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The Braves can win their first playoff series since 2001 today

Atlanta has a 2-1 series lead on St. Louis ahead of Game 4 on Monday afternoon.

ATLANTA — For eight excruciating innings on Sunday, it looked like the same playoff hex that's afflicted the Atlanta Braves for nearly two decades was rearing its ugly head again in St. Louis.

The St. Louis Cardinals had scratched out a single measly run on a sacrifice fly, and the Braves responded by failing to even get a runner to third base until the eighth inning.

When Freddie Freeman flew out to end the eighth with the bases loaded, that seemed like it might be it. 

With a loss, they'd be facing a 2-1 deficit and another disappointing early postseason exit, what would be their ninth trip to the playoffs and ninth failure to win a series since 2001.

Instead, they flipped the script. Josh Donaldson led off with a double, Dansby Swanson doubled in the tying run with two outs, and Adam Duvall brought in two more runs with a single right after that. Mark Melancon worked through a nervy bottom of the ninth for the save.

Nothing is guaranteed yet, but this is certainly a different position for Atlanta: with Sunday's win putting them up 2-1 in the NLDS, it's the first time the Braves have held a series lead in their last 32 playoff games.

"They never quit. They never give up," Braves manager Brian Snitker said after Sunday's win. "The heart and desire and will is unbelievable in those guys." 

That spirit - the team's postseason social media hashtag is #relentless - seems, at least for now, to be separating this Braves team from past editions.

It would have been easy, for instance, for the team to spiral out of control after a crushing Game 1 loss at home that saw their bullpen explode and a comeback effort fall short.

"The Braves are stuck in a nightmare that seems to repeat itself every October," the Associated Press wrote after that loss.

Instead of collapsing, though, Atlanta came back cool and collected in Game 2, staking an early lead, riding out a dominant performance by Mike Foltynewicz, and getting the elusive late big hit (also by Duvall) before Melancon closed things, if not easily, again effectively enough.

Credit: AP Photo/Charlie Riedel

Then they sprang back and snatched victory from the jaws of defeat on Sunday.

"History, we don't really play into that. This is now," Swanson, the hero of the hour on Sunday, said.

The Braves take to the field at 3:07 p.m. on Monday afternoon for Game 4. It still hasn't been announced whether Snitker will send out Julio Teheran - the much-maligned right-hander who has helped anchor the rotation for seven seasons but was originally left off the postseason roster - or Dallas Keuchel, the Game 1 starter who would be working on short rest.

What is clear is that this afternoon the Braves have a chance to finally bust a slump that's now old enough to vote.

And, if they don't, they'll still get Game 5 back at home on Wednesday.


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