HOUSTON — They were counted out by everyone, but the only the ones who actually counted, refused to believe it.
Too many injuries. Too many slumps.
Atlanta blocked out the noise, and Tuesday night at Minute Maid Park were dancing and celebrating, standing alone atop the baseball world.
Atlanta is the World Series champions, routing the Houston Astros, 7-0, to win the series, 4 games to 2, for its first championship since 1995.
“I’m still numb,” said Atlanta first baseman Freddie Freeman. “I don’t really have emotions. I’m kind of trying to tell you guys things of how I feel because I don’t really feel anything yet. It’s going to hit hard soon. I don’t know when. Maybe it’s when we get to see everybody in Atlanta.”
Atlanta’s latest heroes were outfielder Jorge Soler and ace Max Fried. Soler, who opened the postseason testing positive for COVID-19, hit his third homer of the World Series, a mammoth 3-run shot in the third inning. Fried, who had badly struggled in his last two postseason starts, made it all stand up with six dominant shutout innings.
“I think as a kid you look forward to winning the World Series and contributing in any way,” Fried said Monday. “To be able to be here in this moment, I’m just extremely thankful.’’
The truth is that this was a team full of heroes night after night.
Despite losing their best hitter (Ronald Acuna), their best slugger (Marcel Ozuna), and one of their best starters (Mike Soroka), Atlanta simply refused to quit.
GM Alex Anthopoulos, believing in their team’s heart and pride, pulled off six trades, including four outfielders, while 66-year-old manager Brian Snitker pulled out all of the stops.
They were 52-54 at the July 30 trade deadline.
They weren’t above .500 until Aug. 6.
This team simply could not be measured by any computer, logarithms or spreadsheets.
“That’s something analytics never can have a hand in,’’ said Atlanta closer Will Smith, “is chemistry and getting along with each other. We legitimately love each other in that clubhouse. We say it out loud.”
Where else can you walk into a clubhouse and find an ice-cream machine, and have 26 players acting like kids, teasing and taunting one another, while Snitker just sat back and let them act as juvenile as they desired.
“I think that’s part of why we are,’’ said Atlanta reliever Luke Jackson, “who we are. I think from the second I walk into the clubhouse, until I leave, someone’s making fun of somebody.
“And if it’s not, something’s not right.’’
And, of all the players Anthopoulos brought in, every single one fit in as if they grew up in Georgia and spent their entire lives in the organization.
The talent is important, Anthopoulos says, but if they didn’t pass the makeup test, they were unwanted.
Who would have realized the catalyst of their attack would be Soler, acquired in the final hours of the trade deadline from the Kansas City Royals? He singlehandedly out-homered the Astros in the Series, 3-2, but none were bigger than his third-hitting blast.
Soler got ahead 3-1 in the count when Astros rookie starter Luis Garcia, pitching on three days’ rest, couldn’t throw his cutter for a strike.
He took an 81-mph slider for strike 2, and then hit two hard fouls on an 80-mph slider and a 96-mph fastball.
Garcia came back with an 83-mph cutter.
Soler hit it out of the building.
It went over the left-field wall, over the Crawford boxes, and over the train track.
Soler dropped his bat, looked into his dugout, thumped his chest twice, and pointed towards his teammates before taking a stroll around the bases.
The homer was officially measured at 446 feet, clocked at 109.6-mph off his bat, but it looked more like 546 feet.
It was all that Fried needed, pitching like the guy who dominated the National League the second half instead of the one battered for a 10.24 ERA in his last two postseason starts.
Fried, with high-school teammates Jack Flaherty of the St. Louis Cardinals and Lucas Giolito of the Chicago White Sox in the stands, absolutely suffocated the Astros’ lineup. He gave up just four hits and no walks in six innings, without permitting a single baserunner to reach second base after the first inning.
Yet, for a scary moment, it looked like Fried might not even get out of the first inning.
He gave up an infield single to leadoff hitter Jose Altuve, and then Michael Brantley hit a slow roller to the right of Freeman. Freeman picked it up, but Fried was late covering. When Fried caught the ball, he missed the bag, and Brantley’s left foot came down hard on Fried’s right ankle, spiking him.
The Atlanta trainers rushed to the mound, making sure that Fried was ok, and who would ever have known it would turn out to be the best thing to happen to him.
Fried, facing the heart of the order with two runners on, no outs and a screaming sellout crowd, exhaled, and calmly struck Carlos Correa, induced a soft groundout by Yordan Alvarez, and struck out Yuli Gurriel.
Fried never permitted the Astros to even think about getting their offense started, while Atlanta kept pouring it on with homers by Dansby Swanson and Freeman.
“These guys, they gave it their all,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “They played through adversity, through a lot of stuff this whole year. We just kind of ran out of gas pitching-wise. I mean, our guys, nobody complained, nobody alibied, you know. And I’m not going to alibi. We got outplayed tonight.”
The only question now is whether Atlanta throws that World Series parade in downtown Atlanta, or near their ballpark in Cobb County.
Yet, they all know where that World Series trophy will be going before its final resting spot.
The front office plans to make a stop at the home of beloved Hall of Fame manager Bobby Cox, who had a major stroke, and was unable to attend any games.
They went to his home after winning the National League pennant, putting the trophy on his lap.
Same plan this time.
Only a bigger trophy.
“When we won the league championship,’’ says Atlanta Hall of Fame executive John Schuerholz, “Alex said it should be delivered into the hands of one person only.
“He wanted it to go to Bobby. So he put it on Bobby’s lap. Bobby has gone through a tough time, and has a sad look, but when you look at him, he smiles with his eyes.
“I look forward to seeing that smile again.’’
Follow Nightengale on Twitter: @Bnightengale
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Braves win first World Series since 1995, downing Astros in Game 6
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