The Atlanta Braves have a bright future.
The immediate past isn’t quite so luminous.
Once again, the Braves won’t be participants in baseball’s Fall Classic. They’re still 0-for-the millennium.
But this time the Braves came as close as they possibly could without reaching baseball’s Promised Land. Agonizingly close.
Losing Game 7 by a single run evokes the timeless line from John Greenleaf Whittier: “Of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these: It might have been.”
The fabulous series between the Braves and Dodgers will leave the Braves forever wondering what might have been. To be so close, only to have the entire series turn on a baserunning gaffe.
Now, its not often that a series turns on a baserunning blunder. I mean, kids learn to run the bases before they can hit and throw. By the time they become professionals, negotiating their way around the bases has become second nature.
But there are notable exceptions. Baseball historians still resurrect the memory of Babe Ruth ending the 1926 World Series by getting thrown out trying to steal second.
Braves fans have their own gruesome memory: Lonnie Smith pausing at second on Terry Pendleton’s double in the eighth inning of a scoreless Game 7 of the 1991 World Series. Smith would stop at third and remain there as Ron Gant grounded out to first and Sid Bream hit into the rarely observed 3-2-3 double play. Vivid memory, you bet.
Sunday night, ignominy found Dansby Swanson, which was a shame. He’d had a fine season, some key hits in the postseason, and had homered in the second inning to give the Braves a 2-0 lead.
But in the fourth inning, he stood on third with no outs and Austin Riley on second. When Nick Markakis hit a sharp grounder to third baseman Justin Turner, Swanson, to everyone’s utter astonishment and horror, broke for home. The absolute worst play at the worst possible time.
After the ensuing rundown erased Swanson, Riley compounded matters by hesitating, and then getting thrown out at third.
If you looked closely, you could see Lady Momentum waft across the diamond into the Dodger dugout. The Braves wouldn’t even muster a hit the rest of the game.
“It was huge,” manager Brian Snitker told David O’Brien of The Athletic. “It’s hard to score runs in the postseason, and when you have a situation like that … the infield is back, so you see the ball up the middle. We’re normally a really good baserunning team, and we just did some fundamental things wrong.”
Swanson’s gaffe wasn’t the only one in the series, just the most glaring one at the end. “We made some mistakes,” Snitker added. “We shot ourselves in the foot a couple of times. It really hurts.
And in games like these, where runs are so hard to come by, you’ve pretty much got to play faultless baseball.”
But shortly after the final out, Snitker was already espousing the positive.
“The thing that stands out is, we had a lot of guys step up. Obviously, it didn’t go the way we wanted. It was an unbelievable experience for a really young team.”
Likewise, Freddie Freeman chose to look ahead. “This is the start of something special for a long time,” Freeman told Mark Bowman of MLB.com. “This moment sucks, but the Atlanta Braves organization is set up for success for a long time. This group of guys we had this year started something special.”
Snitker concurred. “A lot of our young players grew up a lot these last three months,” he told Bowman. “I’m as excited as I can be about the future of this organization and club. This is a young team that continues to grow and get battle tested. Where we have come in the last three years is amazing to me, with our club and organizationally. We’re just going to continue to get better.”
So, while the Braves could mull over what might have been, they seem to be twisting that into a realization of just how close they are when measured against the best team money can buy.
“We heard it all year that the Dodgers were the best team in baseball,” Freeman told O’Brien. “We took them to Game Seven, and we gave them a little heart murmur, I think, in this series. We gave them everything they could handle. And they just made the right plays at the right time. You just feel confident going into next year with so many strides that so many guys made in this shortened season.”
The future’s bright indeed. Just wait ‘till next year.