The Atlanta Braves won a 2-0 nail-biter Friday night before a frenzied home crowd, split the next two home games, then clinched the World Series 7-0 in Houston Tuesday.
Atlanta came from behind to win 3-2 Saturday night. Houston spooked Atlanta 9-5 on Halloween Sunday, to stay alive. Lefty Max Fried fanned six in six innings Tuesday.
Atlanta roared in front Sunday 4-0 on Adam Duvall’s grand slam in the first inning, off of Framber Valdez. Freddie Freeman snapped a 4-4 tie with a 460-foot blast – his longest of ‘21. It was his franchise-record sixth career go-ahead homer in playoff games.
Atlanta won the series opener 6-2 in Houston Oct. 26. The Astros took game two 7-2. Houston is in its third W.S. in five seasons, going every other year. Scandalized, sign-stealing Houston beat the Dodgers in 2017, but lost to the Nats in ‘19.
The Braves won their first world title since 1995, when they beat Cleveland. I saw them in person in two games of the ‘96 Series they lost to the N.Y. Yankees. John Smoltz, the ace pitcher in ‘96, is Fox TV’s brilliant analyst for this series. The Braves were in the ‘99 Series, but none in this Millennium — until now.
It felt exciting in Truist Park as the Braves won their series home opener Friday – despite a chilly drizzle. The 41,000 fans often bellowed out the famed war cry while gesturing the Tomahawk Chop. Truist opened opened in 2017, north of Atlanta and beside Battery Atlanta restaurants.
Reigning National League MVP Freeman (.300, 31 HR), age 32, is Atlanta’s veteran superstar. Second baseman Ozzie Albies, 24, clobbered 30 homers and had 106 RBI in 2021. Young superstar OF Ronald Acuña, Jr., 23, tore his ACL mid-year. Atlanta’s starting outfield has G.M. Alex Anthopoulos’ mid-season acquisitions – CF Duvall, LF Eddie Rosario, and RFs Jorge Soler/Joc Pederson.
Austin Riley is the newest prolific slugger. The husky 6-foot-3, 240-pound third baseman is 24. He batted .303 with 33 homers, 107 RBI, and an on-base/slugging mark near .900 in the regular season.
Riley drove in the first run Friday with a sharp grounder down the left field line, just past Alex Bregman’s reach in the third inning.
The long-awaited “insurance” run was in the eighth inning with two outs. Catcher Travis d’Arnaud smashed a 437-foot home run to center field – off of a 97 mph Kendall Graveman fastball. His homer landed in a section near where I sat. Fans went wild as a siren blared. D’Arnaud also homered in game two. Too often in game three, Atlanta started a rally with two outs but then made the third out.
Pivotal game three was a pitching contest. That harkens to the dynastic Braves of the Nineties. But the current rotation is in shambles due to injuries. Instead, the bullpen is the strength.
Yet starter Ian Anderson yielded no hits in his five innings. He struck out four, and walked three. He threw merely 76 pitches but was lifted before the Astros saw him in one more go-aound.
Anderson was 12-7 with an outstanding 3.25 ERA in the regular season. He is 4-0 and 1.26 in eight playoff starts — seven of them team wins.
Anderson threw more fastballs than in his prior start — a win over the Dodgers. That likely surprised Houston batters. He has a lively (95-96 mph) fastball, good curve and devastating changeup. Houston statistically hits changeups better than any other team. He throws over the top — with no sidearm action.
Shaggy-haired, bearded Anderson, 23, is 6-3. The last Braves rookie starting a W.S. contest was in 1948 — with Vern Bickford versus Cleveland. Anderson filled the ace void. Star lefty Max Fried was shelled as Houston won game two. The 2020 ace, Mike Soroka, re-tore his Achilles tendon in June. Then 2021 ace Charlie Morton got hurt in the N.L.
On Friday pudgy Houston rookie Luis Garcia stymied Atlanta for three innings with his 96 mph fastball and rocking, jerky, distracting delivery.
Both starters were wild — throwing about as many balls as strikes. Anderson walked the first batter — pesty 2B Jose Altuve. Altuve drew loudest boos and “Cheat-er!” chants for past sign stealing. He was suspected of hiding an electric signaling device beneath his jersey in ‘17. Anderson escaped damage. He nimbly snared Michael Brantley’s sharp grounder, then threw to second to start a double play.
On Saturday Kyle Wright pitched 4.2 fine innings. He entered facing a bases loaded jam in the opening inning. Only one run scored — on a groundout. Wright fanned Alex Bregman to squelch the rally. He gave up Altuve’s homer in the fourth.
Down 2-0, Atlanta rallied. Riley drove in a run in the sixth. Atlanta seized the lead an inning later. Swanson homered to right. Next, Soler pulled a top-spinning liner to left. It barely cleared the fence for a 3-2 lead – the series’ first lead change. The “Dandy Dansby and Soler Power” back-to-back shots were off of Cristian Javier.
Eddie Matthews was the other Brave to homer in the seventh inning or later for a W.S. game lead – for the 1957 world champ Milwaukee Braves.
Pen is Mightier than Bat
Atlanta has the better bullpen in this series. To paraphrase a famed saying, “the Pen is mightier than the Bat.” Atlanta’s hard-throwing lefty “Night Shift” is one-time closer A.J. Minter, former Asheville Tourist Tyler Matzek then closer Will Smith. Manager Brian Snitker limited each and Luke Jackson to one inning Friday. Matzek was the winning pitcher Saturday. Chris Martin preceded him.
Houston pinch hitter Aledmys Diaz spoiled the no hitter Friday with a blooper in the eighth inning. Rookie pinch runner Jose Siri stole second. He went to third on d’Arnaud’s errant, bouncing throw. Siri was the tying run. But Matzek got Brantley to fly out to shut the door.
Houston’s Alex Bregman led off the ninth with a single to right. But huge Jordan Alvarez popped out. The last two outs were deep shots to right-center – by stars Carlos Correa then lefty Kyle Tucker. Tucker usually bats seventh in likely MLB’s most potent lineup – but one Atlanta hurlers mostly tamed.