The Atlanta Braves are World Series Champions: They did it for Ronald Acuña, Hank Aaron, and the suffering Atlanta fan base

This was the way their journey had to end. With the championship baseball resting in the glove of Freddie Freeman, the face of a franchise, the human connection to all those generations of Atlanta baseball that led to this moment.

Freddie Freeman once played with Chipper Jones … who once played with Tom Glavine … who once played with the late, great Phil Niekro … who once played with the late, great Henry Aaron. And somehow, it felt as though all of those generations were a part of this.

It’s hard to comprehend that Aaron and Niekro played a combined 28 seasons in Atlanta — and not one of those Atlanta seasons ended the way this one did. But to take a play out of John Sterling’s book: Thats baseball Susan.

“It’s just been a special, special run,” Freeman said, not long after squeezing that World Series trophy he’d waited a lifetime to squeeze. “We wish Hank and Phil were here to see this. But I know they’re up there watching. They’re so thrilled for us.”

This team that won the World Series, these Atlanta Braves, are all about those connections. They have never forgotten the great Braves who preceded them. And now they have left their mark for every Braves team of the future.

At 10:33 p.m. Central Daylight Time, on a Tuesday night they’ll never forget, they finished their improbable World Series journey with an emphatic 7-0 Game 6 pounding of the Astros in Houston. It was the final step of a journey that made no logical sense — to anyone except them.

Here is how they navigated everything thrown their way to get back on top for the first time in 26 years.

If you were plotting a path for how to win a World Series, you would never plot the path this team took. There has never been a championship path quite like it.

1. They lost the best player in the league! 

I don’t know what blueprint you’d draw for your team to win a World Series, but I know what blueprint nobody would ever draw: Take the best player in your league, watch him crumple in pain on the warning track in July and get carted off the field never to return.

Tell me you watched this happen to Ronald Acuña Jr. on July 10, the day before the All-Star break, and said to yourself: “Hey, now that team can go win the World Series.”

In the early hours of July 11, a small group gathered in a ballroom at the Ritz Carlton Key Biscayne hotel in Miami for what felt like a wake. Over the previous 3 ½ months, the Atlanta Braves, a team that entered the 2021 season with legitimate championship aspirations, had bumbled their way to a 44-44 record. The best thing about the Braves was their luminescent 23-year-old center fielder, Ronald Acuña Jr. And there he sat in the expansive room, his expression dour, his affect flat, his right anterior cruciate ligament torn.

The Braves didn’t want him to be alone, only a few hours after his knee buckled on the warning track when he attempted an acrobatic catch. Braves manager Brian Snitker was there. His bench coach, Walt Weiss, joined him. Freddie Freeman showed up. Ozzie Albies swung by to offer support to his good friend with whom he’d made a pact: They would both sign long-term contract extensions with Atlanta and bring a city with a tortured sporting past another World Series title.

Even for a sports town that has been through some grueling losses, this felt like too much. A year after the team blew a 3-1 lead in the National League Championship Series, they lost the National League MVP favorite in July. The season suddenly seemed over barely at the halfway point, waylaid by a 1 ¼-inch-long, half-inch-wide band of tissue. Atlanta Atlanta-ing, again, as always.

On the day that happened, Acuña was leading the National League in Wins Above Replacement. So he was literally the most valuable player in the league.

Has any team ever lost a player who was leading his league in Wins Above Replacement in midseason and then somehow won the World Series anyway?

That answer isn’t just no. It’s hell, no.

But the loss of Acuña was one which everyone in the game saw as a blow not only to the production on the field, but heavily in that locker room. Not many if any team, ever goes on without its star player and wins anything, let alone the world series. If the Braves had just laid down and waved the white flag on the season nobody would have looked at them harshly. Instead they reinvented themselves on the fly.

On the night the Atlanta Braves lost Ronald Acuña Jr., they gained the chance to find something else.


“Love embodies accountability,” Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson says. “It embodies sacrifice. We pull for each other. We truly care for each other.”

2. They’re the first champs ever to change outfields on the fly

On the day the Braves won the World Series, their starting outfield looked like this:

Eddie Rosario LF
Adam Duvall CF
Joc Pederson RF

Not to be confused with the outfield the Braves ran out there on Opening Day:

Marcell Ozuna LF
Cristian Pache CF
Ronald Acuña Jr. RF

“A lot of people from the outside looking in saw a team who was under .500 and just lost their MVP-type player,” says Adam Duvall, who replaced Acuña in center field. “But that was the word. We spread the love. We love each other. We’re going to pull for each other, and then we’ll see what happens. When you take a group and bring them close together, good things can happen.”

If you throw in the DH in this game, Jorge Soler, it means the Braves won a World Series with a lineup that included four position players who were on somebody else’s team when this season started. And how many teams have ever done that? Right! It’s none, yet again,

Soler, Rosario, Duvall and Pederson went out and bopped 12 home runs in this postseason. A) That’s more home runs than all the rest of the Braves hit combined (11). And B) it’s the most ever hit in any postseason by players who started that season playing for some other team.

Finally, Soler rode his titanic, tie-breaking, Pujols-esque home run Tuesday to a World Series MVP award — just a week and a half after Rosario won the NLCS MVP award.

3. They spent 110 games submerged below .500

Here’s something else it normally takes for a team to win a World Series:


But it took the Braves a long, long time to get around to that part of the formula.

There has never been a World Series champion like this World Series champion. That’s not an opinion. That’s just the truth. This was a team that won the World Series even though it didn’t spend a single day above .500 until its 111th game of the season. And that honestly makes no sense.

But once August rolled around and the Braves bobbed their head above that Sea of .500, they were a completely different animal.

“We hit every pothole, every bump you could possibly hit this year,” said Freddie Freeman. “And somehow, the car still made it onto the other side.”

4. They were the all-time upset kings of October!

But then came their final chapter — the postseason run to glory by a team that won only 88 games in this regular season. Take one more look at the teams the Braves had to beat to spray that champagne Tuesday night:

THE BREWERS — The Braves’ Division Series opponent won 95 games this season. Do the math in your head because there’s going to be a quiz. That’s seven more wins than the Braves.

THE DODGERS — Then, in the NLCS, the Braves toppled the 106-win Dodgers. Ready to subtract again? That’s 18 more games than the Braves won.

THE ASTROS — Finally, it was one more 95-win team that the Braves had to upset — the Astros. Add seven more games to the old win-differential tote board.

So … ready to add that all up? The Braves beat three teams in this postseason that outwon them by a total of 32 games over this regular season.

The team that won the World Series was the team with the fewest regular-season wins of any of the 10 teams that made it to this postseason. And …

They had to beat three teams along the way that won 95 games or more.

The only time they trailed in any of those three series was after their very first game of this postseason, when they lost NLDS Game 1 to the Brewers. They then ripped off three wins in a row and never looked back.

Lost the best player in the league. Never had a winning record until they’d staggered all the way into August. Had to trade for a whole new outfield. And had to upend three teams in October that won 32 games more than they did.

And they won the World Series.


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