This year’s World Series once seemed destined to be a titanic clash, one that would have been woven with narratives of revenge and vindication in an emotionally-charged rematch.
The Dodgers and Houston Astros, after all, were on the verge of reprising their 2017 Fall Classic meeting, of squaring off for a title for the first time since the Astros cheating scandal became public, of settling a much-anticipated final score.
For years, they’ve been baseball’s premier powerhouses, perennially the two biggest juggernauts in the sport.
Their paths, however, never ended up crossing.
This year, they were nothing more than footnotes in someone else’s fairy tale story.
For the first time since 1995, it is the Atlanta Braves who are champions of baseball, claiming the franchise’s fourth World Series title with a 7-0 rout of the Astros in Game 6 on Tuesday night at Minute Maid Park.
The team that was under .500 for the first four months, that finished the regular season with just 88 wins, and that was an underdog in each of its three playoff series — as well as Tuesday’s clincher — proved to be this postseason’s unstoppable force.
Back in spring training, this wouldn’t have been a stunning result. The Braves were considered strong preseason contenders, a burgeoning squad that, despite squandering a 3-1 lead in last year’s National League Championship Series to the Dodgers, had promising young starting pitching, a deep and talented lineup, and the requisite experience to make a deep run in the fall.
But pitcher Mike Soroka never returned from an Achilles’ injury, suffering multiple setbacks that kept him out for the year. In late May, outfielder Marcell Ozuna was arrested on domestic violence charges and spent the remainder of the campaign on administrative leave. Then in early July, the club was dealt its most demoralizing blow, losing superstar outfielder Ronald Acuna Jr to a torn ACL.
At one point, they were as many as eight games back in their division. They never appeared to be in the same realm as the Dodgers, Astros or other leading title favorites.
And even after winning the NL East with a season-ending 36-18 run, then dispatching the Milwaukee Brewers in four games in the division series, the idea they could defeat both the Dodgers and Astros felt far-fetched.
But the Braves team that celebrated on Tuesday — securing the championship behind mammoth home runs from Jorge Soler and Dansby Swanson, and a scoreless six-inning gem from starting pitcher Max Fried — was not the same outfit that trudged through much of the summer.
The arrival of four new outfielders in July, including Soler and former Dodger Joc Pederson, reignited belief in the clubhouse.
The emergence of a bullpen hierarchy as stifling as any in the sport, which took care of the final three innings on Tuesday, made playoff success increasingly attainable.
And as the past month progressed, and all the right pieces kept falling into place, what once seemed impossible began to become reality, culminating in the World Series’ most lopsided clinching win since 1985.
Soler struck Tuesday’s opening blow in the third inning, unloading on a cutter at the knees from Astros starter Luis Garcia for a three-run home run that sailed over the left-field train tracks and out of the ballpark entirely.
In the fifth, Swanson hit a two-run blast nearly as far, the ball clanging off the top of a marble facade before dropping into the Crawford Box seats.
That was more than enough offense for Fried. After escaping a first-inning jam in which his ankle was stomped on during a contested play at first, the left-hander cruised, retiring the second inning in order, getting double-plays in the third and fourth, and stranding another runner in the sixth inning with his sixth and final strikeout of the night.
A half-inning later, franchise first baseman Freddie Freeman delivered the knockout punch, following up his fifth-inning RBI double with a solo home run to left-center, fist-pumping as he rounded the bases wearing the only jersey he’s ever known during a 12-year career.
And when the final out was recorded at 10:33 pm Central time [0333 GMT] — by which point traveling Braves fans had long started to drown out the dwindling majority of Astros faithful — the most unlikely Cinderella run was finally complete.
No repeat for the Dodgers. No redemption for the Astros. Just a euphoric release for a franchise and a fanbase 26 years in the making.