Playoff heartbreak is a common theme of Atlanta sports. The Falcons’ Superbowl loss to the Patriots will live long in the memories of all those who witnessed it, whilst the Braves hadn’t won a postseason series since 2001 before this season. However, an unprecedented third straight NL East title and an October run that had seen off the Cincinnati Reds, the Miami Marlins and secured a 3-1 NLCS lead over the Los Angeles Dodgers had Braves fans daring to dream of making the team’s first World Series since 1999.
Sadly though, it was not to be. The quality on show in a Dodgers team that muscled its way to baseball’s best record in the regular season (43-17) came to the fore during the final three games of the series and was just too much for this young Braves team, as they finally surrendered the series 4-3.
After retiring Mookie Betts and Corey Seager to begin the inning, Anderson issued a walk to third baseman, Justin Turner. Max Muncy followed up with a double before Will Smith tied the game with a two-run single up the middle. Anderson escaped the inning without any further damage, but was then lifted by Braves manager Brian Snitker for the fourth. In the top half of the inning, Austin Riley had restored Atlanta’s advantage when Ozzie Albies scored on his no-out single. However, this would prove to be the turning point in the game.
After a wild pitch took Swanson to third and Riley to second with nobody out, chances looked good the Braves would extend their led. However, Nick Markakis hit a ground ball towards Turner, who threw the ball to his catcher. Swanson was caught in a rundown, trying desperately to avoid being tagged out. It took a Superman-style dive from Turner to retire Swanson, but in the confusion Riley had made a run for third base. Astutely, Turner then fired the ball to Seager who was able to apply the tag on Riley and complete the unlikeliest of double-plays. Atlanta had squandered a golden opportunity and the Dodgers made them pay for it. Riley’s hit would prove the final one of the night for the Braves as the tide turned in LA’s favour.
Atlanta held the lead until the sixth inning when Kike Hernandez homered off A.J. Minter, then one inning later Cody Bellinger ended an eight-pitch at-bat by taking Chris Martin deep for his second home run of the series and that was all the Dodgers needed. Julio Urias pitched a perfect final three frames to take the win and send the Dodgers to their third World Series in four years.
“It hurts right now, it really does,” first baseman and likely MVP Freddie Freeman said. “This moment stinks, but the Atlanta Braves organization is set up for success for a very long time. This group of guys we have this year is the start of something special.” The Braves do have the talent to compete at the highest level for many years to come. The performance of the young starters during the postseason has been nothing short of spectacular. With Anderson, Fried, Kyle Wright and Bryse Wilson, plus Mike Soroka to come back from injury in early 2021, the Braves look poised to have one of the best rotations in baseball. Acuna and Albies continue to be two of the most exciting young players in the game, whilst Freeman is coming off possibly the best year of his career.
“This hurts, but I’m proud of what these guys accomplished,” Snitker said. “I felt worse last year than I do this year, quite honestly. I feel good right now. I wanted to go to the World Series so bad. It doesn’t work out sometimes. But we did a lot of really good things organisationally and with our club this year.”
It is true. Whilst this will go down as yet another Atlanta sports playoff defeat, it doesn’t feel like the others. Whilst the Falcons imploded in the second half of that fateful Superbowl, the Braves stood toe-to-toe with the Dodgers for seven gruelling games and ultimately fell short against the best team in the league, who played like it when it mattered the most. The optimism going into 2021 is well-founded and with a bit of luck, next year could finally be Atlanta’s year.
22nd October 2020