HOUSTON -- The season's journey of World Series MVP Jorge Soler did not begin with the Atlanta Braves. But it did end with the newly crowned champs, merging the stories of a player and a team that followed a very similar trajectory.
Soler emerged as the clear-cut MVP of the Braves' six-game victory over the Houston Astros with a thundering three-run, third-inning homer off starter Luis Garcia, giving the Braves an early lead that they expanded the rest of the way.
"[Winning MVP] means a lot to me, to my family, to the organization," Soler said, via Braves interpreter Franco Garcia. "It's something really special."
Before Soler's blast, Game 6 had taken on the hue of a possible budding pitchers' duel, with Garcia and Atlanta lefty Max Fried putting up early zeros. But with one swing of Soler's dangerous bat, Garcia's night was over, and Atlanta was on its way to its first title since 1995.
Soler and Garcia battled for eight pitches, with Soler hooking two foul balls before connecting with a Garcia cutter that left the bat at 109.6 mph, according to Statcast. The ball rocketed over the Crawford Boxes in left field, past the light stanchion, through the line of vision of the Minute Maid Park train conductor and out onto the street.
"I got to [a 3-2 count], and I didn't want the same thing to happen as the first-inning at-bat, where I struck out on the off-speed pitch," Soler said. "So I was just kind of getting prepared for that."
The impromptu preparation led to that instant, when Soler knew that he'd homered -- he dropped his bat and turned toward his dugout, pounding his chest and shouting as several of his teammates leaped over the dugout rail and jumped around on the warning track in celebration.
Soler hit .300 with three homers, six RBIs and three walks during the Series. He is the sixth player with three go-ahead homers in a single World Series and posted a slugging percentage of .800.
"He's been swinging the bat so good," Braves manager Brian Snitker said. "This whole World Series. Even just the walks he was taking were really big."
The championship is the second of Soler's career. He was a member of the 2016 championship-drought-snapping Chicago Cubs, getting two hits in that season's thrilling Fall Classic.
This World Series moment would have seemed unlikely to the Braves and Soler alike on July 30, when Atlanta GM Alex Anthopoulos swung a deal with the Kansas City Royals to acquire Soler, who became the third World Series MVP to play for a different team in the same season. At the time of the trade, the Braves were 51-53, in third place in the NL East, and had not been over .500 all season.
Meanwhile, Soler left the fourth-place Royals as the club's single-season record-holder for homers (48), a mark that was tied this season by Salvador Perez. But that record was set in 2019. In 2021, Soler struggled during the early months of the season, hitting just .192 with 13 homers in 94 games before the trade.
However, his performance leading up to the deadline proved to be telling: Soler hit six homers and in his last nine games for Kansas City.
"[Soler] always kept working and was starting to get going two weeks before we traded him," Royals president of baseball operations Dayton Moore told ESPN via text message. "I'm very happy for him."
Soler fit right in on a Braves team desperate for help in an outfield decimated by injuries, off-the-field problems and underperformance. By the end of the season, Soler was batting leadoff for Atlanta, and as non-traditional as the hulking Soler might seem in that role, the Braves won 10 of 11 down the stretch with him batting first. Soler hit .269 with 14 homers in 55 games after joining the Braves.
"I was traded over here, and it was challenging at first," Soler said. "I felt a little out of my comfort zone. I didn't really know people.
"Within a week, I felt right at home. Everyone in that clubhouse welcomed me in, and it felt instantly, after a little while, just like a family."
During the NLDS round against Milwaukee, Soler's postseason was derailed when he was placed on the COVID-19 injured list. He missed the last game of the series against the Brewers and the first four of Atlanta's six-game NLCS win against the Dodgers. He returned for the final two contests of that round as a pinch-hitter, going 1-for-2.
Soler made up for the lost time in then some with his World Series heroics. In doing so, he became the third player to win World Series MVP honors after starting the season with another team, joining the Mets' Donn Clendenon in 1969 and the Red Sox's Steve Pearce in 2018.
The three homers Soler hit during the World Series are tied for the most by a Braves player in franchise history, joining Hank Aaron (1957), Lonnie Smith (1991) and Ryan Klesko (1995).
Soler also became the second Cuban-born player to win the award, joining pitcher Livan Hernandez, who was MVP of the 1997 World Series with the Marlins.
Not bad for a player who exited the All-Star break with a struggling team and fighting to find his way at the plate. For the Braves and their fans, Soler and his bat arrived just in time.
Perhaps that was what Soler was thinking about at the moment he homered and yelled to his teammates in the euphoric Braves dugout.
Asked what he yelled, Soler said simply, "I'm here!"