Braves vs Astros: A World Series 6 decades in the making

Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
1 Comment

Freddie Freeman swinging onto baseball’s biggest stage for the first time, Jose Altuve & Co. back for more. Luis Garcia, Framber Valdez and a fresh set of Houston arms facing Ozzie Albies, Austin Riley and these eager, young Atlanta bats.

And the endless quest for Mr. Dusty Baker.

Braves-Astros, a lot to savor in this World Series – even a family faceoff. Atlanta manager Brian Snitker’s son, Troy, is a Houston hitting coach.

“It’s like the Snitkers are going to have a World Series trophy in their house here,” dad said Saturday night. “I don’t know who is going to own it, but we’re going to have one. So that’s a pretty cool thing, too.”

A matchup six decades in the making, pairing former National League rivals who’ve played more than 700 times, including five postseason series. Think of The Hammer and The Toy Cannon teeing up home run derby at the Astrodome, or Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz vs. Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio on a June evening on TBS.

Because of scheduling and COVID-19, the Astros and Braves haven’t seen each other since 2017. They’ll now meet for Game 1 on Tuesday night in Houston.

The Astros opened as a 3-2 favorite on the FanDuel site.

But before we begin, let’s just say it: There are many fans who might not be thrilled to see either team here in late October.

Altuve and Astros teammates Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman and Yuli Gurriel will forever wear the label of cheaters after being part of a team that devised an illegal, sign-stealing scheme on its way to the 2017 championship.

At Minute Maid Park, they’re cheered. At every other ballpark, they’re heckled — and worse — as the game’s worst villains.

“Ever since the news came out, the bad news that we’ve had to deal with about what happened in 2017, I think we’ve all wanted to prove what kind of class of players that we are and team that we are,” AL Championship Series MVP Yordan Alvarez said.

“I wasn’t here with the team in 2017, but I’ve gotten booed just as equal as anybody else. So I think we all have the same mentality that we really want to win a World Series to demonstrate that we are just a great team,” he said.

The Astros are in the World Series for the third time in five years and got there minus ace Justin Verlander, who missed the season while recovering from Tommy John surgery.

The Braves overcame a season-ending knee injury to dynamic star Ronald Acuna Jr. in July and surged after being stuck at 52-55 in early August. Boosted by NL Championship Series MVP Eddie Rosario, Atlanta is making its first appearance in the Fall Classic since 1999.

Yet while the roster and stadium have changed, the sights and sounds in Atlanta still remain. Throughout the NLCS, fans at Truist Park emphatically chopped and chanted during big moments for the Braves.

In an era of social reckoning that saw the Cleveland Indians change their name to the Guardians and Washington’s NFL team get rid of a nickname considered racist, the scene in Atlanta is sure to draw increased attention.

On the field – and the bench – a lot of eyes will be on Baker.

He won the World Series as a player with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1981 and has taken five teams to the playoffs as a manager but never won the crown.

Baker took this job in 2020 in the wake of Houston’s cheating scandal — “there’s a few things I still hadn’t accomplished” — and at 72, with a lifetime of credentials, gets another chance.

“Last year I felt like a substitute teacher, really. I was an outsider,” Baker said. “But this year, they made me feel like I was one of them and they were definitely always one of me. That’s what it’s all about. Everybody talks teamwork, they talk about a team, but it’s a feeling that you get for each other.”

Baker’s history in this matchup runs especially deep. Playing with Braves great Hank Aaron in 1968, he got first major league hit at the Astrodome in a loss to Jimmy Wynn and Houston.

Over the years, these teams met a lot, starting when the 1962 expansion Houston Colt .45s took on the Milwaukee Braves. There were the days of catcher Joe Torre trying to throw out young Joe Morgan, the Niekro brothers pitching against each other and fireballing Nolan Ryan facing Dale Murphy.

The .45s became the Astros in 1965 and from 1997-2005, the clubs played five times in the NL Division Series, with Atlanta winning three of the matchups. Houston moved from NL Central to the AL West in 2013.

Snitker certainly followed all of them. The 66-year-old Atlanta manager has spent four decades in the Braves’ organization as a player, coach and skipper.

He tuned in Friday night when the Astros and son Troy beat Boston in the clinching Game 6 of the ALCS.

“That was neat. Proud of him. Got to FaceTime with him. Watched the celebration,” he said, hours before the Braves finished off the Dodgers in Game 6 of the NLCS.

“I told him the first time, it’s not this easy, you know, it’s really hard to get there, as we’re seeing. But it’s been a great experience for him and I’m happy for him. I said, I hope I can join you,” he said.

Hours later, he and the Braves were on their way.

Report: Brandon Nimmo staying with Mets on 8-year, $162M deal

David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports
0 Comments

NEW YORK – Center fielder Brandon Nimmo is staying with the free-spending New York Mets, agreeing to an eight-year, $162 million contract, according to a person familiar with the deal.

The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the agreement is subject to a successful physical and no announcement had been made.

A quality leadoff hitter with an excellent eye and a .385 career on-base percentage, Nimmo became a free agent last month for the first time. He was a key performer as the Mets returned to the playoffs this year for the first time since 2016.

The left-handed hitter batted .274 with 16 homers and a team-high 102 runs, a career high. He also set career bests with 64 RBIs and 151 games played. His seven triples tied for most in the National League.

Bringing back Nimmo means New York is poised to return its entire everyday lineup intact from a team that tied for fifth in the majors in runs and won 101 regular-season games – second-most in franchise history.

But the Mets remain busy replenishing a pitching staff gutted by free agency, including Jacob deGrom‘s departure for Texas and Taijuan Walker‘s deal with Philadelphia that was pending a physical.

On the final day of baseball’s winter meetings Wednesday, the Mets completed an $86.7 million, two-year contract with former Houston ace Justin Verlander that includes a conditional $35 million player option for 2025. New York also retained All-Star closer Edwin Diaz last month with a $102 million, five-year contract, and the team has a $26 million, two-year agreement in place with veteran starter Jose Quintana, pending a physical.

Those moves add to a payroll that was the largest in the majors last season. Under owner Steve Cohen, who bought the Mets in November 2020, New York became baseball’s biggest spender this year for the first time since 1989. The Mets’ payroll was $273.9 million as of Aug. 31, with final figures that include bonuses yet to be compiled.

Nimmo was selected by New York with the No. 13 pick in the 2011 amateur draft. He declined a $19.65 million qualifying offer from the Mets last month.

The 29-year-old Wyoming native made his big league debut in 2016. He is a .269 career hitter with 63 homers, 213 RBIs and 23 triples in 608 games. He has an .827 career OPS and has improved his play in center, becoming a solid defender.

Nimmo’s new deal with the Mets was first reported by the New York Post.