HOUSTON – A spare piece no more, Jorge Soler drove a pitch over the train tracks, out of Minute Maid Park and deep into the heart of Texas. He dropped his bat, tapped his chest twice and jabbed a hand toward the Atlanta Braves dugout.
Three months earlier, he was a .192 hitter on a fourth-place team.
Two weeks ago, he was sidelined by COVID-19.
Now, a World Series star, finishing off the Houston Astros for the Braves’ first World Series title since 1995.
A bit player during the Chicago Cubs’ drought-smashing victory over Cleveland five years ago, Soler was voted MVP of Atlanta’s six-game Series win over over the Astros.
Numbers tell only part of the story: He hit .300 with three home runs and six RBIs.
But each home run was a moment in time, a round-trip trio that will be replayed over and over when Soler is introduced for the rest of his life.
Soler started off the 117th World Series with something that had not occurred in the first 678 games of baseball’s championship – a home run by the very first batter. After taking two balls from Framber Valdez, he turned on a 93.7 mph heater at the letters and drove it 382 feet, about four rows deep into the Crawford seats behind the 19-foot high left-field scoreboard.
Then, after Dansby Swanson hit a tying home run in the seventh inning Saturday at Atlanta, Soler pinch hit against Cristian Javier and got just enough of a hanging slider. The ball sailed over the glove of a charging Yordan Alvarez as he crashed into Truist Park’s 6-foot chain link left-field fence and landed in the Astros bullpen for a 3-2 lead that stood up, giving the Braves a three games to one Series lead.
Soler saved his best for last.
With the score 0-0 in the third inning Tuesday night, Atlanta put two on with two outs against Luis Garcia. Soler worked the count full.
There was double-barreled action in the Astros bullpen. Freddie Freeman watched intently from halfway between the on-deck circle and the plate.
Soler fouled off a slider, slapping the ball harshly behind third base, and then a fastball, even farther foul.
Then, as catcher Martin Maldonado splayed his right leg wide toward the first base dugout to set his glove down low, Javier threw an 83.4 mph cutter and the ball spun right over the middle of the plate, belt high. Garcia didn’t turn to look. Like Charlie Brown, he knew.
Soler’s three Series home runs matched the most for the Braves, equaling Hank Aaron in 1957, Lonnie Smith in 1991 and Ryan Klesko in 1995.
After defecting from Cuba in 2011, Soler agreed to a $30 million, nine-year contract with the Cubs. He was just 2 for 5 with a walk in the 2016 Series and was dealt to Kansas City that September for reliever Wade Davis.
Soler led American League batters with 48 home runs in 2019 – and also with 178 strikeouts. With Atlanta seeking replacements for its depleted outfield, the out-of-contention Royals dealt the 29-year-old on July 30 for minor league right-hander Kaley Kalich.
Soler revived with the Braves, hitting .269 with 14 homers and 33 RBIs. He didn’t drive in any runs in the NL playoffs, missing five games because of a positive COVID-19 test.