October 31, 2021
The Braves did indeed "seal the deal" at home in Truist Park two Saturdays ago, beating the heavily-favored L.A. Dodgers in Game 6 the National League Championship Series by a score of 4-2. Fears of another improbable series comeback such as the Dodgers inflicted upon them in October 2020 (winning the final three games) were surely in all the players' minds, even if they didn't admit it. The Braves took a 1-0 lead in the first inning, thanks to an RBI double by Ozzie Albies. Then the Astros tied it in the fourth inning, but Eddie Rosario immediately put the Braves back on top with a 3-run home run, his third this postseason. He was named NLCS Most Valuable Player. Starting pitcher Ian Anderson was replaced in the fifth inning, but the bullpen held the line, only giving up one run and two hits for the rest of the game. And thus, the Braves won the game, 4-2, thereby claiming the National League pennant for the first time since 1999.
As an upstart "Cinderella" team with a history of postseason misfortune, the Atlanta Braves were clearly the underdogs going up against the Houston Astros in the 2021 World Series. (Much like the Washington Nationals two years ago, they were "just happy to be here"!) That's why it was such a shock when the Braves beat the host team in Game 1 last Tuesday night, October 26. For the first time ever, the first batter in Game 1 of the World Series hit a home run: Jorge Soler will long be remembered for that feat. That sparked a rally that scored another run for the Braves, and the Astros were lucky that was the extent of it. The Braves scored again in the second inning, and twice more in the third, thanks to a home run by Adam Duvall. But the big news of that game was that Braves starting pitcher Charlie Morton had to be replaced in the third inning as the pain in his leg which had been hit by a line drive kept getting worse. It turns out that he had pitched to several batters with a fractured fibula! Losing him was a terrible blow to the Braves, and that cast a shadow on their prospects. The rest of the game was fairly uneventful, and just like the Nationals did in the very same place two years earlier, the visiting team came away with the victory: 6-2, Braves.
Game 2 was almost a complete reversal of Game 1, as the Astros took a 5-1 lead after scoring 4 runs in the bottom of the 2nd inning. The fact that the Braves' other ace pitcher, Max Fried, got shellacked was an ill omen for Atlanta. The final score of that one was 7-2, Astros.
In Game 3 in Atlanta, with Truist Park jam-packed full of thrilled (but long-suffering) fans, Ian Anderson pitched 5 hitless innings, and in fact none of the Astros got a hit until the 8th inning. All the Braves needed was an RBI double by Austin Riley in the 3rd inning and a solo home run by Travis d'Arnaud in the 8th inning. Final score: [2-0 -- correction].
Game 4 on Saturday night seemed almost hopeless for the Braves, who didn't have an experienced starting pitcher available. So they gave that job to Dylan Lee, who was replaced after loading the bases and getting just one out in the first inning. Kyle Wright escaped major damage, and managed to pitch through the fifth inning, at which point the score was 2-0; rather surprisingly, the Braves were still in the game! They rallied to score a run in the 6th inning, and then in the bottom of the 7th inning something truly incredible happened: back-to-back solo home runs by Dansby Swanson and Jorge Soler!! Relief pitchers Luke Jackson and Will Smith got the last six batters out, and the Braves somehow overcame heavy odds to win the game, 3-2.
That gave the Braves a 3-1 series lead, giving them the opportunity to win the World Series in tonight's Game [5 -- correction]. When Adam Duvall hit a grand slam in the 1st inning, it seemed like the proverbial Fat Lady was getting ready to sing and make the Braves' triumph official. Not so fast!!! The Astros tied the game in the 3rd inning, running roughshod over the Braves hodgepodge of relief pitchers. (25-year old Tucker Davidson was the Braves' starter, and he was replaced after giving up the tying run in the 3rd inning.) Freddie Freeman hit a solo homer right after that, giving the lead back to Atlanta, but a dumb decision to give an automatic walk to Alex Bregman in the 5th inning led to a 3-run rally that gave the lead to the Astros. The score is now 8-5 in the bottom of the 7th inning, and chances are that the series will go back to Houston... It's kind of spooky in a way. [UPDATE: The Astros added a run in the 8th inning, and won Game 5 by a score of 9-5.]
Happy Halloween! *
* And for Nationals fans, happy second anniversary of their World Series victory!!
Just like two years ago (but not last year, when the baseball season was upended by the covid-19 pandemic), and several years before that, I present the home ballparks of the two World Series teams, for easy comparison. Also just like last year (Fenway Park and Dodger Stadium), the contrasts between the two stadiums this year (Minute Maid Park and Truist Park) are very sharp. Left field in particular differs radically, and the line drive home run into the left field bullpen by Jorge Soler last night was of such a low trajectory that it might not have carried the high wall at Minute Maid Park.