ATLANTA – The bats finally sounded and the World Series is heading back to Houston, where the Houston Astros hope to score two wins Tuesday that will make them World Series champions.
The Astros won an unlikely 9-5 win over the Atlanta Braves on Sunday, in what was a microcosm of what has been their season, but even more so in their playoffs this year.
They had to overcome all possible adversity. By the end of the first inning, they lost 4-0 because their starting pitcher Framber Valdez had another bad start, even allowing Grand Slam.
They began to manufacture runs little by little, until they equalized in the third, just minutes from going down 5-4 for another homer that Valdez allowed. But the impassable relief came in and little by little the Astros began to hit and produce runs with the least likely that many would have expected, such as pinch hitter Marwin González and catcher Martín Maldonado.
The team’s offensive core players, Yuli Gurriel, José Altuve, Carlos Correa and Álex Bregman also fired up with changes in the offensive lineup by manager Dusty Baker, and even pitcher Zack Greinke also as a pinch hitter.
“That’s the way this team is, you always know we’re going to fight everything and everyone,” said Gurriel, who was moved from seventh to fifth in the lineup, before hitting three hits in five at-bats and producing a run.
Maldonado drove in three runs; Gonzalez, who was added to the Astros’ playoff roster for the first time in the World Series, produced two more, as did Correa to keep the team alive on the road home.
Gonzalez is hitting .176 on the stick and eight RBIs in 14 games since he signed to return to the Astros in late August after being cut by the Boston Red Sox.
“He has World Series experience,” manager Dusty Baker said. “So it’s not that he’s going to freak out in certain situations. That’s why we trust him.”
Situational hitting was key. Houston was unstoppable in 17 at-bats with men in scoring position after the first two games in Atlanta. In Game 5 they had five hits in 15 chances with men in scoring position and still had the luxury of leaving nine runners on base.
“Before the game we talked,” said Gurriel. “We said that we had to go step by step, turn by turn and game by game. Now the Series returns home, where as of Tuesday we have another game to win, if we want to be champions.”
The relief put a good part. In seven 1/3 innings they prevented runs; they got outs in transcendent situations; they struck out six and walked away to deliver their only home loss in eight playoff games to the Braves.
“It was difficult at first in all respects,” Gurriel acknowledged. “Mentally you had to overcome starting from the second inning four runs down. But we were always confident and the relief gave us what we needed … He stopped his bats and gave us a chance to win.”
Game 6 will be played Tuesday at Minute Maid Park in Houston, where manager Baker said Luis Garcia was highly likely to start for his Astros, but he also did not confirm. Mexican José Urquidy was supposed to be the next starter, but he was the second of five relievers. He threw an inning in which he allowed a hit.
The Mexican scored his second win in this Fall Classic in that relay.
After two straight bullpen games, the Braves have yet to confirm their starter, though star Max Fried would be in his regular rotation after he allowed seven hits and six runs in five innings in Game 2 of the series.
“I’m just glad we’re going back to Houston,” Baker said. “That was our goal tonight.”