Astros' bats awaken to keep season going
Offense rallies after early deficit to force return trip to Houston
ATLANTA -- Did you hear the one where the Astros allowed a first-inning grand slam, got only eight outs from starting pitcher Framber Valdez, gave up a 460-foot go-ahead blast to Freddie Freeman, saw cleanup hitter Yordan Alvarez go 0-for-5 and still managed to live to play another day?
Seeing is believing in the 2021 World Series.
Somehow, someway, the Astros are bringing this wild, wacky World Series back to Houston after manager Dusty Baker pulled out all the stops -- including successfully using pitcher Zack Greinke as a pinch-hitter -- and their offense finally came alive in a 9-5 win over the Braves in Game 5.
“These guys are together,” Baker said. “They've been through many of these battles. So they don't know how to quit, and they're always looking for an edge or an opening. Fortunately tonight, we took advantage of some.”
The Astros became only the second team in playoff history to allow a first-inning grand slam and win, joining the Red Sox in Game 2 of this year’s American League Division Series against the Rays. By rallying from 4-0 down, Houston tied the 1919 White Sox for the third-largest come-from-behind win when facing elimination in World Series history.
“I always say, if it's going to happen, let it happen early,” Baker said of the slam. “You don't want it to happen in the middle of the game or toward the end of the game. The guys came through. That's what counts.”
The Braves still lead the best-of-seven Series, 3-2, heading to Minute Maid Park for Game 6 on Tuesday night. The Astros will need to find a way to muster one more win to force a winner-take-all Game 7 on Wednesday.
“I say, ‘Keep fighting,’” shortstop Carlos Correa said. “I'm a huge MMA fan, and I've seen lots of guys almost knocked out, and they battle back to win the fight. ... I truly believe, if there's one team that can accomplish that in this league, it's us. We're going to stay confident, go out there and battle every single inning and try to win every pitch.”
Adam Duvall’s first-inning grand slam off Valdez -- Houston’s record fourth grand slam allowed in the postseason -- whipped the crowd at Truist Park into a frenzy as it began to think about a clinch. The Astros weren’t about to let their season end that easily and began chipping away.
Alex Bregman -- moved down to the No. 7 hole -- had an RBI double in a two-run second inning, and Houston tied it in the third on an RBI double by Correa and a groundout by Yuli Gurriel. Freeman’s homer put the Braves ahead in the third.
“I think that was the key to us winning the game right there, bouncing back right away, those two runs, Bregman getting the huge double,” Correa said. “From the moment we scored those two runs, we said, ‘All right, it's time to go. Let's go. Let's put great at-bats together.’”
That’s what happened in the fifth inning, when the Astros loaded the bases with two outs against Braves reliever A.J. Minter and scored three runs.
Catcher Martín Maldonado, who was 4-for-41 with two RBIs through his first 14 games of the postseason, drew a bases-loaded walk to tie the game for the second of his three RBIs. He also had an RBI single in the seventh.
“Every time you've got a chance to help the team win one way or another, it's always huge,” Maldonado said.
Said Correa: “Did you guys notice how close he was to the plate on the at-bat against Minter? You guys notice? That was sick.”
Pinch-hitter Marwin Gonzalez, who wasn’t on the Houston roster in the ALDS or ALCS after re-signing with the club in August, followed Maldonado with a two-run, bloop single to left field for his first hit since Oct. 3 and first RBI since Sept. 20. That made it 7-5, Astros.
“It feels amazing,” Gonzalez said. “This is part of my family. The guys welcomed me like I never left. That made me feel special, too. Then to be able to contribute to the team and get a win in the World Series, it means a lot.”
The Astros had more hits with runners in scoring position (five) in Game 5 than the first four games of the Series (four). They also have scored 50 runs with two outs in the playoffs, which is the second most in a single postseason behind the 2020 Dodgers (59).
The Astros’ bullpen took it from there, with Yimi García, José Urquidy, Phil Maton, Ryne Stanek and Kendall Graveman throwing 6 1/3 scoreless innings. Houston’s bullpen has posted a 1.75 ERA in 25 2/3 innings in five games in the World Series and will be called upon to carry most of the load in Games 6 and, perhaps, Game 7.
“Losing those first two games here the way we did, especially that second one, was really tough, and they eat at you a little bit,” Correa said. “But we found a way to bounce back today, and it gives us a lot of confidence to go to Houston, our home ballpark. One pitch at a time, but we're feeling good.”