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Ranking the Braves' worst 21st-century postseason exits as they finally reach World Series

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The Atlanta Braves exorcised a whole lot of 21st-century ghosts on Saturday night.

The Braves had led the Los Angeles Dodgers three games to one in the 2021 National League Championship Series, but not a single fan, player, sportsbook or impartial observer assumed a World Series berth was imminent for Atlanta. That’s what happens when you’re part of the reason Atlanta has such a reputation for sustained sports heartbreak.

This coming Friday, the World Series will return to Atlanta for the first time this millennium. The last World Series games played in Georgia took place in 1999, the first two games of what would become a four-game sweep at the hands of the Yankees. Austin Riley and Ozzie Albies were two years old back then, and were about as effective against the Yankees as the Braves then in uniform.

The Braves have reached the playoffs 13 times since then. In the years between 2000 and 2020, Atlanta lost to the first opponent it played 10 times. The only exceptions? The NLCS in 2001, where Atlanta lost to the eventual champion Arizona Diamondbacks, and last year, when the Braves blew a 3-games-to-1 lead to Los Angeles.

What’s always fascinating about the Braves is the way they manage to lose in spectacular, cinematic ways. Rarely does a Braves season end with Atlanta meekly slinking into the offseason. No, the Braves’ losses tend to be like flash fires in a fireworks factory, bold and searing and damaging to everyone nearby. Here’s a rundown of Atlanta’s five worst Octobers since they last reached the World Series …

2005: Marathon futility

Say this for the Braves: they lose creatively. In 2005, the Braves were down two games to one to Houston in a best-of-five Division Series. The Braves held a 6-1 lead heading into the bottom of the eighth, but Houston scored four runs in the eighth on a Lance Berkman grand slam. The Astros’ Brad Ausmus hit a two-out, bottom-of-the-ninth homer to force extra innings … a whole new game’s worth of extra innings. The game ended in the bottom of the 18th when the Braves sent out rookie pitcher Joey Devine — who had been pitching for North Carolina State just a few months before — and Houston’s Chris Burke homered off him to send the Braves home yet again.

2011: September collapse

Sometimes the Braves didn’t even wait for the postseason to fall apart. In 2011, the Phillies ran the table in the NL East, but the Braves held an 8.5-game lead in the wild-card race going into September. Seems safe, right? Of course not. The Cardinals charged up the standings toward the Braves, but with five games remaining in the season, the Braves still held a three-game lead on St. Louis. Atlanta entered the last day of the regular season dead even with St. Louis. You can guess what happened next. Atlanta went home, and St. Louis went to the postseason.

Chipper Jones had a lot of rough times in Atlanta in the 2000s.  (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Chipper Jones had a lot of rough times in Atlanta in the 2000s. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

2012: Infield fly

The next season began with a tinge of melancholy as franchise legend Chipper Jones announced he would be retiring at the end of the year. Atlanta qualified for the then-new one-game wild-card playoff, squaring off against the Cardinals. The Braves were down 6-3 in the 8th inning with men on first and second when Andrelton Simmons flared a shot out to short left field. But umpires deemed it an “infield fly,” calling Simmons out. Atlanta would have had the bases loaded with one out — no guarantee they would have scored, of course, but getting even the opportunity snatched away incensed fans so badly that they went full Tennessee football crowd, showering the field with debris. Jones’ career thus ended quietly as Atlanta roiled under an ugly, petty postseason controversy.

2019: The end comes early

By the end of the 2010s, Atlanta appeared to have retooled into a fully functional division-winning team. Led by a strong pitching staff, Freddie Freeman and Ronald Acuña Jr., the Braves won 97 games and easily claimed the NL East. That gave them home-field advantage over the Cardinals — them again — in a best-of-five series. In the decisive fifth game, the Cardinals suffocated the Atlanta crowd by scoring 10 devastating runs in the first inning. Not surprisingly, Atlanta lost that game and the series.

2020: Blowing a 3-1 lead

The 2020 playoffs took place in an Arlington, Texas bubble, sparing Atlanta fans the horror of watching their team fritter away a 3-1 series lead. The sequence ran exactly the same as 2021 — Braves won Games 1, 2 and 4, Dodgers won games 3 and 5 … but in 2020, the Dodgers squeezed the life out of Atlanta over the final two games. Both games were tight — Los Angeles won Game 6 by a 3-1 score and then Game 7 by a 4-3 margin — but once the Dodgers picked themselves up off the deck, the outcome never really felt in doubt.

Two decades’ worth of nightmares, frustrations, disappointment and heartbreak vanished with one swing of Eddie Rosario’s bat on Saturday night. For the first time this century, the Braves are back in a once-familiar spot.

Now, about Atlanta’s 1-4 record in the World Series …

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Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @jaybusbee or contact him at jay.busbee@yahoo.com. 

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