A series that for 20-1/2 innings had been a-jangle with nerves reached its climax with the giddy Braves posing for faux selfies. When last this franchise had won a playoff round, there were no selfies. The first iPod hadn’t been released. The iPhone was years away.
On Oct. 1, 2020, the Braves won their first postseason series since Paul Bako – remember him? – hit a clinching home run off the Astros' Shane Reynolds at Turner Field on Oct. 12, 2001. That was two Uptons and one Uggla ago. It was one massive rebuild executed by two Johns (Coppolella and Hart) ago. It happened in a different stadium in a different county. The breakthrough seemed forever in coming, but finally it arrived.
The Braves beat Cincinnati, the team advertised as having the better starting pitching, with a display of starting pitching unseen around here since the Octobers of the early ’90s. A day after Max Fried made like Steve Avery, the rookie Ian Anderson made like John Smoltz. The Reds ended the series with as many runs as they had when Fried delivered the first pitch of Game 1. (A called strike, by the way.)
Said Ronald Acuna, whose fifth-inning double put the Braves ahead to stay, of Ozuna’s blast: “As soon as he hit it, we knew it was gone.”
Nineteen years of organizational and civic frustration fell away with two triumphant home runs. The Braves won 5-0 on Thursday. They won the series 2-0. They drew the Round 1 opponent nobody wanted, and won pulling away.
Said manager Brian Snitker of his Braves: “They faced some great pitching. My god, those guys were All-Stars.”
Credit: Atlanta Braves
Snitker called the Braves' clubhouse celebration “controlled chaos.” (In this pandemic year, the media has no access to such antics.) Of his team’s coming trip to Houston for a National League Division Series, he said: “I’m excited to go to that bubble. I know some of our guys are probably going to pack too many clothes.”
Of the nine Braves pitchers who worked over two days, all ended with a series ERA of 0.00. The final 12 Reds to bat Thursday made outs. Two young Braves starters and a boatload of able relievers made it almost unfair for the visitors, who’d batted a big-league worst .212 and who’d scored 60 percent of their runs – an all-time high – on home runs. Good pitching tends to beat good hitting. We just saw great pitching overwhelm terrible hitting.
Said Snitker: “I liked our chances after we scored the one run.”
Acuna’s RBI double off Luis Castillo marked the only run the Braves scored off a starter over two days. The Reds loaded the bases against Anderson in the second inning – the 22-year-old needed 32 pitches and a visit from pitching coach Rick Kranitz to work through it – but managed one runner thereafter. In his seventh big-league start, Anderson yielded two hits over six innings, striking out nine.
Said Anderson: “I had one inning where I had to battle and grind through it. The confidence you get from that kind of propels you through the rest of the game.”
Said Snitker of Anderson, whose MLB debut came Aug. 26: “All of a sudden, I’m coming to expect it.”
Lest we forget, this was the team that appeared to have run out of starting pitchers. Maybe the lack of arms – and the absence of off-days – will catch up them in the longer rounds, but Anderson and Fried faced Castillo and Trevor Bauer, two of the best in the business, and didn’t blink. “Stoic,” was Snitker’s word for Anderson. It fit him. It fit this whole team.
Well, it did – until it didn’t. As Ozuna’s home run cleared the fence, he stopped short of first base to mime a selfie. When Duvall made the score 5-0, Ozuna summoned him to the end of the dugout for a tandem pose. “He kind of put me in the spotlight,” Duvall said. “I was having fun with it. I’m not super flashy. But we had a big inning.”
Yes. In the end, the Braves resembled the team that finished second in baseball in scoring. They faced great pitching and prevailed. The Reds faced two Braves making their first postseason starts and a host of able relievers, and they wilted. Entering the series, Cincinnati’s Joey Votto had called his team “a freakin' nightmare” of an opponent. The nightmare was two-and-done. The better team is bubble-bound.
“Just checking a box off,” Snitker said, and the Braves have indeed posted but two of the required 13 victories required to win this expanded tournament. Still, when you’ve gone nearly two decades without making it sniffing Round 2, this constituted more than mere box-checking. This was a dragon slain, a mountain scaled. Somebody take a selfie!