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The unexpected end to Atlanta's heartbreak


Last night, the Braves lifted my hometown, Atlanta, out of an epic sports slump. In Game 6 of the World Series, they shut out the Houston Astros 7-0. It is the team's first World Series title since 1995, and those two baseball titles serve as bookends to years of misery, and not just confined to baseball. This is only the city's second title in any major sport, and it comes from a team that nobody had high hopes for going into the postseason.

Well, joining us from the airport in Houston headed back to Atlanta is Jeff Schultz of The Athletic. I should mention that Houston is where this Game 6 just took place, and you're - I guess you're celebrating, ordering champagne there in the terminal.

JEFF SCHULTZ: (Laughter) More like coffee and water, but thanks.

KELLY: So I thought The Journal-Constitution, the Atlanta daily paper, summed it up pretty well in their headline, which was, "From Mediocre To Majestic." Walk us through how improbable it would have seemed earlier this year that this team would make it to the World Series and then actually go on to win the World Series.

SCHULTZ: You know, ironically, this actually was a team that before the season was expected to contend for a World Series title. But then they had all manner of things happen. I mean, their No. 1 pitcher, Mike Soroka, tore his Achilles for the second time. Their leading home run hitter and RBI guy from a year ago, Marcell Ozuna, got arrested for domestic violence. Their best player, Ronald Acuna, broke his leg before the All-Star break.

In many ways, it feels better, I think, to many people in Atlanta than in 1995 because in '95, when the Braves won that series, granted, it was the first, but it had followed a year - four or five years in a row of winning division titles and falling short. And it was almost more of a relief. This was so unexpected, it almost feels fresher and more inspiring.

KELLY: Can we also talk about the significance of this happening in Houston, a city that scarred a lot of us from Atlanta back in 2017, when another team, the Atlanta Falcons, managed to throw away the Super Bowl to the Patriots when they were up by 28-3?

SCHULTZ: You know, this isn't like a Boston curse, like, when they - when the Red Sox sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees - or the Cubs curse, when supposedly the owner of Billy Goat Tavern, you know, went to a Cubs game with his billy goat and got kicked out. And he said - I know. Go figure. Why would you get kicked out with your billy goat? He supposedly said, them Cubs, they ain't going to win no more. They didn't win for 71 years. So Atlanta's tortured, but not nearly that romantic. So consider last night this great sort of exorcism.

KELLY: I'm thinking of celebrations in Atlanta. I'm thinking of my baby brother, born and raised in Atlanta, who just got a new dog and named her Pearl.

SCHULTZ: Of course (laughter).

KELLY: We should explain why there might be a lot of Pearls being born in Atlanta this fall, both of the dog and human variety.

SCHULTZ: Alex Anthopoulos, the general manager, made a number of trades at the deadline, including inquiring 4 outfielders. And one of them was Joc Pederson, kind of one of these loose, goofy guys. And, you know, Joc decided at some point he wanted to change things up and start wearing pearls. Don't ask me why. He said he just saw the pearls in his - in the jewelry catalog, texted his jeweler - of course, we all have a jeweler we can text, right?

KELLY: Obviously, yeah.

SCHULTZ: (Laughter) And so I'm going to home games, and, I mean, there are a number of things I would have expected attending sports events in Atlanta, but one was not seeing grown men wear pearls (laughter).

KELLY: (Laughter) Wear a string of pearls around their neck. And it worked for him.

SCHULTZ: Yeah. I mean, I can just imagine every husband in the state of Georgia going to their wife and say, hey, do you mind if I borrow your pearls? I'm going to the game tonight. I just...

KELLY: (Laughter) Whatever it takes. Whatever it takes.

SCHULTZ: Whatever it takes. Exactly.

KELLY: Thank you very much, Jeff, and safe travels.

SCHULTZ: Thank you.

KELLY: That is Jeff Schultz of The Athletic talking to us about the new World Series champs, the Atlanta Braves.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.
Justine Kenin