ATLANTA — Thirty-two months ago, Dansby Swanson was sitting in a relatively cramped room overlooking the Braves’ spring training complex at the team’s Disney campus. As part of a wide-ranging conversation with Sporting News that morning, he was talking about Duke basketball and the lessons he learned from watching Hall of Fame coach Mike Krzyzewski demanding perfection from his players in an exhibition game.
“The point is that you execute what’s set out for you,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re winning 10-0 in a baseball game. Your at-bat has nothing to do with the scoreboard. It has everything to do with executing in this moment. I think you see that in all great players and all great teams.”
Execute, regardless of the score. Up big, down big, close game. Execute what’s set out for you. Lessons he learned from his college baseball coach, Vanderbilt’s legendary Tim Corbin. Lessons he learned from Coach K. Lessons he’s applied throughout his career, from the highs — he was the No. 1 overall pick of the 2015 MLB Draft — and the lows — injury-plagued seasons and three years spent missing the playoffs.
Execute, regardless of score. It’s second nature at this point.
Well, the score mattered when he stepped to the plate in the bottom of the seventh inning with one out in Game 4 of the World Series on Saturday night in Atlanta at Truist Park, a ballpark that’s fewer than 10 miles from the high school where he became a baseball star. His Braves trailed 2-1. The focus and process have been there for Swanson, but the results have been lacking recently. He hit a career-high 27 home runs during the regular season, but he’d only had one extra-base hit and one RBI in his first 52 at-bats of the postseason.
Swanson fell behind in the count 0-2 to Houston reliever Christian Javier.
Then, this happened.
And just like that, the personal struggles at the plate of the past few weeks no longer mattered. His teammates had helped carry the Braves to this point, owning a series lead in the World Series. And now, Swanson has his big knock, too.
“I’m just really happy that Dansby was able to experience that moment,” Eddie Rosario said after the game, through interpreter Franco Garcia. “Throughout the entire postseason, going back to Milwaukee, we’ve had these at-bats, these hits that have sort of electrified and surprised the entire dugout, sort of motivated us to keep going. We’re all been able to experience it. Obviously, I had my home run, Freddie (Freeman) had his home run against (Josh) Hader, Jorge (Soler) had his home run, (Travis) d’Arnaud had his home run the other night. I’m really happy that Dansby was able to contribute in that fashion, that he was able to experience that for himself.”
Jorge Soler chimed in: “It was a complete game-changer.”
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Swanson was in the No. 8 spot in the Atlanta lineup, which speaks to how strong that lineup really is — remember those 27 homers he hit? That’s an uncommon amount of power from that spot in the lineup, to say the least. Soler, who also hit 27 homers during the regular season, followed Swanson to the plate. Soler was a pinch-hitter, and he produced the same result as Swanson — a home run — but this one was a frozen rope that snuck over the short wall over by the visiting team’s bullpen.
“I think I went more nuts for that than I did my own,” Swanson said. “Just a huge at-bat. So tough to do that coming off the bench, in that situation.”
The back-to-backs from Swanson and Soler were historic.
It was the first time in World Series history that the No. 8 and No. 9 hitters produced back-to-back home runs. And, it was only the third time in World Series history that back-to-back home runs were both the tying and go-ahead runs. The first? Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, in the 1928 World Series. Swanson was just the third Brave to hit a game-tying home run in the World Series. The first? Hank Aaron, in 1957.
That’s pretty cool company.
Oh, and Soler became the first player to own both a leadoff home run — he got that in Game 1 — and a pinch-hit home run in his World Series career. Not in one season, mind you, but in an entire career. He’s now played a total of six World Series games; he played two games for the Cubs in their 2016 title run, but did not homer.
“We were able to make something happen that inning,” Swanson said. “Just tremendous.”
And now the Braves are one win away from the club’s first World Series title since 1995. They would love to make that happen in Game 5 on Sunday evening and celebrate in front of their home fans.
“There’s still a lot left to be written,” Swanson said, “and I think we need to go out and continue to compete to put ourselves in that position to give this city what it’s been longing for.”
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