The pennant-winning Braves and a magical Saturday night

Credit: Hyosub Shin

Credit: Hyosub Shin

In the moment he gained admittance to the club of World Series managers, Brian Snitker — a baseball lifer who’s 66 and who assumed he’d seen everything — wasn’t quite sure what to do. He didn’t jump for joy. He’d didn’t do the Jim-Valvano-in-Albuquerque-thing and run around looking for somebody to hug. In that moment, he didn’t do much of anything except think back.

“I honestly just sat in my chair,” he said, speaking early Sunday after one of the greatest Saturday nights the Atlanta Braves have ever known. “The guys (his coaches) kind of swamped me. I was just hoping, honestly, that I could hold it together. A lot comes at you after all the years, everything you go through. And now, to be able to experience this, it’s really something really cool.”

He thought of Ronnie, his wife. “Everything that she (went through.) She’s been real emotional through a lot of this, and rightly so. She’s the one who dragged our kids all over the Southeast, and I would leave in February and come home in September and she would hold a job and (run the kids to) cheerleading and baseball and all that. It was a lot of that stuff — the kids setting up a pro shop in Myrtle Beach (where he was managing the minor-league Pelicans) and my daughter getting on a char and singing ‘Root, root, root for my daddy’s team’ at the seventh inning stretch.”

He thought of his son, whom he’ll be seeing soon, Troy Snitker being the hitting coach for the Houston Astros, the Braves’ opponent in the 2021 World Series. “It’s like the Snitkers are going to have a World Series trophy in their house,” Brian Snitker said. “I don’t know who’s going to own it, but we’re going to have one. That’s a pretty cool thing, too.”

Also cool: Eddie Rosario, a Brave since July 30, was the MVP of the National League Championship Series. That’s something only one person in this world saw coming. “I always knew I could win a trophy like this,” he said, speaking through translator Franco Garcia even deeper into Sunday morning, “regardless of what anyone ever said or thought of me.”

Credit: Hyosub Shin

Credit: Hyosub Shin

Rosario shared the podium with Freddie Freeman, who made his Atlanta Braves debut in September 2010. “I think this might be the definition of pure joy,” Freeman said. “It really is. It hasn’t hit me at all. I don’t really know how to feel. Usually (after the final game) we’re sitting in our locker and just thinking about the whole season and getting ready for next year, and (this time) we finally did it.”

The Braves are Series-bound for the first time since 1999. The stars of that team, which outlasted the Mets in a six-game NLCS, were Chipper Jones, Andruw Jones, Kevin Millwood and the Hall of Fame triplets — John Smoltz, Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine. The MVP of the pennant-winning series was Eddie Perez, a career backup who was Maddux’s favorite catcher. Perez was playing every day because the estimable Javy Lopez, MVP of the 1996 NLCS against the Cardinals, tore his ACL in July. (The Braves won a lot in those days. They also won a lot of awards, some improbable.)

Midway through the summer, the 2021 Braves wouldn’t have been anyone’s choice as the team to break the 22-year drought. They were having trouble just breaking .500. Then general manager Alex Anthopoulos went out and bought a whole new outfield, and by September we were hooked on Joc Pederson’s pearls and Jorge Soler’s speed and power and the reality that Adam Duvall, serving a second stint as a Brave, was leading the National League in RBIs. There also was Rosario, of whom Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said: “We just couldn’t figure him out.”

Remember, this was a Braves’ team without Ronald Acuna, lost to an ACL tear in July. It’s now known as the team with Eddie Rosario, who was 14-for-25 against the Dodgers with three home runs, two doubles, a triple and six RBIs. His three-run homer in the fourth inning of Game 6 provided the series-winning runs. Walker Buehler kept throwing fastballs, both sinkers and cutters. Rosario kept fouling them off. Then he got a 94-mph cutter he didn’t foul off.

Said Roberts: “You can tell that (Rosario’s bat) was sped up. I don’t want to second-guess a sequence, but certainly there were different things we could have done. But we didn’t. (Rosario) was on the hard stuff, yeah.”

Snitker: “It’s amazing how locked in he was. It didn’t matter what arm they’re throwing with.”

Credit: Hyosub Shin

Credit: Hyosub Shin

Freeman: “We lost the best player in the National League, in my opinion, and we’re going to the World Series without Ronald Acuna.”

Said reliever AJ Minter, who was demoted to Gwinnett earlier this season: “We’ve been through a lot of failures. That’s what makes this special.”

Freeman: “We had like 40-foot potholes that we hit, like humongous speed bumps. Everything you could possibly see in a road, we hit it. Somehow we overcame all that … Anything that got thrown at us, we overcame it. We lost Jorge, our leadoff hitter (after a positive COVID test before the NLCS).”

For most of this regular season, the notion of an October chockful of magical nights at the ballpark seemed LOL-funny. You can’t get above .500 and you’re making World Series plans? Even after the Braves got rolling in August, it was easy to view them as a plucky-but-flawed team. Yet here they stand, having dismissed the 95-win Brewers and the 106-win Dodgers, headed now for Texas and a best-of-seven with the 95-win Astros.

The story of this season is many stories — reliever Tyler Matzek’s is among the best — but at heart they’re the same story. As Freeman said, “We just kept getting back up.”

Said Minter: “That’s what makes us into the people we are today, the baseball players we are. If you haven’t gone through failure, then you haven’t experienced life. Going through failure, it builds you. I mean, it’s going to make you better. If you have the taste of failing and the taste of winning, that’s what keeps you driving. I choose winning every time. That’s our fuel.”.

Snitker: “This was perfect. That was something special out there.”