On Saturday night, the Braves defeated the defending World Champion Dodgers 4-2, thereby winning the NL pennant and stamping their ticket for their first trip to the World Series this millennium.
The victory continued their improbable second-half run of success. This team never broke the .500 mark for the season until August 6. Since August 3, they have gone 43-21, erasing a 5 run deficit to win the NL East by 5.5 games, for the fourth straight division title. They defeated the favored Milwaukee Brewers in four games in the Division Series and dispatched the Dodgers in six games in the NLCS.
Last night’s heroes were first and foremost Eddie Rosario and Tyler Matzek. Rosario capped off his MVP Series with a game three run homer off Walker Buehler in the 4th that broke a 1-1 tie and gave the Braves a lead they would never relinquish. Rosario was rightfully the Series MVP with 14 hits in the six games (the most any player has ever had in a six game postseason series); he hit .560 for the series with 3 homers, 9 ribbies, and an OPS of 1.647.
But if Rosario was the series MVP, Tyler Matzek deserves his own trophy (see last night’s comments for suggestions about the size of certain parts of his anatomy). I said above that the Braves never relinquished the lead after Rosario’s home run. Luke Jackson, bless his heart, almost relinquished that lead all by himself when he came on with a 4-1 lead in the top of the 7th. He promptly gave up a double, walk, and another double, so that all of a sudden it was a 4-2 game, and the Dodgers had the tying runs in scoring position with no outs. Snitker turned to Death Star. He managed to strike out Pujols, Souza, and Betts, leaving both runners stranded and the Braves holding on to that two run lead. For good measure, he came back out for the 8th and got the Dodgers in order. In his two innings of work, he got them six up six down, on 17 pitches, 15 of which were strikes.
There were plenty of other heroes in this game:
–The other lefties in the pen were almost as good as Matzek: Minter went two shutout innings of his own, getting them six up six down with 4 Ks. The good Will Smith set them down in order in the ninth for the save. As JamesD84 noted last night, Minter tossed six scoreless frames in the series (all of them high pressure), and Fresh Prince pitched four scoreless ninth innings with two wins and a save. And yet everyone knows that Matzek was the mvp among the pitchers.
–Ian Anderson was sharp, shutting them out for the first three innings, and giving up a solo run in the 4th. He gave up just the one run on three hits, striking out 4 in 4 innings.
–Ozzie and Riley got the Braves on the board in the first with back to back doubles; it was big to get an early lead.
–Adrianza had a pinch hit double in the fourth to extend the inning and allow for Rosario’s three run blast.
–Freddie reached base 4 times via the base on balls.
–Swanson hit the ball hard a couple of times and played his usual stellar defense, including a nice stab and throw on the grounder that ended the game.
There is not time now to reflect on the contributions of everyone who contributed to this pennant. But we can’t let this opportunity to go by without once again praising Alex Anthopoulos. If he is not executive of the year, they may as well abolish the award. His faith in the team’s chances and his incredible trade deadline acquisitions made the team’s run possible.
And what can we say about Snit. I was moved almost to tears to see him in the celebration last night. It’s not just that it is nice to see him reap this reward after the decades of riding the bus and working for relative peanuts. His steady hand at the helm was also crucial in keeping the team working hard and staying focused through all the frustrations of the first four months of the season. But it’s not just the clubhouse leader skills that were so impressive; we knew he possessed those. He also outmanaged Dave Roberts on the field in this series. His decision to pinch hit for Anderson in the 4th was gutsy but effective. His turning to Minter and Matzek for two innings each was terrific. And his faith in and commitment to Will Smith when he struggled so in September has obviously paid off. (Now Snit gets to face his son in the other dugout in the World Series—what a story in itself.)
I started to say in the first paragraph above that this improbable run of success since August 1 culminated in last night’s victory. But that’s the wrong verb. This stretch hasn’t culminated—there is one more hill to climb. The World Series begins in Houston on Tuesday. The amazing ride will continue with Morton on the mound against his former team.
P.S. Let’s all remember Ryan as he and his family continue to deal with Covid. Ryan, you’re another hero. Thanks for all you do to keep the best baseball blog ever going strong. I wore my Hammers t-shirt during last night’s game. Looks like I have a new lucky shirt–it will see a lot more use in the next ten days.