If not for the loss of Ronald Acuna Jr and Marcell Ozuna, the Atlanta Braves never would have acquired Jorge Soler from the Kansas City Royals.
And who suspected a player struggling with a .192 average in Kansas City would end up being a World Series hero.
Soler smacked a mammoth three-run homer on Tuesday night (Nov 2) as the key blow of a 7-0 victory over the host Houston Astros in Game 6 that gave Atlanta its first World Series title since 1995.
Soler was named World Series MVP after becoming the fourth player in Braves history to hit three homers in a World Series. The others are Hall of Famer Hank Aaron (1957), Lonnie Smith (1991) and Ryan Klesko (1995).
Soler wasn't the only key cog in the clinching victory. Dansby Swanson hit a two-run blast, Freddie Freeman also went deep and Max Fried pitched six shutout innings.
Fried (1-1) gave up four hits and struck out six without issuing a walk as the Braves won the best-of-seven series 4-2.
"We have been waiting for a championship in this city for a long time, and I'm glad we delivered it," said Freeman, who has spent 12 seasons with Atlanta.
The Braves acquired outfielders Adam Duvall, Joc Pederson, Eddie Rosario and Soler to patch up the holes caused by the losses of Ozuna (administrative leave due to domestic violence allegations) in late May and Acuna (ACL tear) just before the All-Star break.
Soler led the American League with 48 homers in 2019, but subsequently was unable to approach that production. Atlanta acquired him cheaply, giving up just minor league right-hander Kasey Kalich.
The 29-year-old Cuban accepted his role and hit 14 homers in 55 games with the Braves.
Soler's 446-foot blast on Tuesday came on an eight-pitch at-bat in the third inning after Ozzie Albies hit a lead-off single and Eddie Rosario drew a two-out walk off Houston right-hander Luis Garcia.
Soler jumped all over a full-count pitch and sent a rocket over the train tracks above the left-centre-field fence to give Atlanta a 3-0 lead.
"I was just really focused during that at-bat," Soler said through a translator. "I felt like he had thrown me every pitch that he had in his arsenal. I eventually got to that 3-2 count and he hung the slider and I was able to drive it."
Atlanta's pitching protected the lead as Fried rebounded from a shaky Game 2 loss and the bullpen stood out.
Tyler Matzek struck out four and allowed one hit in two innings. Will Smith yielded one hit in the ninth before retiring Yuli Gurriel on a grounder to complete a six-hit shutout as Atlanta pitching shut down the Astros once again.
All the Houston hits on Tuesday were singles. The Astros scored just four total runs in their four World Series losses, and they were blanked twice.
"Their pitching shut us down," Houston manager Dusty Baker said. "It's tough, but you have to keep on truckin' and it gives you even more incentive next year. It's tough to take now. It really hurts."
The Astros have played in the World Series three times in the past five seasons. Houston defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2017 and lost to the Washington Nationals in 2019 prior to this year's defeat.
Astros shortstop Carlos Correa acknowledged the bitter disappointment that comes with failing to win the title.
"People expect greatness when you talk about the Houston Astros," Correa said. "They expect us to make the playoffs every year. They expect us to be in the World Series every year. That's because of the atmosphere and chemistry that we built in this clubhouse."
The Braves defeated the Cleveland Indians in six games in 1995 for their first World Series title in Atlanta. They relocated from Milwaukee prior to the 1966 season.
This year, Atlanta never was over .500 until Aug 6.
"These guys never gave up on themselves," Braves manager Brian Snitker said. "We lost a lot of pieces over the course of the summer, and it was just next man up. These guys never stopped believing in themselves and they never stopped working."
Houston's Garcia (0-2) allowed three runs, two hits and one walk while striking out three in two-and-two-third innings.
Swanson's two-run homer off Cristian Javier was the key blow of a three-run fifth inning. Albies drew a lead-off walk and moved to second on a wild pitch. Swanson came up one out later and sent a 2-2 fastball over the wall in left for his second homer of the series.
Blake Taylor replaced Javier and walked Soler before Freeman followed with a run-scoring double off the fence in left-centre to make it 6-0.
Freeman hit a two-out solo homer to centre in the seventh off Ryne Stanek to make it a seven-run margin. It was Freeman's second homer of the series and fifth of the 2021 postseason, matching the franchise record set by Fred McGriff in 1996.