For Braves fans like me, born after the Braves' World Series championship in 1995, playoffs were almost always a given growing up, but getting past the NLDS was impossible.
I joined the Braves bandwagon in 2003 when Chipper Jones was still playing LF, and Robert Fick was the 1B for no good reason. My first experience with postseason heartbreak was the 2003 NLDS when the Cubs ousted the Braves in five games despite having 13 fewer wins in the regular season.
"There's always next year," I was told. And there was... when the Astros piled on eight runs in the 7th and 8th innings off Chris Reistma, Tom Martin, and Juan Cruz to win 12-3 in the elimination game.
"There's always next year," when the Baby Braves, led by what felt like the reincarnation of Babe Ruth in Jeff Francoeur, who once again could not escape the Astros when Chris Burke walked off Joey Devine, who had been pitching for N.C. State just months earlier, in the 18th inning.
Then there was the four-year drought, where we were sold the idea that Mark Teixeira could save the team even though we needed pitching. There was the following year when we were sold the idea that Casey Kotchman and Stephen Marek was a sufficient return for Teixeira.
In 2010, during Bobby's send-off, I believed the drought was over when Eric Hinske took the lead in the 8th, only for Brooks Conrad to crush my soul 15 minutes later.
We don't need to talk about the outfield fly rule controversy in 2012 that ended the career of my childhood favorite player.
We don't need to talk about the time Freddy Garcia nearly saved the Braves' season just so Fredi Gonzalez could leave Kimbrel in the bullpen.
We could talk about Ronald Acuña Jr.'s grand slam for the rest of our lives, but I'd rather not remember how long it took for the Braves to score that series, or how easily the team was eliminated the following day. It was okay, though, the next year would be the Braves year.
Or so I thought. After taking a 2-1 series lead, the Braves were four outs away from advancing, just to have Yadier Molina beat them twice. Game 5 doesn't exist.
After 2019, I had watched the Braves reach the playoffs eight times in 16 years. I had seen them advance zero times. If you joined the Braves bandwagon in 2002, you could add another playoff appearance without advancing.
I thought this team was cursed.
The Braves were no Minnesota Twins, poor fanbase, who haven't won a playoff game in their last 18 tries. They were no Seattle Mariners, who had the infamy of missing the playoffs for 21 straight seasons.
But after 2019, the curse definitely felt real.
When the Braves made the playoffs in the shortened 2020 season, I was so conditioned to losing the first round of the playoffs that I didn't even the Braves could escape the no-offense Reds.
It certainly looked that way in Game 1, when Trevor Bauer shut down the Braves offense for 7.2 innings, striking out 12 and only allowing two base runners. Thankfully, the Reds offense didn't know how to advance the many base runners they had to home and Freddie Freeman delivered in the 13th.
If you don't remember the 2020 season, I don't blame you. But if you do, you'll remember the Braves had one starter for the majority of the season: Max Fried, and everyone else.
The Braves added Ian Anderson to the staff at the end of August. In his six starts, he was excellent. He had a 1.95 ERA in 32.1 innings and gave the Braves the second starter they desperately needed.
He bent in the second game, loading the bases in the 2nd, but didn't break. He only allowed one more base runner after the 2nd inning, going six scoreless innings with nine strikeouts.
The Braves offense was silent and it looked like it might be a repeat of the day before. But Ronald Acuña Jr. broke through with a run-scoring double in the 5th.
Three innings later, the bats broke out. Marcell Ozuna broke out the selfie homer celebration on a two-run blast and Adam Duvall hit a two-run homer of his own three batters later. (Yes, that is current Braves closer Raisel Iglesias allowing those bombs.)
Mark Melancon needed to get three quick outs to seal the deal in the 9th, and he obliged. The Braves had won their first playoff series in 19 years.
This win might have been one of the least memorable playoff wins from the past five seasons, but it was the one that let me believe that winning was possible.
Who would've thought the Braves would win the whole thing just a year later.