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SI:AM | Atlanta Looks Ready to Repeat

Plus, the 4–0 team that no one in the NFL believed in.

Good morning, I’m Dan Gartland. I’m very sorry for jinxing the Mets in Friday’s newsletter.

In today’s SI:AM:

🍑 The Braves are on the cusp

🦅 The Eagles move to 4–0

👷 Kenny Pickett’s NFL debut

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There’s no shame in losing to a team that good

Well, I was wrong about the Mets.

In Friday’s newsletter, I wrote that I thought New York had the upper hand in this weekend’s three-game series in Atlanta against the Braves, mainly because of its starting pitching.

So much for that. The Braves won last night, 5–3, to finish off a sweep that puts them two games ahead of the Mets in the division with three games to play. The win also gives Atlanta the better record in the season series and therefore the division tiebreaker, so if the Braves win one of their last three or the Mets lose one of their last three, Atlanta will clinch the division.

It’s easy to look at New York’s collapse (it held a 10½-game lead on June 1 and a seven-game lead on Aug. 10) and say, “Typical Mets.” But that’s unfair to both teams. It ignores how great the Braves have been and the fact that the Mets (98–61) could very well end up with 100 wins.

Since June 1, Atlanta is 77–32. That’s a 114-win pace over the course of a full season. If not for a 23–27 start to the season, the Braves would be running away with the division.

Still, a sweep this weekend was the worst possible outcome for the Mets. If they had managed to win even just one game, they would have held the tiebreaker over the Braves and still could have clinched the division by winning their last three games. Now, they need to win their last three and hope Atlanta loses all three of its remaining games.

I wouldn’t count on the Braves getting swept by the Marlins. Atlanta has proved over the last four months that it belongs in the conversation of serious World Series contenders. The thing that should scare the rest of MLB is that this Braves team is better than the one that won the World Series last year.

The Braves have scored the third-most runs in the majors this season while allowing the fifth-fewest. Max Fried is as good as any starting pitcher in baseball, the kind of ace who a team can rely on in October. And even after letting Freddie Freeman walk in free agency, Atlanta has a lineup with incredible depth. Matt Olson, acquired in a trade just before the season to replace Freeman at first base, leads the team with 101 RBIs. Austin Riley has emerged as the centerpiece of the team’s offense. Travis D’Arnaud and Dansby Swanson are hitting much better than they did last year. Center fielder Michael Harris II is the favorite to win NL Rookie of the Year. And, most importantly, Ronald Acuña Jr. is healthy after missing the final half of last season.

Winning the division, which seems exceedingly likely at this point, would be a major boost to the Braves’ chances of repeating as champs. The division winner will advance directly to the NLDS, while the team in the top wild-card spot will have to play a best-of-three series against the second-best wild-card team (probably the Padres or Phillies). It isn’t over for the Mets, but having to win two extra games just to earn the right to face the Dodgers isn’t fun.

The best of Sports Illustrated

Kenneth Gainwell and Dallas Goedert celebrate a touchdown against the Jaguars

In today’s Daily Cover, Conor Orr looks back at all the ways people didn’t believe in Nick Sirianni and the Eagles, who are now 4–0:

Since the midway point of the 2021 season, they have been boiling the best parts of their system on both sides of the ball to a powerful concentrate, then dressing that raw pulp a million different ways to convince their opponent that they are not about to knife it in the way it fears—and, ultimately, anticipate—it will get knifed. Like any talented chef, in their palms are the remnants of Friday’s seafood delivery. On the plates that they serve is Michelin Star ceviche. It’s something that happens only when a team understands itself in the most intimate ways.

After Colorado fired Karl Dorrell, all eyes are on Auburn and Bryan Harsin, Pat Forde writes. The other Power 5 football coach to lose his job yesterday was Wisconsin’s Paul Chryst. … Orr also explained why Mike Tomlin is the perfect coach for a rookie quarterback like Kenny Pickett to play under. … Georgia’s squeaker against Missouri knocked the Bulldogs from the top spot in Ross Dellenger’s college football rankings. … Greg Bishop was in Seattle when the Mariners snapped their two-decade playoff drought.

Around the sports world

A fan died following yesterday’s Steelers game after a fall inside the stadium. … Mike Tomlin refused to say whether Kenny Pickett would start next week’s game after he relieved Mitchell Trubisky. … DK Metcalf got carted to the locker room during yesterday’s game—because he had to use the bathroom. … Broncos running back Javonte Williams may have suffered a serious injury. … The Padres clinched a playoff spot, but the Phillies and Brewers are still battling it out for the last NL wild-card spot. … The Suns lost a preseason game at home to a team from Australia.

The top five...

… things I saw yesterday:

5. The bonkers 48–45 Seahawks-Lions game.

4. Albert Pujols, Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright leaving the field together in their final regular-season game in St. Louis.

3. Munetaka Murakami’s 56th home run of the season, a new NPB record for a Japanese-born player.

2. Patrick Mahomes’s improvisational touchdown pass.

1. Erling Haaland’s and Phil Foden’s hat tricks in Manchester City’s 6–3 win over Manchester United.


Today is the anniversary of Bobby Thomson’s famous “Shot Heard ’Round the World” against the Dodgers in 1951, which was immortalized by Russ Hodges’s iconic call, “The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!” Where did the only tape of Hodges’s call come from?

  • The Dodgers
  • Hodges himself
  • Former Giants star Mel Ott
  • A fan

Friday’s SIQ: How did the Washington Senators lose their final home game, on Sept. 30, 1971?

  • Forfeit
  • A walk-off grand slam
  • A walk-off balk
  • Game called due to rain

Answer: Forfeit. Fans rushed the field with two outs in the ninth inning and the Senators leading the Yankees 7–5. As the fans wreaked havoc, the umpires declared the game a forfeit in favor of the visitors.

The game was played nine days after American League owners voted to approve the team’s relocation to North Texas. MLB commissioner Bowie Kuhn, a D.C. native who operated the manual scoreboard at Griffith Stadium as a teenager, said later that the relocation vote was the only time he cried as commissioner.

Many of the fans who showed up to the final game on that Thursday night were sad, of course. Many were also angry. They held up signs and unfurled banners voicing their frustration about owner Bob Short, who had been granted the expansion franchise in Washington after the original Senators moved to Minneapolis before the 1961 season. With the game almost over, the crowd brought a premature end to Senators baseball.

Here’s how Washington Post writers Myra McPherson and Tom Huth described the scene:

In the top of the ninth last night—with the Senators leading 7 to 5 and two out—several hundred youths in the yelling crowd of 14,460 surged onto the playing field at R.F. Kennedy Stadium. They ran the bases and stole home, tore out tufts of grass, grabbed the ball boys’ folding chair and pinched dirt for their jacket pockets.

When first base was lifted and carried away, you could tell it was all over. And so, the final irony: the fans lost the game for the Senators, who had to forfeit their last contest here to the Yankees.

No one on the field cared, nor did those fans who watched smilingly from their seats. The huge banks of lights dimmed out one by one. Police started herding the crowd back into the stands. Three men were arrested and charged with disorderly conduct.

The Post story mentions that many people in the stadium believed the city would get a new team to replace the Senators soon—maybe even the Padres—but Washington would have to wait until 2005 for baseball to return.

From the Vault: Oct. 3, 1955

Doak Walker on the cover of Sports Illustrated in 1955

The opening paragraph of Norman Nicholson’s 1955 cover story about Doak Walker made me think of Tua Tagovailoa being taken off the field on a stretcher on Thursday night:

“Pro football,” a press box reporter observed during a San Francisco 49er-Detroit Lions game last year, “is getting like atomic war. There are no winners, only survivors.”

Nicholson was referring to a slew of injuries suffered by star players in the first week of that year’s NFL season, including Walker.

“This week, the 36th National Football League season got under way minus many stars who hadn’t survived even the hazards of the exhibition games,” he wrote.

The injury to Walker was perhaps the most notable, though. The undersized running back (5'10", 170 pounds) had mostly avoided injuries during his first five NFL seasons and was a key part of the Lions’ offense, carrying the ball, catching it and even serving as the team’s kicker. And yet, at 28, he was thinking about walking away from the game:

This spring Walker thought seriously of retiring. A peddler’s variety of business enterprises in Dallas beckoned, but it was also true that the Lions’ famous line was aging along with the Doaker. The game for them this year is going to be a little harder and for Walker maybe a little more unhealthy. Not that Walker fears anything. “If you’re scared you have no business in the game,” he said not long ago when he denied vehemently that pro ball had gotten dirty. “It has to be rough,” he said, “and that’s the way we want it.”

Walker did play in 1955—albeit with his offensive duties reduced to his injury—but he decided to retire after the season was over. According to his Los Angeles Times obituary, Walker left football to “concentrate on his business interests that could make him more money than an NFL career.”

Walker was glad to have left football behind before it took too great a toll on his body.

“No, I don’t have any regrets about quitting football when I did,” he once said, according to the Times. “I’m not sorry because I’ve got all my teeth, both knees—and most of my faculties.”

He died in September 1998 at age 71, nine months after he was paralyzed in a skiing accident.

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