HOUSTON – When the Braves reported to spring training in February, they had championship aspirations. They fell just short the previous October and spent the winter supplementing a talented young core that had embarked on three postseason runs. They entered this season believing they had assembled a roster, both talent- and chemistry-wise, that could finally break through.

Nobody could’ve imagined how the ensuing journey would unfold.

Twenty-six years and 16 postseason appearances since that memorable Oct. 28 day in 1995, the Braves brought Atlanta its second World Series championship Tuesday in Houston. This team’s one-of-a-kind story will be shared and referenced across generations with the simplest yet most invaluable lesson: never give up.

The Braves won the World Series by defeating the Astros 7-0 in Game 6, completing one of the more improbable runs in professional sports history. Exactly 9,502 days after Bobby Cox’s Braves delivered Atlanta its first title, Brian Snitker, a Cox disciple who has spent over four decades in the organization, led the Braves to their second championship – in the unlikeliest of fashions.

“Gosh, that’s another surreal moment, quite honestly,” Snitker said about joining Cox as an Atlanta championship manager. “I can’t wait to take that trophy back and show him either. I’m honored, blessed to be able to sit here in front of you guys as a world champion. Like I say, it’s something you dream about, but I don’t know that you ever feel like it’s going to be a reality, honestly.”

It was hard to fathom *this* being the Braves team that separated itself from past postseason disappointment. Then again, maybe it wasn’t. Uphill climbs were like strolls on the treadmill for these Braves. Their propensity for overcoming the odds was part of their charm. It formed their identity. That’s the reason they sit atop the baseball world in 2021. And that’s why they’ll be remembered throughout the South for eons.

Their final victory appropriately was highlighted by slugger Jorge Soler, one of the July acquisitions forever etched in Braves history. Soler’s colossal third-inning homer off Luis Garcia soared over left field and out of Minute Maid Park, giving the Braves a three-run lead they wouldn’t relinquish. He was later named series MVP.

It was Joc Pederson in the National League Division Series against Milwaukee. It was Eddie Rosario in the NL Championship Series against the Dodgers. It was Soler in the World Series. The Braves orchestrated perhaps the greatest trade deadline in MLB history, with four key trades that turned a lost campaign into one that resulted in a parade.

“When we all got traded, Rosario was out, so it was the three of us playing every day,” Soler said via team interpreter Franco Garcia. “I felt like we had a really good thing going. We were supporting each other and getting that playing time. When Eddie came back, he just kind of burst onto the scene. It was kind of one of those things where we were all taking turns. We weren’t playing every day. Whoever was sitting out that day, we were supporting the other ones. It felt like we had very good chemistry from the very beginning. It felt like we all truly supported each other and helped each other out whenever we could.”

The Braves had floundered for months. Injuries dominated the headlines. The names are well-known at this juncture: Mike Soroka never pitched. Travis d’Arnaud missed months. Huascar Ynoa punched a bench. Marcell Ozuna was injured and arrested and charged with domestic violence. Ian Anderson had a sore shoulder. MVP candidate Ronald Acuna tore his ACL on the eve of the first half, topping off a miserable 89-game stretch.

Acuna’s injury triggered a series of transactions that are now immortalized in Braves lore. General manager Alex Anthopoulos, with his team at 44-45 and four games behind the Mets, swung trades for Pederson and Stephen Vogt during the All-Star break. The message resonated through the clubhouse: This team still has a chance.

Weeks later, keeping with the same theme, Anthopoulos concocted one of the greatest trade deadlines of all-time. He replaced Acuna by committee, adding Soler, Rosario and Adam Duvall to join Pederson. He also added Richard Rodriguez, who helped the bullpen for a stretch.

While some wrote them off, the Braves saw an opportunity. The National League East was beautifully mediocre. Naysayers questioned what getting into the postseason as a middling division champ was even worth, but Anthopoulos stressed: Just get into the tournament and one never knows what could happen.

Finally, on Aug. 6 against the Nationals, the Braves moved to 56-55 with their fourth consecutive win. It was their first time over .500 on the season. A week later, they reeled off a 9-0 road trip in Washington, Miami and Baltimore, surging into first place in the NL East.

The Braves outpaced their division the rest of the way. The Mets collapsed while the Phillies embodied a slightly above-average team. The Braves went from a club that once alternated 18 wins and losses in July to one finding itself at the optimal time.

Players have credited their mid-to-late September western trip as another turning point. They went 7-3, rebounding after losing a series in San Francisco to take three of four in Phoenix and sweep the spiraling Padres.

The Braves returned home and swept the Phillies to win the division and reach the postseason for the fourth consecutive year. First baseman Freddie Freeman made it clear afterward: This isn’t playing with house money. They expected to contend for the championship.

Outsiders generally didn’t see it similarly. A common thought was even if they snuck in thanks to the laughable NL East, there wasn’t a way that with this makeshift roster the Braves, perennial postseason failures, could banish the ghosts that have haunted them since blowing a 2-0 World Series lead in 1996.

 Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman and shortstop Dansby Swanson (7) celebrate after defeating the Houston Astros 7-0 in game six of the World Series at Minute Maid Park, Tuesday, November 2, 2021, in Houston, Tx. The Atlanta Braves beats the Houston Astros 4-2 to take the World Series. Curtis Compton / curtis.compton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton

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Credit: Curtis Compton

They drew the Brewers in the opening round, a 95-win club featuring dominant pitching. The Braves lost the first game 2-1 before winning the next three, outpitching Milwaukee along the way. Pederson had two pinch-hit homers in the series, winning over Atlanta’s hearts with his quirky personality and string of pearls.

Next were the reigning champion Dodgers, who’ve long been a source of Atlanta anguish. The Dodgers eliminated the Braves in 2013, 2018 and 2020, when the Braves went what was considered “full-Atlanta” and lost a 3-1 advantage in the NL Championship Series.

These Braves, completely numb to their city’s checkered past, walked off the first two games against the Dodgers at Truist Park. They won once in Los Angeles, which was enough to set up the clinching victory at home.

Making matters sweeter, they went up 3-1 and advanced this time. The Braves created a #killthenarrative rally cry on social media – an inconceivable concept the last time this organization won the Fall Classic – as the Braves exorcised their Dodgers demons.

They ousted the champs to earn their first World Series berth since 1999. Their NLCS MVP: Rosario, who went 14-for-25 (.560) with a double, triple, three homers and nine RBIs.

Unsurprisingly, the Braves were underdogs against the mighty Astros, who were trying to capture an untainted title and silence the critics of their 2017 run that was enveloped in a sign-stealing controversy. The Braves split the first two games in Houston, a near-necessary feat without homefield advantage, to send the World Series tied to Truist Park.

The Braves proceeded to start three rookies – the first time in World Series history that’s occurred – over the next three nights. In Game 3, Anderson pitched five no-hit innings to lead the Braves to a 2-0 win. In Game 4, Dansby Swanson and Soler launched back-to-back homers late and the Braves stunned the Astros 3-2.

Game 5 was a reminder that it wouldn’t be easy. The Braves went up 4-0 on Adam Duvall’s first-inning grand slam. They couldn’t silence the Astros’ offense with a second consecutive bullpen game, however, and they lost 9-5. It was their first defeat at Truist Park in the postseason (7-1) and shifted the series back to Houston.

There goes the “Atlanta sports” thoughts again. But the Braves squashed those behind Max Fried’s arm and Soler’s bat. Fried, coming off two underwhelming outings, looked like himself again despite having his ankle stepped on while covering first base in the opening frame.

Just like Game 6 in 1995, the Braves had a lefty dealing on the mound. Fried pitched six scoreless innings, allowing only four hits, preventing the Astros from assembling anything close to a comeback attempt. No Astro reached scoring position after the first inning against Fried.

The Braves built a five-run lead with towering shots by Soler and Swanson – the two individuals who also helped deliver their Game 4 victory.

“The only thing I can think of is just grateful,” said Swanson, a Cobb County native. “I’m so blessed to be here. This place, obviously, means the world to me. Just to be able to be here is truly remarkable. I’m still a little numb from it all, and I feel like I’ll probably be like that for a few days. I think just grateful is the word that comes to mind. There’s no better place for this to happen. Wow, it’s home. I feel right at home taking this back home.”

To top it off, Freeman, the franchise mainstay who waited through the rebuilding years to experience this October, laced a double to score the Braves’ sixth run. He then homered in the seventh, which brought half his teammates out onto the field in celebration. Freeman can call himself a multi-time All-Star, MVP and now, most important, a world champion.

“I’m still numb,” he said. “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. You 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. In my opinion, we lost the best player in the National League in July. The next day Ian’s going for an MRI during the All-Star break.

“We hit every pothole, every bump you could possibly hit this year, and somehow the car still made it onto the other side. It’s just an incredible group. What Alex did during the trade deadline, we’ve been the best team since the trade deadline, and we played like it all the way into the postseason. We just got hot, and we just carried it over.”

Just as Pederson and Rosario dominated the previous series, the World Series belonged to Soler. He homered three times, launching a leadoff blast in Game 1 and instrumental shots in Game 4 and Game 6. The trade deadline didn’t just save the Braves’ season. It produced the second major championship in Atlanta history.

In 1995, announcer Bob Costas famously proclaimed, “The team of the ‘90s has its world championship” upon the final out of Game 6. In 2021, the team of destiny had its world championship upon the final out of Game 6. Imagine having heard that in June.

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