Amazing Eddie Rosario sends the Braves winging into the World Series

10/23/21 - Atlanta - Atlanta Braves left fielder Eddie Rosario jumps after touching first base following his three-run home run off of Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Walker Buehler (not pictured) to go up 4-1 during the fourth inning in game 6 at the National League Championship Series at Truist Park, Saturday October 23, 2021, in Atlanta. Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com
Caption
10/23/21 - Atlanta - Atlanta Braves left fielder Eddie Rosario jumps after touching first base following his three-run home run off of Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Walker Buehler (not pictured) to go up 4-1 during the fourth inning in game 6 at the National League Championship Series at Truist Park, Saturday October 23, 2021, in Atlanta. Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com

Credit: Hyosub Shin

When last the Braves reached the World Series, they were led there by a backup catcher. Eddie Perez was playing every day in October 1999 because Javy Lopez tore an ACL in midsummer. Twenty-two years later, the Braves are again headed to the Fall Classic, and again the trail was blazed by a guy named Eddie.

ExploreThe AJC's complete coverage on the Braves' win

Eddie Rosario was the fourth of the four outfielders general manager Alex Anthopoulos acquired before the July 30 trade deadline. Maybe you’d heard of him. Doesn’t matter. You know him now. You know because the Braves plied him from Cleveland for a way-past-it Pablo Sandoval. You know because a guy hired to help replace the irreplaceable Ronald Acuna has turned into Ronald Acuna.

Rosario scored the Braves’ first run in the National League Championship Series against the Dodgers. He drove in the game-winner in Game 2. He hit two home runs and a double in Game 4. He led off Saturday’s Game 6 with a single. He made an out the next time up. The time after that, he sent the Braves winging toward Houston and the World Series. Game 1 is Tuesday.

The score was tied 1-1. Walker Buehler, a great pitcher but a surprise starter working on short rest, walked Travis d’Arnaud with two out. Manager Brian Snitker made the kind of choice that can get a manager fired, except when it works out, which this did. He pinch-hit for Ian Anderson, whose four innings had been the best of any Braves starter in the series. Ehire Adrianza ripped a double down the right-field line. Next up was Rosario, who’d had 13 hits in five-plus games.

Buehler threw two strikes. Rosario fouled off the second. Buehler was throwing fastballs, either his sinker or his cutter, and Rosario fouled off three more. By the at-bat’s seventh pitch, it was clear Buehler couldn’t throw anything past Rosario. There came another cutter, dealt at 94 mph. Rosario sent it screaming toward the right-field fence.

First question: Would it stay fair? It was hit too hard to veer foul. Second question: Would it clear the fence? Yes, if only just. It smashed into Row 1 above the bricks. The Braves led 4-1. They would win 4-2.

Caption
Braves catcher Travis d'Arnaud jumps into the arms of relief pitcher Will Smith (51) after the final out. Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com

Credit: Hyosub Shin

Braves catcher Travis d'Arnaud jumps into the arms of relief pitcher Will Smith (51) after the final out. Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com
Caption
Braves catcher Travis d'Arnaud jumps into the arms of relief pitcher Will Smith (51) after the final out. Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com

Credit: Hyosub Shin

Credit: Hyosub Shin

They won the NLCS 4-2. They outlasted the mighty team that outlasted them over seven games last year. They won a pennant without the great Acuna, which nobody thought possible, but when you’ve got the suddenly great Rosario, all things seem possible.

Said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts: “We had no answer for him – lefties, righties, hitting it the other way, pulling it.”

Said Snitker: “It was amazing how locked in he was. Didn’t matter what arm they were throwing with.”

We can’t say Rosario had an immediate impact. He didn’t make his Braves debut until a month after his acquisition, having had to rehab a sore abdominal. He hit for the cycle in the biggest win of the regular season, a Sunday game after two losses in San Francisco that saw Max Fried throw a shutout. Rosario had a hit in all four games of the Division Series, his two-run double tying the decisive Game 4, which Freddie Freeman won with a home run.

That was a warmup. Rosario went 14-for-25 against the Dodgers. That’s a batting average of .560. He had six extra-base hits. He hit three homers. He drove in nine runs. He scored six. It’s among the best playoff series by anyone ever, and it’s a classic case of the right man – though few among us saw Rosario as more than fill-in – appearing at the absolutely right time.

These Braves aren’t a timid bunch. With Rosario setting an even bolder example, they became fearless. They didn’t worry when they lost Game 1 in Milwaukee. They didn’t fret when they lost Games 3 and 5 to the Dodgers, no matter how many times they were asked about the similarities to last season, when they’d blown 2-0 and 3-1 series leads.

This didn’t figure to be their breakthrough year – they won 88 games, the fewest among the 10 playoff qualifiers, but that’s the thing about breakthroughs. You don’t know they’re coming until they’re here. The Braves lost last October because they weren’t quite as good as the Dodgers, who were great. But that was then. In this series, the underdog was always the aggressor.

Braves 4, Dodgers 2 (box score)

Baseball is a funny game. Going by regular-season records, this is the worst Braves’ team of the past four. The first three fell short of the World Series. This one will head for Texas walking on air. The Eddie Rosario who was deemed surplus to requirements by Minnesota and then Cleveland will live forever in Braves’ annals, same as another Eddie does.

As it happened, Eddie Perez – long a Braves’ coach, he’s now a special assistant in baseball operations – was at Truist Park on Saturday. He served as an interpreter for a pregame press session with outfielder Jorge Soler. This correspondent wondered if Perez recalled the name of the player who’d been the NLCS MVP against the Mets in 1999.

“Everybody knows,” Perez said, though not everybody did.

Asked if he knew, Soler said he didn’t. He looked at Perez. “Now he knows,” Perez said. “Now he knows.”

Said Soler, smiling: “It was Eddie.”

It was Eddie, and so it is again. “I had to have surgery after the playoff because I was carrying the whole team,” Perez said, to much laughter.

There’s a new MVP named Eddie, and he has carried a team and a city on the giddiest baseball ride of this century. For 22 years we’ve wondered what it would take for the Braves to reach the event that, back in the ‘90s, became their autumn home. We have our answer. It took Eddie Rosario, who said afterward, the MVP trophy sitting in front of him: “I want more. I want to win the World Series.”

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