TORONTO -- The defining swing of Game 6 -- maybe the defining swing of the 2021 World Series -- came with two out in the top of the third inning when Jorge Soler absolutely crushed a three-run home run 446 feet onto the train tracks in left field at Minute Maid Park.
Soler’s home run set in motion a one-sided game that Atlanta would eventually win, 7-0, on their way to their first World Series title since 1995. And how fitting that the biggest swing of the evening came from one of the players president of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos acquired this summer on his way to one of the best trade deadlines we’ve seen in recent memory.
Soler had an exceptional finish with Atlanta, hitting 14 regular season home runs then three more in the World Series on his way to series MVP honours. But at the time he was acquired from Kansas City? Back then, he was struggling and the trade was easy to overlook.
The same could be said for NLCS MVP Eddie Rosario, centre fielder Adam Duvall and Atlanta’s pearl-adorned right fielder, Joc Pederson. Yet once Ronald Acuna Jr.’s season ended with a torn ACL, Anthopoulos responded with a series of season-changing deals -- even if they were unheralded at the time.
None of the players Atlanta acquired at the deadline are the equal of Acuna Jr., who cheered his teammates on from the third-base dugout Tuesday night. Collectively, though, they more than made up for the absence of one of baseball’s best young players.
For now, it’s a story worth celebrating. And next summer, when GMs are wondering whether to go for it or wait until next year, this Atlanta team will offer a reminder of what can happen when you try to win.
Now, some more observations from Atlanta’s series win:
ON AN INDIVIDUAL LEVEL…
There was no clear feel-good story in this World Series considering the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal and Atlanta’s blatant disregard for the many Indigenous leaders who have called for the team to stop doing ‘the chop.’
At the same time, compelling figures on both teams added intrigue to the series. On the winning side, Anthopoulos becomes the first Canadian GM to win the World Series alongside manager Brian Snitker, who can celebrate after 45 years as a player, coach and manager in the Atlanta organization. And it was fitting that 12-year veteran Freddie Freeman contributed to the win with a home run in the seventh inning.
Meanwhile, Dusty Baker will have to wait a little longer if he’s going to win a World Series as a manager (he won as a player with the 1981 Dodgers). Despite a well-managed series in which he made defensible moves at every turn, his season ends in disappointment. Now he’s a free agent with no contract beyond 2021, as are Carlos Correa, Zack Greinke and Justin Verlander.
FRIED AT HIS BEST
After a disappointing start in Game 2, Max Fried was at his best in the Game 6 clincher. Making the 17th playoff start of his career, the 27-year-old worked quickly and aggressively, challenging the Astros with a variety of pitches within the strike zone.
Atlanta turned it over to the bullpen after six scoreless innings during which Fried allowed just four hits while striking out six. And at first glance, that pitching line might not look particularly dominant, but at a time that starters are getting pulled earlier and earlier those six innings were instrumental in Atlanta’s clinching win.
If anything, there was a strong case for leaving Fried in the game longer, but Snitker went to his bullpen and was rewarded with another exceptional outing from Tyler Matzek before Will Smith closed out the win.
AS FOR HOUSTON’S STARTERS…
While the result of the Soler home run was incredibly costly for Houston, it’s also worth acknowledging the context surrounding it.
Pitching at the time was Luis Garcia, a rookie right-hander working on three days’ rest. While Garcia certainly earned his place in the World Series with an ERA of 3.30 during an impressive rookie season, pitching on short rest is never ideal. But at a time that Verlander and Lance McCullers Jr. are on the injured list, the Astros had a depleted pitching staff.
Garcia gave them what he could. This time it just wasn’t enough.
As Atlanta closes out a wildly successful season, a couple of things are worth acknowledging.
First off, the Atlanta team that we watched this October was much better than their 88-73 regular season would suggest. They played much of the season without key players like Soler, Rosario, Duvall, Pederson and catcher Travis d’Arnaud, but by the time the season ended, all those players were healthy and productive. The team that won the World Series was a very good one.
With that said, this isn’t anybody’s idea of a super-team. Even after a wildly successful trade deadline, the Dodgers and Giants still had better teams on paper.
But Atlanta made its way into the playoffs and earned a World Series title by playing great baseball when it counted most. So they deserve credit for what they’ve done. And the other 29 teams can hope they’ll be next.