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Unsung Latino Stars Lead Teams Into World Series

Acquired at the trade deadline, Eddie Rosario led the Braves into the World Series,

Before the start of the 2021 baseball playoffs, Las Vegas sports books would have given long odds against Eddie Rosario or Yordan Alvarez leading their teams into the final round.

Yet here they are: left-fielders with a lethal stroke and a growing reputation as players who could turn the tide of the World Series between the Atlanta Braves and the Houston Astros.

In 56 seasons since coming to life as the expansion Houston Colt .45s, the Astros won it only once – in the scandal-tainted, seven-game match against Los Angeles Dodgers in 2017 – but have also reached the Fall Classic in 2005 and 2019 in addition to 2021.

The Braves have three world championships – one in each of the three cities they called home (Boston in 1914, Milwaukee in 1957, and Atlanta in 1995) but have won 18 pennants, including the one they nailed down last week by dethroning the defending World Champion Dodgers in a six-game League Championship Series.

Rosario was the major reason. Acquired from Cleveland at the July 30 trade deadline, he was nursing a right oblique strain at the time. Atlanta surrendered only portly Pablo Sandoval, who was immediately released, in a deal generally greeted with a yawn by baseball observers.

But that was before the 30-year-old outfielder healed – and apparently remembered that he’ll be an unrestricted free agent the minute the World Series ends.

Along with fellow trade acquisitions Adam Duvall, Joc Pederson, and Jorge Soler, Rosario enabled the Braves to overcome season-ending injuries to Ronald Acuña, Jr. and Marcell Ozuna (who also had legal problems after an alleged altercation with his wife).

After Soler tested positive for Covid-19 just before the playoffs began, Rosario was elevated to leading off by Atlanta manager Brian Snitker. Both he and the team loved the move.

Facing the difficult Dodgers pitching staff during the National League Championship Series, he became the first man ever to belt 14 hits in a six-game postseason series. Through the first two rounds, he hit .474 with a .524 on-base percentage, and .789 slugging average – not too shabby who was considered a bench bat when he arrived in Atlanta.

A Puerto Rican with a powerful swing, the 6-1, 180-pound slugger broke into the big leagues with the 2015 Minnesota Twins, had two three-homer games, and had career peaks of 32 homers and 109 runs batted in during the 2019 campaign, the last full season before 2021.

After the payroll-paring Twins non-tendered him last winter, Rosario signed a one-year, $8 million pact with Cleveland. The rest is history.

With the Indians going nowhere in the American League Central, they were happy to unload his contract. Coming to a contender turned Rosario from a good hitter into a great one – especially when it counted most.

“We couldn’t figure him out,” said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts.

Yordan Alvarez won MVP honors in the AL Championship Series.

The Boston Red Sox were equally perplexed by Alvarez.

A Cuban native who stands 6’5″ tall and weighs 225 pounds, he made his mark in the majors almost immediately, winning American League Rookie of the Year honors by unanimous vote in 2019 after hitting 27 homers in 89 games for the Astros. His batting average was a solid .313, to go along with a .412 slugging percentage and .655 slugging mark.

Idled by a knee problem for all but two games in 2020, he came back strong this season.

Alvarez, 24, did his best work in the Championship Series, producing the best batting average in the history of the pennant playoffs. He went 12-for-23 with a home run, six rbi and a 1.408 OPS.
In the last two games of the six-game ALCS, he had seven hits – two more than the entire Red Sox team.

He capped his performance by going 4-for-4 in the finale with two doubles, a triple, a single, a run batted in, and a vital run scored.

Nobody should have been surprised by his performance: in 144 regular-season games this year, he hit 33 homers and knocked in 108 runs to accompany a .277 average and .346 on-base percentage.

Alvarez has actually earned his big-game spurs before; in 2019, he hi .316 in the Division Series and .412 in the World Series.

After he accepted the 2021 MVP trophy, a reporter asked about his performance.

“I was just focused on doing the job,” he said.

Eddie Rosario could have said the same.

Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ covers baseball for forbes.com, USA TODAY Sports Weekly, Sports Collectors Digest, Ball Nine, Here’s The Pitch, and Latino Sports. His e.mail is ballauthor@gmail.com.

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