The first time Dansby Swanson went to Houston to experience an Atlanta sports championship, things didn’t go so well.
Swanson was just a fan that night, watching the Atlanta Falcons blow their historic 28-3 lead to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl 51 at the Houston’s NRG Stadium. That night, etched in infamy in the minds of all Atlanta sports fans, certainly did a number on Swanson, a Kennesaw, Ga., native who grew up cheering for the area’s teams.
More than four years later, though, he returned and brought a little redemption to the city, helping the Atlanta Braves earn a 4-2 World Series win over the Houston Astros.
The Braves really were a team of destiny. Below .500 around August, the Braves caught took fire as summer turned to fall thanks in part to a series of inspired trade deadline moves for players like outfielders Jorge Soler, Eddie Rosario, Adam Duvall and Joc Pederson, whose playoff pearls became part of the Atlanta rallying cry for its postseason run.
The Braves took down the Milwaukee Brewers 3-1 in the National League Divisional Series and avenged its 2020 3-1 blown lead to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Championship Series, with Soler, Rosario, Duvall and Pederson all playing key roles in those wins.
Swanson was integral as well -- at shortstop and at the plate during October -- htting two home runs and three RBIs in the World Series alone. He batted .200 in that championship stand and threw out the final batter that popped the cork for Atlanta’s 2021 title celebration. He had 27 homers and 88 RBIs in the regular season, batting .311.
"The good Lord, He's blessed me so much,” Swanson said after winning the title. “I wouldn't be here without Him. Just the peace that He gives me, it's remarkable. Especially in moments like this, you can never go wrong trusting in that. I'm just so thankful to be here."
Swanson’s big homer in Tuesday’s Game 6 got the Braves to a 5-0 advantage in the top of the fifth inning.
The former Commodore is no stranger to winning titles. As a sophomore, he was part of the 2014 College World Series title with Vanderbilt along with future MLBers Walker Buehler (Dodgers), Tyler Beede (Giants), Carson Fulmer (Reds), Ben Bowden (Rockies), Vince Conde (FA), Penn Murfee (Mariners), Bryan Reynolds (Pirates) and Rhett Wiseman (Nationals).
After he was drafted by the Arizona Diamondbacks first overall in the 2015 MLB Draft, he was traded to Atlanta in a blockbuster deal for pitcher Shelby Miller that December. From then on, he’s been a vital cog in the Braves’ rebuilding after more than two decades of playoff disappointment.
Though, it was Swanson’s old teammate, former Vanderbilt pitcher Kyle Wright, who helped steady the Braves in Game 4 in Atlanta after starting pitcher Dylan Lee struggled.
Wright, the Braves’ fifth-overall pick in the 2018 MLB draft out of Vandy, got called up to the World Series roster and made the most out of his opportunity.
When the Astros had the bases loaded in the first inning of Game 4, Wright subbed in for Lee and only allowed one inherited runner to score and pitched for four innings afterward, allowing just one other run. The Braves won that game 3-2 and got the 2-1 record at home the team needed to go into Game 6 with elimination in mind for the Astros.
“It was awesome,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said about Wright’s Game 4 heroics. “The situation we put him in was probably something we didn’t want to do, honestly, but how he limited damage. His stuff was so good tonight too. Kyle is the reason we won the game, how he kept that thing in check and allowed us to stay around in that game. That was huge.”
In his two games, Wright pitched a 1.59 ERA, with six strikeouts, five hits, one run allowed and three walks on his 25 batters faced over 5.2 innings.
“I feel like I just try to do my part,” Wright said. “I’ve had a lot of ups and downs this year. Just to be able to get back in a position where I could help the team was definitely pretty special. My goal was just to get it to the back end, and those guys have been nails all year. Fortunately, I was able to do that, and they shut it down from there.”
Swanson knew his old college teammate could help the Braves in a big moment.
“He was our closer as a freshman. He’s not shy of the moments like this,” Swanson said of Wright. “He’s been in big-time situations ever since I’ve known him. And I feel like that’s one thing I’ve always told (Braves general manager) Alex (Anthopoulos), I said ‘That guy, he’s got it.’ I’ve told (pitching coach Rick Kranitz), ‘He’s got it, I know he does.’ He was nails for us then and he’s obviously been pretty special so far here in this World Series. He’s not shy of the big moments and that’s something that can be gained from our time when we were at school.”
Swanson and Wright played together in the 2015 College World Series with Vandy that saw Virginia get revenge on the Commodores after losing to them in 2014. Wright was a freshman at the time, Swanson a junior in his final season with the program.
“We came up short that year and I feel like it still has a little bit of a sour taste in our mouths, so I know we want to finish this thing off strong,” Wright said. “But just to be able to play with Dansby at this moment, this stage, it’s definitely really cool and I don’t think there’s too many guys who have been able to do that, so it’s pretty special.”
Finish strong, they did, with the former Commodores now MLB champions.