One of the first gags in the seminal 1946 cartoon short Baseball Bugs involves an announcer at the Polo Grounds calling a hit “a screaming liner into left field.” In one of a few different puns on baseball language in the script, the camera then shows a baseball literally screaming with an open mouth as it travels through the air, emitting a high-pitched yell of terror while it moves from one side of the screen to the other and, presumably, over the fence.
I thought of this bit and laughed as Atlanta’s Jorge Soler walloped a Luis Garcia cutter all the way to Waco in the third inning of the sixth and, thanks to Soler, final game of the World Series. With the game scoreless and the Braves looking to clinch their first title since 1995, the eventual Series MVP found one more opportunity to torment the Astros. Ozzie Albies had singled, and Eddie Rosario walked with two outs to extend the inning. Soler showed plenty of patience in the eight-pitch at-bat, deviously working the count full and fouling off two balls. Finally, only then was the time right to violently exile the first runs of the game over the horizon. Never has it been easier to imagine a ball screaming its laces off all through its ride.
“I knew I hit it well, but to be honest, immediately after I hit it, I turned around just to look at our dugout and start celebrating,” Soler said after the 7-0 win. “So I didn’t really see it go all the way out.”
Soler’s 2021 season was a rags-to-riches tale about a journey from below the Mendoza line in Kansas City to Fall Classic glory with Atlanta. His last full season with the Royals, where he hit 48 dingers, was a monstrous one. But he slumped something terrible out of the gate this year, slashing just .192/.288/.370 in his first 94 games. At the deadline and before he hit free agency he was swapped to Atlanta for a random prospect, and then almost as if a switch was flipped, the Braves became the hottest team in baseball in the back stretch and Soler became one of their scariest hitters—walking more, striking out less, getting luckier on balls in play, and putting up a National League slash line of .269/.358/.524. And against the Astros, after missing most of the NLCS because of a positive COVID test, the fireworks really started. In Game 1, he announced himself with a lead-off dong that kickstarted a 6-2 win. On Devil’s Night in Game 4, Soler entered as a pinch hitter and hit the second of back-to-back goners that turned a 2-1 Atlanta deficit into a 3-2 win.
Most satisfyingly of all, Soler led all major leaguers with an average distance of 423 feet on his 27 home runs this year. It’s not hard to see why just from watching him attack the baseball. Soler’s is a swing that he can barely seem to control, like the bat is jumping off his shoulders of its own accord and he’s trying to hold it back just enough to make the timing work. When the bat’s eagerness wrecks the whole equation, like it seemed to in Kansas City, it shrinks Soler into barely a playable guy. But when he hits as intelligently as he does viciously, the final product can win you championships.
Much has been made, and rightfully so, of this year’s World Series not being a particularly fun one. Neither pennant winner made for a very heartwarming story, none of the starting pitchers really lasted long enough for fans to get attached to them, and the games required extremely serious time commitments. All of these issues still loom over the sport, and if the powers that be had any sense they would start addressing them with at least a bit of urgency this offseason. But Soler’s long bomb on Tuesday night was a respite, existing outside of any cantankerous debate or bullpen boredom or rich-guy bullshit. Hell, it barely even seemed to exist on this planet for more than an instant after it left the bat. As much as it was a series winner or a final case for MVP, it was also a reminder of the last universally agreed-upon joy that this game has to offer: We all love it when the big homers go boom.