Ozzie Albies (left) and Ronald Acuna Jr. (right) celebrate. 
Photo: ccompton@ajc.com/Curtis Compton
Photo: ccompton@ajc.com/Curtis Compton

Braves clinch in a manner becoming a champion

You know that person who keeps you waiting in the parking lot while backing into a spot? Oooh, very impressive, you can park in reverse. You too good to just pull in quick and easy and front-first like everybody else?

Anyway, the Braves didn’t want to be that guy.

Backing in is just so annoying.

Thus on Friday when they did wrap up their second consecutive division title, they didn’t just win their way in, they escorted the evening into tour de force territory. Collectively, this team took matters in both hands and drove its point home nose first. Of all the clinches this franchise has managed in the past three decades, this was one of the clinch-iest, a complete and completely satisfying 6-0 victory over San Francisco.

What did Washington do at Miami on Friday night? Don’t know. Don’t care. Doesn’t matter.

Magic number: Moot.

Friday game day began with Ronald Acuna and Ozzie Albies once more turning the base paths into their personal Andretti Carting and Games franchise, scoring the first run in the first inning with most youthful zeal. The first walked, the second singled, and when the blur cleared, there they were standing on second and third. Freddie Freeman did the responsible thing and scored Acuna on a sacrifice fly.   

It ended with 35-year-old catcher Brian McCann in a Korbel-sotted clubhouse, surrounded by teammates wasting torrents of alcohol over his head while he danced (?) – we’ll call it doing the Anachronistic Shimmy – to music not quite in his generational wheelhouse. I’m told by someone much younger the tune playing was “Going Bad” by Meek Mill and Drake. The lyrics, definitely not kid-friendly.

The whole thing was perfect. Just perfect.

Ozzie Albies (left), Ronald Acuna (right) and Braves fans celebrate after Acuna Jr. caught a fly ball for the last out. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com
Photo: ccompton@ajc.com/Curtis Compton

While the clinching game spoke volumes about the many ways the Braves can break down an opponent, the celebration afterward said just as much about the spirit of a team that likes itself very much.  A most compelling combination.

“I said more than once I felt like I was in the dugout with an American Legion team – the energy, the emotion,” manager Brian Snitker said. No Legion team on record ever waded through the kind of puddles of champagne and beer that pooled in this clubhouse Friday night. This just may have been one of the wettest celebrations on record, one that would choke a cheap rain gauge.

On the field against the willing Giants, the Braves showed off just about everything they had. 

Represented in this one was the youthful dynamism that elevates them from successful to sensational: A home run and a double, three runs scored by Acuna, who just a year ago was too young to legally imbibe when that division title was won. He seemed to require no tutoring Friday.

And he’s never going to get the three stolen bases he needs to complete a 40-40 season if he doesn’t stop just trotting around all the bases at one time.

There was the blast from the past: McCann, the prodigal catcher returned home this year, hitting a sixth-inning, two-run home run that concluded the night’s scoring. This is why the Braves brought him back. And this is why he came back. Such transactions so rarely work out in a way that’s borderline dreamlike.

Asked the highlight of the whole shebang, first baseman Freddie Freeman said, “I’m going to go with B-Mac. For him to hit a home run in the division clincher coming home, I don’t think anything can be better than that.”

And then there was the pitching of starter Mike Foltynewicz, eight innings of three-hit shutout ball by a guy who earlier this season was exiled to Gwinnett to work on his slider, his confidence and an easily troubled brain.

So, what, is Lawrenceville now Lourdes? For his cure since returning has been just this side of a miracle. Proof that pitchers aren’t like flat-screen TVs, you don’t just throw away the broken ones and get new ones. Not only did Foltynewicz pitch his way out of oblivion and back into the playoff rotation, the .033-hitting right-hander singled and scored his first run of the season. A fantastic story will become officially unbelievable when Snitker calls upon him to pinch-hit in October.  

Turns out you can’t spell “clinch” without Foltynewicz – he threw the clinching win in 2018 as well. I’m sure it’s in there somewhere among all those letters if you look hard enough. Don’t really care if it isn’t, because who has the time for word scrambles right now? There’s another division title to celebrate.

Braves players take a dip in the outfield water feature. (Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com)
Photo: ccompton@ajc.com/Curtis Compton

Friday was a party waiting to happen as soon as the SunTrust Park gates opened. This was a team that came to play, in the most lighthearted sense of the word, and would not be denied a very good time.

Even the most serious-minded fellow to ever take the field for the Braves – Nick Markakis, himself an improbable contributor after breaking his wrist this year – could let loose a grin. “Absolutely,” he said. “There’s a time and place for all that. Once you get to the postseason you can let loose a little bit.”

The celebration carried on well after the last out, and spilled back onto the field after the stands had been cleared, players and their families cavorting around the bases.

Eventually some of the party moved to the waterfall beyond center field, where many of the victors soaked themselves further. Starting pitcher Dallas Keuchel worked on his butterfly stroke, just in case they ever add the individual medley to the program here. You win big and all the world is your water park.

And the careful manager did a few laps himself around some big expectations for the postseason, a time of year that has not treated the Braves kindly for about a generation. Just maybe this bunch is different.

“I just told those guys I felt like we knocked on the door last year,” Snitker said, referring to a 3-1 division series loss to Los Angeles, “and I’m hoping we kick it in this year.”

“I think we’re going to go into the division series this year and expect to win,” he said.

Gentlemen, soak it all in. Know that you didn’t just clinch this berth, you seized it. Savor defending a division title, just like the Braves used to do.

Then dry out and get back to work.

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About the Author

Steve Hummer
Steve Hummer
Steve Hummer writes sports features for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He covers a wide range of sports and topics.
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