It’s not as if the Braves haven’t won anything. Since 1990, they’ve won their division 20 times over 31 completed seasons. Over three decades, they’ve been good far more often than they’ve been bad. So why have the past 13 months felt so …

Different? Yes.

Giddy? Absolutely.

Rewarding? Yep. And that’s the key.

Upon turning a skeptical city on its ear in the worst-to-first 1991, the Braves took 14 consecutive division titles. It took them a while to win it all, and when it happened in 1995 World Series, our collective response wasn’t “Hallelujah!” but “Finally!” To their credit, those Braves kept winning big – just not as big.

From 1997 through 2019, the Braves made the playoffs 14 times. They won five rounds. They even lost that stupid wild-card game. After sweeping Houston – the Astros were then in the National League – in a 2001 division series, the Braves were 13-29 in postseason games. They lost 10 series in a row. After eight of those, the opponent celebrated on Georgia sod.

The Braves of the early ‘90s made us believe. They chased down the Dodgers in 1991. Francisco Cabrera swung and Sid Bream slid in ‘92. The ‘93 Braves won their 104th game on the season’s final day to shade San Francisco, stuck on 103. Their matchless pitchers held Cleveland, which batted .291 as a team in 1995, to a .179 average in the World Series. Even the ‘96 bunch gave us a moment, falling behind St. Louis 3-1 in the NLCS and outscoring the Cardinals 32-1 thereafter.

Those apparently invincible Braves blew a 2-0 lead and a World Series. Their status as the Team of the ‘90s soon was revoked. We went from believing the Braves could work any wonder to assuming every postseason would end in tears. It always did, all the way to Oct. 9, 2019. An NLDS the Braves came close to winning in four games was lost in a Game 5, when the Cardinals led 11-0 after a half-inning. Another opponent celebrated in Braves Country. Another bubble burst.

The 2020 playoffs, lengthened and rerouted by COVID-19, saw the Braves break through. They beat the Reds, then the Marlins. They led the Dodgers 3-1. They fell one game short of the World Series, but their youth and talent made us wonder if more and better lay ahead. Alas, the 2021 team played into August without breaking .500, prompting us to say, “Fooled again.”

But wait. Working with an outfield cobbled together at the trade deadline, the Braves won the only division an 88-win team could. They upset Milwaukee, which won 95 games. They stunned the Dodgers, who’d won 106. They danced into the World Series acting as if they’d been doing this all their lives, which almost none of them had, which made it even better.

The NLCS MVP was Eddie Rosario, acquired July 30. The World Series MVP was Jorge Soler, acquired an hour later. The style influencer was Joc Pederson, wearer of pearls; he was acquired July 15, five days after Ronald Acuna tore his ACL. The MVP postseason in toto was reliever Tyler Matzek, who in 2019 pitched for the Texas AirHogs.

If it wasn’t quite like 1991 – there was no need to reinvent the foam tomahawk – Autumn 2021 was darn close. A team we’d written off wrote actual history. (We AJC folks published a book, not to mention commemorative editions that kept selling out.) The Atlanta-to-Cobb-County parade was a wonder. Where’d all those people come from?

We’d seen the Braves win a World Series, but never a World Series like that. The Braves of ‘21 made us remember why we’d come to watch this team in the first place. We came to believe in our baseball team in a way we hadn’t since that rat Jim Leyritz did his dirty deed in 1996.

A year later, we’ve found no reason – cue the cheesy-great Journey song – to stop believing. Come 2022, the reigning champ fell 10-1/2 games behind. But guys who’d had no part in last year’s doings, Michael Harris and Spencer Strider and Vaughn Grissom, breathed life into a season on the respirator. Come October, the Braves, needing to sweep the Mets, swept the Mets.

Winning the East brought a Round 1 bye. Round 2 begins Tuesday, and we know the Braves won’t face the Dodgers. This team isn’t favored to win a second consecutive World Series, but the odds of it happening are much shorter than the ones flouted a year ago. They’re young and brash enough to believe they can do anything. And so, once again, do we.

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