ATLANTA -- The Houston Astros came to town Friday with a pitching advantage that they hoped to leverage into command of the World Series. While the Braves had back-to-back bullpen games set up for Games 4 and 5, the Astros had established starters ready to go.
That didn’t work out as hoped.
As the Astros left Truist Park on Sunday night after a 9-5 victory in Game 5, the roles have flipped.
Atlanta, up 3-2 in the best-of-seven Series, has two chances to clinch in Houston with Max Fried in Game 6 on Tuesday and Ian Anderson expected to be available on regular rest for Game 7, if needed on Wednesday. The Astros, meanwhile, have a pitching jumble to sort out. Given the circumstances, they’re grateful to still have a chance.
“When you're down 3-1, you've just got to kind of pull out all the stops to your rotation,” manager Dusty Baker said after Sunday’s Game 5. “If a guy's tired, it really doesn't matter, because your next step is home, and we weren't ready to go home.”
Instead of heading home for the offseason, the Astros are headed to their home ballpark. They’ll have to count on some creative pitching work at Minute Maid Park to win the Series, the same work they did to pull out Game 5 after rallying from a 4-0 first-inning deficit.
José Urquidy, who appeared to be in line to start Game 6 on five days’ rest, instead earned the victory in Game 5 with a scoreless inning of relief. Three more relievers followed, shutting down the Braves’ offense and sending the series back to Houston.
“All the guys gutted it out and gave us all that they had, including Urquidy,” Baker said. “We thought Urquidy -- at that point, you didn't want to trade runs with [Atlanta]. You wanted to shut them down to give you the chance to come back.”
Urquidy threw just 14 pitches, but when asked about his starting options for Game 6, Baker seemed inclined to go in a different direction.
“We're down to kind of [Luis] Garcia at this point,” Baker said.
Garcia, the rookie right-hander who took the loss in Game 3 on Friday night, would be starting on just three days’ rest for the first time in his career. He threw 72 pitches -- his second-highest total this postseason -- over 3 2/3 innings in Game 3, during which he yielded three hits and four walks but limited the damage to a lone run. It was enough for a 2-0 Houston loss.
Whether Urquidy could follow Garcia in relief, or whether Baker would rather save him for a potential Game 7 start, is another question. Baker’s other Game 7 option could be veteran Zack Greinke on short rest. He pitched four scoreless innings in a Game 4 start, then appeared in Game 5 as a pinch-hitter.
The bright side for the Astros is that they get an off-day Monday to get their full-time relievers some rest and get their bullpen in order. Though Phil Maton and Kendall Graveman pitched two scoreless innings apiece, throwing 29 and 37 pitches respectively, the rest of the relief work was short. More important, the Astros finished out the win without using closer Ryan Pressly, who threw 33 pitches over 1 2/3 innings in Game 4 on Saturday night. With two days’ rest heading into Game 6, he should be refreshed.
It will take some creativity. But Baker has done it before, notably last season when the Astros erased a 3-0 deficit in the American League Championship Series to force a Game 7 against the Rays. That struggle for survival included a seven-pitcher effort in Game 5. Coincidentally, that game began with Garcia.