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The resilient Braves claim their first World Series title since 1995, leaving no doubt in the end

Will Smith and Travis d’Arnaud celebrate the Braves’ World Series win. (Elsa/Getty Images)
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HOUSTON — Through a full regular season and three playoff rounds, nothing came easily for the Atlanta Braves. Oddsmakers didn’t favor them. Most baseball insiders didn’t, either. Injuries stole their potential MVP candidate in July and their ace in October. They were under .500 with two months to go, forced to play better than .600 baseball to even reach the postseason in the first place.

And then suddenly there was Freddie Freeman, his arms in the air, the last out of the World Series already tucked in his back pocket for safekeeping. His Braves were World Series champions with a 7-0 pummeling of the Houston Astros that left plenty of time to soak it all in. After three consecutive postseasons and a regular season that seemed almost defined by doubt, Atlanta left none when it mattered most.

“The guys all come down to spring training in February so hopeful every single year, and year after year, it never happened. This year it was improbable,” Freeman said. “We hit every pothole, every bump you could possibly hit this year, and somehow the car still made it onto the other side.”

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The Braves had gone 26 years without a title. They ended what had been the 14th-longest drought in the majors, not exactly the kind of wait that qualifies as a curse. But 26 years is a lifetime to an entire generation — a lifetime ago, at least for those involved.

Freeman, for example, was 10 the last time the Braves played in a World Series, months removed from losing his mother, not concerned with what was happening in the world of Atlanta sports. But Freeman said during this World Series that he hoped to create some new memories, just like his adopted city did after suffering a World Series sweep at the hands of the Yankees in 1999 — though of course the pain of losing a Series isn’t exactly comparable.

But Freeman has taken Atlanta’s ups and downs as his own, watched the franchise retool and switch ballparks and emerge as an annual contender for the first time since those 1990s teams. He spent 12 seasons with the Braves without winning a world title. Among active players, only two played with one team longer before their first championship: Ryan Zimmerman and Clayton Kershaw. He said later he has treasured wearing “Braves” on his jersey since his days in the Gulf Coast League. He said later he knows his mother and grandmother are together somewhere, “jumping up and down.”

Previous postseason coverage: Freddie Freeman, the Braves’ friendly first baseman, gets his first taste of the World Series

Freeman brought home Atlanta’s sixth run with a fifth-inning double that banged off the wall in left-center. He drove home its seventh run with a seventh-inning homer after which he paused at third base, celebrated and pointed to his teammates in the dugout in an uncharacteristic display of premature joy — premature only because the final out had yet to be recorded. Everything else had long since been settled.

Fans at Truist Park in Atlanta celebrated the Atlanta Braves World Series win over the Houston Astros on Nov. 2. (Video: The Washington Post)

Because in the third inning, World Series MVP Jorge Soler had given Atlanta a 3-0 lead with a home run so decisive that it flew out of Minute Maid Park altogether. Soler was one of the four outfielders this team acquired at what will be remembered as a legendary trade deadline orchestrated by President of Baseball Operations Alex Anthopoulos, who tested positive for the coronavirus and could not be on the field when his team lifted the trophy Tuesday night.

Dusty Baker has devoted his life to baseball. After another loss, he’s still not ready to walk away.

Anthopoulos saw something valuable in Soler, the once-top prospect who had never quite shined as brightly as some thought he would. After his homer Tuesday, Soler looked at the dugout, pounded his chest and pointed.

“I just said, ‘I’m here,’ ” Soler said later, and indeed he was: The 29-year-old hit more homers in the World Series than the entire Astros lineup.

Dansby Swanson smashed a two-run shot of his own in the fifth, by which time Manager Dusty Baker and his Astros were on their fourth pitcher, hunting for someone, anyone, to slow Atlanta down. They never found him.

Swanson was a year old the last time Atlanta won a title, too young to remember much of anything, though as a Georgia boy through and through, he knows the stories. The hometown kid was a stalwart defensively Tuesday night, too, almost as if he was taking it upon himself to end his city’s long-standing title drought in the major professional sports. No Atlanta team had won a championship since that Braves team in 1995, though Swanson’s beloved Atlanta Falcons had tried and failed to beat the New England Patriots at the 2017 Super Bowl, which was played in Houston.

“It just kind of feels like no better story could be written than God making us come back here and winning the World Series in Houston,” Swanson said. “So everything comes full circle.”

No one understands what full circle means quite like Brian Snitker. He was in the stands at Atlanta Fulton County Stadium the last time the Braves won a World Series, in 1995. He was a minor league coach then, a decade and a half into a tenure with the organization that would somehow wind its way back to a World Series all these years later.

Snitker still has the World Series ring from that year in a lockbox somewhere, but he doesn’t really wear it. He said it really wasn’t all that comfortable. Maybe this one will fit a little differently. After 40 years in the organization, at a time when mercenaries are often the baseball norm, Snit­ker will forever be remembered as the man at the helm when the Braves became the Braves again.

“You just keep fighting the fight and grinding through because you never know,” Snitker said. “It happened to me. I got an opportunity. There's a lot of guys out there, my same type thing who have been through a lot and put their families through a lot, and not everybody gets it. I was blessed enough to get an opportunity.”

Previous postseason coverage: The ‘tomahawk chop’ lives on in Atlanta. Now it has the World Series spotlight.

Starter Max Fried was 5 years old when Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine and John Smoltz lifted Atlanta to its last title, years removed from being part of a comparably loaded rotation at Harvard-Westlake School outside Los Angeles.

There, Fried starred with future St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago White Sox aces Jack Flaherty and Lucas Giolito, whose teams fell earlier in this postseason. Both were in the stands at Minute Maid Park to support Fried. They witnessed a coronation of sorts, a clinching of ace status for a lefty who was dominant all season and less so this October — at least until Tuesday night.

Even after a first inning in which two men reached and Michael Brantley stepped on Fried’s ankle as Fried made an unsuccessful attempt to beat him to first base, the 27-year-old was masterful. He worked quickly and decisively, as if certain that inconsistency would not be a problem, not now, not in Game 6.

He threw six dominant innings in which he did not walk a batter. No Astro reached second base after that first inning. He broke 98 mph with the first-inning fastball he used to get out of trouble with that lone man in scoring position in the first, his hardest pitch of the year in the season’s biggest moment.

“To be honest, I’m just really happy we were able to do this,” Fried said. “It’s been a long time.”

It had been a lifetime since Atlanta won a title. It had been a whole, grueling season since anything had been easy for the Braves. But after nine smooth, almost celebratory innings Tuesday night, it will be a long, long time before anyone questions their mettle again.

— Chelsea Janes

This story has been updated. Highlights and analysis, by Scott Allen and Adam Kilgore, are below.

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11:18 p.m.
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Adam Kilgore: The Braves are in commanding position to claim the World Series title in large part because of the home run. They hit them in droves, and they kept the Astros in the ballpark. Atlanta smashed 11 home runs in the series. The Astros hit only two, both of them from leadoff hitter José Altuve. The Braves relied on homers all season, with an infield of hitters who all slugged at least 27. Now, home runs are about to win them a championship.
Adam Kilgore, Reporter covering national sports
11:06 p.m.
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Adam Kilgore: The presence of Hank Aaron has been undeniable this World Series, the first played after Aaron’s death in January. He is the best player in Atlanta’s history. He was close friends with Houston Manager Dusty Baker. He gave Brian Snitker his first coaching job when he was the Braves’ farm director. “As much as who Hank was and what he meant to the game, I think of him as just a really good friend, first and foremost,” Snitker said earlier in the series.
Adam Kilgore, Reporter covering national sports
10:49 p.m.
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Adam Kilgore: The biggest question of the Braves’ offseason, which appears ever more imminent, is whether they will re-sign franchise pillar Freddie Freeman. In what may have been the pending free agent’s last at-bat with the Braves, Freeman pulverized a home run to center field to put the Braves ahead, 7-0. In his first World Series, Freeman has delivered a performance worthy of his sterling career. He is 7 for 22 with two homers, a double and two walks.
Adam Kilgore, Reporter covering national sports
10:38 p.m.
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Adam Kilgore: In defiance of the postseason’s dominant story line, Max Fried took Game 6 by the throat. In line with that story line, he won’t get to finish it. All October, starters exited in, if not before, the middle innings. No starter in the World Series had lasted more than Ian Anderson’s five innings, and he was throwing a no-hitter when pulled. Fried is through six innings on 74 pitches, and with a 6-0 lead he seemed to have enough leash to pitch a complete game. But Brian Snitker pulled him after six innings, during which Fried allowed four hits, struck out six and walked none. If you polled the Astros dugout right now about which pitcher they want to face, the prevailing answer would likely be, “anybody but Fried.” Atlanta’s bullpen has been excellent and pulling Friend now ensures a clean inning for the reliever who gets the seventh. But this move, even if perfectly aligned with 2021 convention, could backfire.
Adam Kilgore, Reporter covering national sports
9:59 p.m.
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Adam Kilgore: For the Astros to force Game 7, it would take nothing less than matching the biggest World Series comeback in 92 years. The 1929 Philadelphia A’s trailed the Chicago Cubs, 8-0, after six and a half innings, then scored 10 runs in the bottom of the seventh and won, 10-8. It remains the biggest postseason comeback in baseball history. The biggest blown lead in the World Series since is six runs. The 1956 Brooklyn Dodgers trailed the New York Yankees, 6-0, in the second inning of Game 2 before winning, 13-8. The 1996 Atlanta Braves led the Yankees, 6-0, in the sixth inning before losing in extra innings. The Astros trail, 6-0, in the middle of the fifth.
Adam Kilgore, Reporter covering national sports
9:30 p.m.
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Adam Kilgore: At midseason, a spate of injuries forced Braves General Manager Alex Anthopoulos to remake Atlanta’s outfield on the fly. For a limited haul of prospects, he rummaged for Joc Pederson (Cubs), Adam Duvall (Marlins), Jorge Soler (Royals) and Eddie Rosario (Indians). Even with Pederson slumping, those four are 16 for 66 in the World Series with 12 of the Braves’ 21 RBIs and five of the Braves’ nine home runs. Rosario won NLCS MVP, and Soler is in line to win MVP in the World Series.
Adam Kilgore, Reporter covering national sports
9:14 p.m.
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Adam Kilgore: The World Series MVP will belong to Jorge Soler if the Braves win tonight. He has hit three home runs in the series, all of them memorable: A leadoff shot in Game 1, the game-winning blast in Game 4 and a missile over the Minute Maid Park train tracks and out of the stadium. Luis Garcia hung a curveball after a long at-bat. Soler demolished the ball, dropped his bat and pounded his chest. That may be the lasting image of the series. In the Houston dugout, Dusty Baker was visibly agitated. Left-hander Brooks Raley was warmed in the bullpen, ready to face on-deck hitter Freddie Freeman. Soler was presumably going to be Garcia’s last hitter no matter what, and so the blast had to be frustrating for Baker.
Adam Kilgore, Reporter covering national sports
8:53 p.m.
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Adam Kilgore: A game after Dusty Baker moved struggling Alex Bregman from third to seventh in the batting order, Brian Snitker did the same with Ozzie Albies. Albies had been 3 for 18 with no extra-base hits and hitless since Game 2. In his first at-bat, Albies laced a single to right field. After his lineup demotion, Bregman responded with a double.
Adam Kilgore, Reporter covering national sports
8:36 p.m.
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Adam Kilgore: What an impressive finish to the first inning by Max Fried. Pitching with an ankle that had been spiked by Michael Brantley, he escaped a two-on, no-out jam by retiring the middle of Houston’s lineup in order. Fried relied on his fastball. With two outs and two runners in scoring position, Fried faced Yuli Gurriel, one of the best contact hitters in baseball. He struck him out on three straight fastballs: 97, 97 and 98 miles per hour. The final fastball, which Gurriel took at the knees, was the fastest pitch Fried has thrown his entire career. If the Braves win the World Series tonight, Fried’s performance in the first will be one the first reasons why.
Adam Kilgore, Reporter covering national sports
8:30 p.m.
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Adam Kilgore: The Braves made a puzzling decision not challenge Michael Brantley’s infield single, an awkward and painful play for Atlanta starter Max Fried. Fried covered first base on a slow chopper to Freddie Freeman, and as he tried to find the bag with his foot, Brantley stepped on his ankle. Replays showed that Brantley never touched first base. But bench coach Walt Weiss, after speaking on the dugout phone, indicated to Manager Brian Snitker that they should not challenge. The Braves should have challenged. Instead, Fried faced a two-on, no-out jam in the first inning.
Adam Kilgore, Reporter covering national sports
8:16 p.m.
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Adam Kilgore: One batter into the game, the Astros received a benefit of playing in their home park. Kyle Tucker made a phenomenal diving catch in right field to rob Eddie Rosario of at least a double. In Atlanta, Tucker had to play center field with usual designated hitter pressed into outfield duty and playing right field, which moved Michael Brantley to right. Tucker is a good center field, but in right field he’s elite. And Luis Garcia got an out because of it.
Adam Kilgore, Reporter covering national sports