After what can only be described as a storybook season, baseball lifer Brian Snitker sat at the podium trying to put into words the feelings of having become just the second manager in Atlanta Braves history to bring home a championship.
“Surreal. I spent the whole game not letting myself, especially when we scored runs, not letting myself get ahead of things because knowing how quickly things can change,” Snitker said. It’s really good. Yeah, my wildest dreams, I never thought I’d be sitting up here talking to you guys.”
When Snitker took over for Fredi Gonzalez in 2016, very few thought that he would be the manager to see the rebuild through. In fact, if not for a change in the front office, he might not have been. He has overseen a steady progression from their postseason arrival in 2018 to a World Series win in 2021.
“Gosh, that’s another surreal moment, quite honestly, when you put it like that,” Snitker answered when asked about joining Bobby Cox as the only managers in Atlanta history to win the World Series. “Yeah, I can’t wait to take that trophy back and show him either.”
“I’m honored, blessed to be able to sit here in front of you guys as a world champion,” Snitker addied. “It’s something you dream about, but I don’t know that you ever feel like it’s going to be a reality, honestly.”
Except for one nearly tragic instance early on, the Braves pretty much took out all of the drama in Game 6. Fans probably didn’t feel secure until very late but Atlanta grabbed an early lead and kept adding to it. Max Fried and the bullpen took care of the rest.
There was one moment of trepidation though. Jose Altuve led off in the first with a leadoff single. Michael Brantley then grounded to Freeman who tossed to Fried who was covering but missed the bag. Brantley right on Fried’s ankle on the play in a situation that was eerily similar to the play where Tim Hudson suffered a broken ankle while covering the bag against the Mets all those years ago. Fried avoided injury however and got up and retired the next three hitters in order to stymie the momentum.
“That was scary. It was very scary, really, because I couldn’t tell,” Snitker said of the first inning play. “I was just glad when he got up and threw that everything was good. Then he had a really stressful inning after that. I was just kind of wondering what that was going to take, that whole incident would take out of him, and he rebounded and did a great job obviously.”
Yeah, that was a scary moment right there, especially after what happened to Charlie and all,” he added. “So I was really glad that he was able to go on.”
Atlanta came into the game needing a big start from Fried and he delivered, allowing four hits while striking out six over six shutout innings. It was a dominant performance in the biggest moment of the season for the Braves.
With Fried dialed in, Atlanta just needed some runs and Jorge Soler took care of that in the third inning. There were so many subplots to this series Ozzie Albies’ struggles had become one leading into Game 6. Snitker elected to drop him to seventh in the order for the first time all season. He responded with a pair of hits, one of which led off the third inning. After a couple of fly outs, Eddie Rosario worked a walk and set the stage for Soler who launched a monstrous home run over the train tracks in left and out of the stadium to give the Braves a 3-0 lead.
“That was — well, we had one go out a couple days ago, and just all I was thinking about was now we’ve got to hold this lead because we couldn’t a couple days ago,” Snitker said. “He’s been swinging the bat so good. This whole World Series, even just the walks he was taking were really big.”
Soler’s blast was the latest contribution from a trade deadline that remade the club. Not only did it add some much-needed punch to the lineup, but it also injected some life into the clubhouse for a team that was just floating along and had just lost their best player to a season-ending injury.
“It’s the best I’ve experienced, although getting into the division a few years ago, he dropped three pretty good relievers on me at the trade deadline,” Snitker said of the deadline deals and GM Alex Anthopoulos. “Overall, in my experience, this is probably the best I ever witnessed and how a general manager went after this, after everything that happened here, I can’t say enough about Alex.”
“I always say the only thing he’s guilty of is he never stops trying to make this thing better,” Snitker added. “He’s just a tireless worker, he and his staff, trying to make this club better all the time. He’s never going to cash the chips in ever. If there’s ever slightly a chance or a glimmer of hope, he’s going to go out and go for it.”
The Braves added three more runs in the fifth, two on a home run by Dansby Swanson and another on an RBI double by Freddie Freeman. Freeman put the cherry on top with a solo homer in the seventh. As the final out was made, Freeman tucked the ball in his back pocket and later said that he planned to give it to Snitker.
“He’s everything the Braves epitomize,” Snitker said when asked about Freeman. “When you talk about a Braves type player, it’s Freddie Freeman. How he comes to play every day, what he does in our community, the person he is, the emphasis he has on all of his teammates, me in particular. I don’t know what I’d do without him, quite honestly. He’s my rock too. I go to him with things. I’ve been with him since the first day he came here in the Big Leagues. He’s everything that the Braves stand for.”
The chilling reality of the situation is that Freeman is going to wake up the day after the World Series as a free agent. Snitker was asked about Freeman’s status and whether he could ever see Freeman wearing another team’s uniform.
“Personally, no. I think just Freddie Freeman is an Atlanta Brave,” Snitker said. “You never know, though. There’s been bigger things that have happened in my career, but can I imagine it? No. Do I hope he signs back here? Absolutely, but you never know in this business what’s going to happen.”
Coming into the playoffs, the Braves were pretty much an afterthought for everyone. They had just captured a fourth straight division title but it came in the NL East where for most of the season it seemed that no team was too interested in winning it. Flying under the radar was good for this team and grinding all the way to the end allowed them to build momentum. While nobody was paying attention, this team just kept getting better and at the end of the day, they are the ones hoisting the trophy. Snitker was asked if there was a point this postseason where he thought they really could win it all.
“Yeah, there was. I don’t know specifically, but I think after we got through the first round and beat Milwaukee because I knew what a challenge that was going to be with their pitching,” Snitker said. “We won that. Then you win a tough game, some close games like we did in Atlanta in the NLCS, and then it’s like, you know what, I think we can pull this off. We’re pretty good. We’re peaking at the right time. Eddie got hot. The pitching was really good. And I did, I honestly thought and said, you know what, we can pull this off.”
When looking back over the 2021 season it almost feels like two wrapped up in one. The Braves overcame so many obstacles from losing Mike Soroka, Acuña, the distraction of the Marcel Ozuna situation. They even lost Charlie Morton three innings into Game 1 of the World Series, but they didn’t blink. They continued to score timely runs and rely on pitching staff that experienced its fair share of ups and downs during the regular season.
“I think the whole World Series, World Championship, you can’t say enough about our pitching and the analytics staff, the game planning that these guys go through with the pitching coaches and Sal and all them,” Snitker said. “The young guys that we have that are tirelessly working towards that.”
“Good for us that they all were throwing their best baseball all year, that whole bullpen. I don’t think Will gave up a run the entire postseason. Matzek was just spectacular, Minter, Luke Jackson, all them guys that did what they did.”