For the first time in 22 years, the Atlanta Braves are headed back to the World Series. The Braves eliminated the Los Angeles Dodgers Saturday night with a 4-2 win in Game 6 of the NLCS Saturday night. Series MVP Eddie Rosario hit a three-run home run in the fourth inning to give Atlanta a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. The Dodgers threatened in the seventh but Tyler Matzek slammed the door, erasing any opportunity they had for a comeback.
For the core members of this team and particularly Brian Snitker, this was the culmination of a long road back through an often messy rebuild. The 2021 season was full of trials as the team overcame injuries to players such as Ronald Acuña Jr. and Mike Soroka. Alex Anthopoulos went and got reinforcements at the trade deadline but this team still didn’t climb above the .500 mark until August 6.
They did finally gel, capturing a fourth straight division championship and then are in the midst of a postseason run that their fans will never forget.
“I’m not sure I’m feeling yet, honestly,” Brian Snitker said after the game. “I’m kind of numb. Pretty good feeling, though. Just happy for the guys, the organization.”
One of those new additions came up big when it mattered. Eddie Rosario was a bit of an afterthought since he was on the injured list when he was acquired in a trade that amounted to a salary dump for the Cleveland Indians. Rosario hit .271/.330/.573 with seven home runs over the final 33 games of the regular season. He has taken it to another level in the postseason hitting .474/.524/.789 with three home runs. Rosario went 14-for-25 in the NLCS setting a franchise record for most hits in a series. No hit however was bigger than his fourth inning home run off of Walker Buehler. Rosario was named NLCS MVP as a result and left his manager in awe.
“It’s just amazing how locked in he is,” Snitker said of Rosario. “I said it doesn’t matter what arm they’re throwing with he’s just so locked in. It’s been something else. I think I told you earlier, it’s kind of the reports that we got from the guys in Minnesota that knew him that this was a guy that you want up in a big situation and he had a bunch of big situations in this series.”
Atlanta’s bullpen was much maligned for a good portion of the season. It settled in down the stretch and has been a strength throughout the postseason. With two outs in the fourth and the game tied 1-1, Snitker was faced with a big decision when Buehler walked Travis d’Arnaud. He opted to pinch-hit for Ian Anderson who had just allowed a game-tying single to Cody Bellinger in the top of the inning but was otherwise solid.
Ehire Adrianza rewarded him with a broken bat double to right, setting the stage for Rosario’s three-run blast to give the Braves a 4-1 lead. Atlanta still had five innings to cover and the bullpen took over from there. A.J. Minter struck out four of the six batters he faced over two scoreless innings. He gave way to Luke Jackson who struggled allowing two hits, a walk and a run without retiring a batter. Tyler Matzek entered the game in one of the most difficult spots imaginable. Runners at second and third with no outs and the go-ahead run in the box. He needed just 11 pitches to strike out future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols, pinch-hitter Stephen Souza and then Mookie Betts to escape the inning.
“Our bullpen was unbelievable this whole series,” Snitker said. “What Minter and Matzek did today was just phenomenal. Matzek’s been doing it the entire series.”
“I said I would like to cut that MVP thing up and give him a little piece of it because that guy was just spectacular the whole series,” Snitker added. “Minter pulled down two innings the other day, pulled down two innings today. He’s been throwing, all of them, they have just been so, so good.”
Matzek made five appearances in the NLCS and allowed one hit and two runs in six innings. He struck out 11 and walked just two, but he has never been more dominant than he was in the seventh inning of Game 6 with the game on the line. Minter was equally impressive in the series allowing two hits and two walks over six scoreless innings to go along with eight strikeouts. Even the often ridiculed Will Smith turned in four scoreless appearances allowing just one hit and a walk.
“The bullpen, they had two days off, which was awesome,” Snitker said. “Now they’re going to get two more off, which is even better because those guys have been huge for us the last six weeks of the season when we were in that win mode where we had to win in order to make this happen.”
Snitker described the surreal feeling as AJ Pollock grounded to Dansby Swanson for the final out.
“I just kind of sat in my chair and the guys swamped me,” Snitker said. “I was just hoping I could, honestly, just hoping I could hold it together because it was pretty, a lot comes at you after all the years and everything you go through and now to be able to experience this, it’s really something really cool.”
Snitker added that he never lost faith in the group even as they struggled their way through the first four months of the season while dealing with a number of injuries to key players. Luckily, they were able to stay within striking distance until Anthopoulos worked his magic at the deadline.
“Well, I think, yeah, you hope it is,” Snitker said when asked if he thought a World Series run was possible when they were struggling. “I meant that too because I thought, even teams that don’t have great years get on a run. Even the bad teams. We hadn’t got on a run yet and we weren’t a bad team. We just had a hard time putting everything together for an extended period of the season.”
“But we were a good team and I just kept thinking, our best baseball’s ahead of us. I think Alex helped that out a lot with the acquisitions, and then we kind of got rolling. I think that 9-0 road trip we had, we played nine games against teams that you’re supposed to beat, which is really hard to do. There’s a lot of teams in the Division that went on those and it’s easy to lose those games too. But we won that. That’s something that you just don’t do and I think that was a big thing that kind of kicked us ahead a little bit.”
The Braves have now made four straight trips to the postseason. This run was obviously the most difficult but has been the most rewarding. Snitker said many times during the series that he thought the learning experience of those previous trips would pay dividends. They could have folded under the narrative many times, but they didn’t, and now they are headed back to the World Series.
I know Alex and I talked about this,” Snitker said. “When we won this Division we were like this is probably the most gratifying one of the four, just for everything that we went through maybe with individual players, with injuries, just trying to get the thing on track. So this is really special right now. I’m so proud of this group of guys.”