Dave Roberts had just changed pitchers for the 717th time over the weekend. He’d summoned Kenley Jansen, usually but not always the Dodgers’ closer, to work to Eddie Rosario with two out in the ninth. By then, the Braves had surmounted two two-run leads. A Rosario hit — he’d already had three — would break the latest tie and win Game 2 for the Braves, who’d won Game 1 in not-dissimilar fashion. There’s your preamble. Here’s what I, turning to esteemed AJC colleague Gabriel Burns, said:
“If they win this, they win the World Series.”
For dramatic effect, I’d love to report that no sooner had the word “Series” been uttered that we heard the crack of the bat and saw Rosario’s rocket glance off Corey Seager’s glove into center field. That, however, would be an embellishment. Truth to tell, at least five seconds passed before Rosario swung and Seager whiffed — to me, that’s an E-6 — and the Braves were up 2-0. I looked again at Gabe and cocked an eyebrow as if to say, “See?”
Full disclosure: It was after another Game 2 that these fingers typed the most infamous sentence of what has become a lengthy career. It likened the 1996 Braves — who’d just won twice in Yankee Stadium to open the World Series after crushing the Cardinals by an aggregate 32-1 over the final three games of the NLCS — to the 1927 Yankees. It did NOT say that the Braves were better than the ‘27 Yankees. It did pose the question: “How would the Yankees of Ruth and Gehrig have fared against the Braves’ pitching?”
The Braves didn’t win another game in that World Series. They haven’t won a World Series game since. Boston had the curse of the Bambino. The Cubs had their billygoat. The Braves have dumb ol’ MB.
Over time, I’ve developed a fairly thick skin over idiotic predictions. (Lots of practice.) But it was said of Dean Smith that the one game you never mentioned was his failed Four Corners in the 1977 NCAA final against Marquette. I’m that way with Ruth and Gehrig. I laugh off all the others. I grit my teeth when I hear “1927.” I’m gritting them now.
About last night’s proclamation: Yeah, it’s the kind of thing a sportswriter will say, and nothing compels me to share it. I could have devoted today’s missive to how Roberts overmanaged the heck out of Games 1 and 2 and how the Dodgers have outsmarted themselves. (They needed a mound visit to discuss the third-inning plate appearance of Johan Camargo – who, as Mark Bowman of MLB.com noted, hasn’t had a big-league hit in 2021.)
Instead I’m offering this. In the cold light of Monday’s dawn, genius boy still believes the 2021 Braves, who spent four-plus months under .500 and who won 18 fewer regular-season games than the Dodgers, will win it all. There’s a joy about this team we haven’t seen in any October since the worst-to-first 1991. They act as if all those October flops were the work of some other Braves. (Which, to be fair, most were.) They’re 5-4 against the Dodgers in playoff games over the past 13 months. This is not a weekend fluke.
The Braves struck out 14 times in Game 1. Their pitchers walked nine in Game 2. “That’s not a recipe for success,” manager Brian Snitker said of the walks, but it worked on a night when L.A. managed one hit over the final six innings. Chris Taylor changed Game 1 by getting caught between bases. The estimable Seager changed Game 2 by not gloving a hard grounder. (Call me a homer, but Dansby Swanson makes that play.)
We know the Dodgers can come back from a 2-0 deficit. They did last October. But this isn’t last year, and these aren’t the same Braves. Think back to what happened in Game 3 of the 2020 NLCS. The Braves started Kyle Wright, coming off a fine Game 3 start against the Marlins in the previous round. The Dodgers scored 11 runs in that first inning. Wright has made two big-league starts since. He’s not on the playoff roster.
The Braves’ Game 3 starter will be Charlie Morton. The Dodgers won’t score 11 in the first on Tuesday.
Last year’s NLCS was staged on a muted neutral field. Yes, the Braves must visit Dodger Stadium, but the Dodgers already know they cannot win the series without returning here. The Braves are different, and their crowds are different. There’s none of the fatalism that attached itself to the post-1996 Braves. A Braves game has become a joyous event. Freddie Freeman hits the home run that beats Milwaukee and then strikes out seven times – and his Braves lead 2-nil.
Sometimes you get a feeling. Sometimes that feeling is dashed by reality. That said, it didn’t surprise me that the Braves won last night. As Gabe is my witness, It won’t surprise me when they win it all.