atlanta-ing again as usual.
Weiss said that "all those thoughts started to creep into." "Like a 'we'll-get-'em-next-year' type of thing. That was not what anyone was saying. These thoughts start to creep in. It's like this: OK, this is it. We have been really struggling and we have just lost one the most important players in baseball."
The news that Acua had tore his ACL was a big deal in baseball circles. Executives analyzed the Braves' roster to determine how they would react. The deadline for trades was just three weeks away and the team had to move players. There was a consensus among the front offices that Atlanta wasn't the year. This made the calls they received the following days so interesting.
Alex Anthopoulos was the Braves president of baseball operations. He said that he wasn’t selling. He said that they were actually looking to add players and make another run. Anthopoulos and the rest of the team saw a little bit of hope. It would take five trades to nurture it, $10 million in jewelry, quotes of today, F-bombs, jewelry, and a four letter word that was used so often within the Braves clubhouse it became a rallying cry.
They had the opportunity to find another thing the night Ronald Acua Jr. was lost by the Atlanta Braves.
They are themselves.
The Braves won their first World Series title in three and a half months. They defeated the Houston Astros in Game 6, lasting 3 hours and 22 minutes. The final score of 7-0 doesn't accurately reflect the demolishment that occurred. Major League Baseball's 117th Champion entered the postseason with the worst record among 2021 playoff teams and leaves it with the second title for Atlanta, and the first since 1995 when the Braves won it.
After the bubbly had soaked their clothes, confetti stuck on their heads, and their cigars were dangling from their lips, all they could talk about was love. It's why they are here, they claim. It can be active or passive, verb or noun. They loved and were loved. They gave and received love. They love love and not because they love the idea of loving love. In the Braves case, it was born from a man who doesn't necessarily project traditional romantic conceits.
Ron Washington, aged 69, is known for his foul-mouthed nature. His tongue is sharp as a scythe and he will slice you. The Braves' third base coach is an excellent baseball bard. He can take any idea and apply it to the game. Washington used to read Braves players almost every day a quote, an opinion, or a belief. Washington also wrote a word on paper on Aug. 20, when the seedling was ready to be planted. It stuck, as does so much of Washington's words.
Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson said that "love embodies accountability." It is a sign of sacrifice. We all pull together. We really care about each other."
Five weeks prior to the Braves' meeting, Love had brought them together in the ballroom. On August 7, the Braves won their seventh consecutive game. As October approached, love suggested that they might win the whole thing. Every team believes this because baseball is mad, and prone to the seemingly mediocre Braves becoming a world-beater. The word "different" became a mantra. Their core principle was simple: Spread the love when things are going well. And, when things don't go according to plan, spread it again.
Adam Duvall, who took Acua's place in center field, says that "a lot of people outside looked in and saw a team below.500." That was the word. We spread our love. We love one another. We will pull for one another, and then we will see what happens. Good things can occur when you bring people together.
The Braves had this ethos all along, waiting to be extracted through actions, words, and stimuli. After Acua's death, the only thing that they didn’t know was what this group would look like.
Play 1:27 Acuna's ACL tear 'devastating' for Major League Baseball. Jeff Passan explains why Ronald Acuna Jr. tore his ACL for the Braves as well as major league baseball.
Alex Anthopoulos began making phone calls on July 11, just a few hours after the Ritz conclave. He was on the first day in Major League Baseball's draft and his attention was diverted to a number of other things, but this was too important not to put aside. He had to convey to Snitker that he was not giving up on his Braves team.
Anthopoulos (44), had arrived in Atlanta four years before to clean up the mess created by the previous front. Latin American illegal signings cost 13 prospects to the team, made it difficult to pursue international talent for two more years, and resulted in John Coppolella being banned from the sport for the rest of his life. Coppolella left Anthopoulos with a fully stocked farm and a team ready to move into a new stadium. He was also supported by a passionate fan base that reaches across the country. Although it isn't the most glamorous job in baseball, running the Braves is a rewarding one.
Anthopoulos was instrumental in building the Toronto Blue Jays to a winning team. He also developed a higher threshold than others for chasing a postseason spot. It wasn't an accident, though, this was Atlanta. Atlanta outscored its opponents for most of the season, even though it had a record of sub-.500. This is a sign of better times. Anthopoulos called Jed Hoyer, Chicago Cubs president.
Anthopoulos, who was about to sell half of their Cubs team, was interested in JocPederson, a thick-bodied power-hitting outfielder with walk-taking abilities. It was okay that he didn't play in the center anymore. Anthopoulos wanted Pederson to be his bat -- but there were other considerations. Anthopoulos was a Los Angeles Dodgers player for two years before he moved to Atlanta in 2017. Pederson would often visit Anthopoulos' office and just talk.
Anthopoulos was impressed by Pederson's self-assuredness and unwavering determination. Anthopoulos appreciated Pederson's unwavering self-assurance, which is part of the reason he was finally traded to the Braves on July 15th for a minor league first baseman. The Braves were able to use the talent. To reinforce this idea, they needed outside voices.
Anthopoulos said that "the moment Joc walked through the door, he began talking about winning."
Okay. Although it's a bit vague to say that Pederson spoke about winning, Washington and Pederson share a common predilection to work blue. In truth, Pederson shared his early assessment of the Braves, which sounded something like this: "You guys, you are a great motherf---ing team."
It didn't feel like that at the time. Acua was out. Mike Soroka was the young, talented pitcher that they had hoped would return to the game after his Achilles surgery. He re-tore it. Their brilliant young right-hander Ian Anderson was hurt in the second half. Anthopoulos was aware they needed more.
He first traded for Stephen Vogt as backup catcher, which he thought was a smart and funny trade. Anthopoulos waited for two weeks before going on a shopping spree on July 30th, trade deadline day. He had been trying to acquire Duvall for 10 days and gave up Alex Jackson, his catcher, to make it happen in Miami. He also signed a deal with Eddie Rosario, an underachieved player in Cleveland, around noon.
Just 45 minutes before the 4:05 p.m. ET deadline, Anthopoulos suggested that he check in with Dayton Moore, Kansas City GM, to see if he'd changed his mind about trading Jorge Soler. ET deadline, Braves assistantGM Jason Pare suggested Anthopoulos call Kansas City GM Dayton Moore to see if he had changed his mind about trading Jorge Soler. Soler was a leviathan slugger who hit 48 home runs two years prior. Moore had previously said he wouldn't trade Soler, but now seems open to the idea of doing so. The entire Braves' outfield was reconstructed 15 minutes later.
It's a stretch to suggest that Anthopoulos was a savant who knew he would pull off an all time trade deadline coup -- getting four strong contributors for $10million, money that was available for him because of the Braves' robust attendance -- He realized that Soler had suffered a lot of pain throughout the season and that Rosario, who was a consistent contributor, needed to be healthy. Duvall's power and defensive flexibility were also important to him. Sometimes winning a few bets can result in rewriting the strategy for all the middling teams moving forward. The team does not have to be a blockbuster or bust. Tapas can be more appealing than an entree.
The team was 52-54, which was worse than the record at the break. And Pederson, who was exuberant when he arrived, didn’t lose faith in the talent. He boarded the bus for pitchers one day and said to himself, "You're some terrible motherf---ers. We need to show the rest of the world."
Acua's showmanship and style on the field was what Pederson brought to a clubhouse, bus rides, or wherever else he was. Sal Fasano, Atlanta's catching coach, said that although he doesn't use the term "swagger" often enough, "but he does possess that." It turned out that there was some prescience as well. Atlanta lost its August 1st game. It then won 16 of 18 games, passing the collapsed New York Mets and the mediocre Philadelphia Phillies. It felt the love.
Vogt felt the Braves' dog days at the Braves on Sept. 9. That afternoon, he asked Snitker and Weiss whether he could introduce the team to The Ref -- his tight-shirt-wearing, whistle-blowing, basketball-officiating alter ego whose appearances in previous clubhouses were the things of legends. Vogt said that "we were in a little bit of a lull." "The boys needed some pick-me up. The Ref was there to help everyone relax.
Vogt had been in the Braves' lineup for almost two months. Vogt had just 11 hits in his 85 plate appearances prior to that night. They were all singles. Vogt's first two plate appearances that night brought down The Ref. Vogt hit two home runs, which kept the game close to 7-6.
Anthopoulos had hoped to create a culture with the trades, and it was almost instantaneous. It was more than Pederson's F bombs, The Ref, or love. The Burgundy Boys wine club, made up of coaches and players that celebrate wins, was formed by the Burgundy Boys. It was Pederson who wore a strand pearls as his signature accessory on Sept. 30.
These Braves were so popular that Harry Styles, who spoke on stage about the team during an Atlanta tour stop in Atlanta, predicted that the team would "go all-the way." Pederson was alerted and knew of someone who could send a message to Styles. He sent him a jersey and a letter that read:
From one bad b ---- o the next.
Love is everything
ERIK S LESSER/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
PERSONAL FEELINGS ARE KEY TO THE 88-win Braves' postseason success. It was infectious. Anthopoulos' trades are brilliant. Brian Snitker was the one who held all of it together -- this Honda Accord which had been transformed into a Bugatti. Snitker won the division series against the 95-win Milwaukee Brewers. Snitker won the NLCS against the Los Angeles Dodgers (106-win, heavily favored). This is the same Dodgers that overcame a three-games to one deficit in the last NLCS. Snitker won the World Series against Dusty Baker, heading into Tuesday.
They felt love for and from him more than any other person. Snitker was a lifelong baseball fan. Before becoming the manager in 2016, he had spent 39 years with the company. He hadn't just paid his dues; his dues paid dues. He was now managing in a modern sense, ensuring happiness through a keen understanding of human behavior and calmness that comes from experience.
Fasano states, "The number of games he has managed, I don’t think he’s surprised by anything anymore." He's a very calming influence. I have seen many guys walk into his office feeling pissed and many others come out smiling and hugging him. He is able to diffuse almost any situation but he also seems prepared for it. It's an unusual perspective that he has about baseball.
This is why the Braves didn’t panic when they were punched in the postseason. They knew how to fight back. Soler is positive for COVID-19, and misses the majority of the NLCS. OK. Rosario was the Braves' acquisition for $1,946,237. He won the NLCS MVP. Charlie Morton is injured in Game 1. He throws 16 pitches and then he breaks his leg. Fine. Fine.
Smith said, "He rides along his guys." He never loses faith. He believes in us even when we have our moments. He won't back down. He will always fight for us. He's the shit."
Snitker had batting Freeman second for the entire series. Snitker moved Albies from third place to seventh, in an effort to shake him out of a mini-slump. On Tuesday, Rosario was the leadoff hitter, with Soler second and Freeman three. Albies, who had gotten his first hit since Wednesday at No. 7 spot -- and Rosario both on. Soler fouled off a full count slider and another fastball before Astros starter Luis Garcia left an inning-ending cutter in the strike zone. Soler won it all, giving Atlanta's ace Max Fried a 3-0 lead.
2021 MLB playoffs. We have you covered this October with all the latest schedules and results. Complete coverage of the playoffs
A single run would have been enough. Fried threw six great innings and didn’t walk a batter. Swanson, an Atlanta native, added a second run to his score by the time he was done. Freeman, a 32-year-old fulcrum of this franchise, was the cap. He survived through many difficult years. He was able to speed up the good years. He should have been given a contract extension sooner this year. Instead, he now has this as leverage over franchise: Do you really want Freddie Freeman to have his last at-bat as a Brave? A home run in the World Series preceding an epic trot punctuated with a sword celebration in that the players use one hand to slash as backup outfielder Guillermo Heredia uses his good-luck-charm disposable swords.
Freeman states, "I am not a big pimper home runs." "So I hit it, and I knew that I had hit it out. My family was going crazy, and my teammates were waiting for me to take the sword. I let my emotions out in that moment, the clinching game the World Series.
He wouldn't, why would he? This was it. Tyler Matzek was the lockdown reliever. He replaced Fried in the seventh and took the eighth. Smith was the last batter to reach the ninth inning, completing a series that was surprisingly even except for one category.
Both teams had 201 at-bats. The Braves beat the Astros 48 to 45 and had eight doubles to Houston’s seven. Atlanta was outrun by the Astros, who had only one triple in the series. However, the most important category of modern baseball was also the most unbalanced. Atlanta scored 11 runs, while Houston (or Jose Altuve) had two. The Astros' offensive performance was shocking, but Houston is the problem. Atlanta was excellent at driving opponents to trouble spots this postseason.
Washington declared, "Baseball." "That's what you do."
Washington led the Texas Rangers to the World Series ten years ago. He gave an inspirational speech that was recorded and later released with Pederson-level ribaldry. They lost Game 7. He hadn't won a championship since Tuesday night. While Washington still spits acid regularly, there is a softness about him now. This was evident in his speech to the Braves prior Game 6.
Duvall states, "Today was all about making memories." It was about capturing the moment and creating a memory. Moments become memories. What better moment to make a lasting memory than tonight?
Play 1:21 Freeman: The perfect way to end a crazy year' Freddie Freeman relates how incredible it was that he began the MLB season watching the birth of his son, and ended it as World Series Champions.
Anthopoulos woke up at 8:15 p.m. to put his children to sleep in Buckhead. ET, who was now asleep at his home in Buckhead, went to bed and watched as Anthopoulos built the team the same way millions of people do: on television. Anthopoulos tested positive for COVID-19 on Saturday. Anthopoulos had a stuffy nose and took a test. He was shocked by the results. Anthopoulos was fully immunized, but he knew that he would have to quarantine at his home.
Soler struck Garcia's last pitch just after 9 p.m. Anthopoulos screamed. Julia, his 11-year old daughter, ran downstairs. Julia woke up when her father yelled.
Anthopoulos and Cristina, his wife, decided to let Cristina stay up. Their 9-year old son John was brought down to watch the eighth inning. Anthopoulos' 2021 Atlanta Braves experience taught him one thing: to spend time with the people you love. They started counting down the outs like it was New Year's Eve and the ball was dropping.
Anthopoulos states, "I would love have been there." For me, this is more about the accomplishment. This isn't a one-night deal. It is a lifestyle. This is Atlanta's second championship. It's like being part of the city for all eternity. It's an incredible feeling."
Anthopoulos will always be remembered as the virtuoso that took $10 million at trade deadline and turned it into Pederson and his pearls and F-bombs. Duvall and his stabilizing center field play, Rosario, Soler, and his NLCS MVP Award. He was the one who signed Albies and Acua to long-term contracts. And, judging by what Freeman said when he hugged Acua, it could be him too.
Acua said to him, "We did it." "We did it."
Freeman stated, "Doing it together next year."
Minute Maid's celebration was different by the square foot. One area saw Terry McGuirk running up to Pederson, the Braves' Chairman, shouting: "We're going f---ing Augusta!" Hell yes! You f---ing heard me." McGuirk, an Augusta National member, told players that if they win the World Series, he will swing getting them a time. Pederson finally made it into the clubhouse. He drank Salon champagne with his Burgundy Boys before opening two bottles of Screaming Eagle cabernet. These wines cost about $5,000 a piece.
Pederson's laughter contrasted with those who were a bit older and hadn't experienced a title. Pederson did this last year with the Dodgers. Washington smiled with the grin of someone who knows his strengths. Baseball. He does it because he loves it.
Vogt, now 37, was placed on the injured list following his two home runs. He never came back. He was kept around by the Braves for the same reasons he was brought in. Vogt states, "I've been working all my life for this, dreaming about this my whole life," "I got a ring. I got a ring."
Snitker was unable to string words together at first.
He says, "I'm numb."
He says, "It's difficult to do this."
Snitker looked at his T-shirt and realized he was in his own body. Snitker exclaims, "Look at that!" It says World Series champs. "You s---tin’ me?"
No. This was the truth. This was where they found love, belief, and daring. This was for Alex, Snit, Vogter and Vogter -- everyone who waited too long or couldn’t be there. This was Atlanta. This was for life.
Rick Kranitz (Braves' pitching coach) cracked open a new box of Padron 1926 Serie cigars to celebrate. There are 10 sizes of 1926s, each with its unique number. This particular selection was the best for the night, and the 2021 Atlanta Braves. It indicated Kranitz's choice in the upper left-hand corner.