Braves can't navigate 2nd straight 'pen game

November 2nd, 2021

ATLANTA -- It would have been a heck of a story had it worked. But it turns out constructing consecutive bullpen games in the World Series is challenging, especially when the starters of these contests entered with nine combined career appearances.

A sense of celebration reverberated throughout Truist Park when Adam Duvall drilled a first-inning grand slam on Sunday night. But the Braves’ bid to end the World Series faded as and teamed to squander the early lead in a 9-5 loss to the Astros in Game 5.

“We knew [consecutive bullpen games] was gonna be tough,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “It's just a lot of innings to cover against a club like this, that swings the bat so well. The good news is we'll take a day off and be in good shape.”

The Braves seemed to be in great position when Duvall hit his opposite-field grand slam off Framber Valdez. This marked just the second time in nine instances that a team lost after hitting a grand slam in the first inning of a postseason game. The only other team to lose was the Rays after Jordan Luplow hit a slam in the opening frame of a 14-6 defeat to the Red Sox in Game 2 of the 2021 American League Division Series.

Still, even after squandering Sunday’s early lead, the Braves travel back to Houston with a 3-2 lead in this best-of-seven Series. They can find comfort in the fact that they won’t have to bullpen their way through another game. Max Fried will start Game 6 on regular rest on Tuesday and, if necessary, Ian Anderson will be on regular rest for Game 7 on Wednesday.

Considering the Braves lost Charlie Morton to a broken right fibula 2 1/3 innings into Game 1, they should feel good about having to win just one of the next two games. But the absence of Morton created the need to roll the dice with consecutive bullpen games.

“I feel like we're right where we want to be,” Minter said. “Yeah, it was tough having back-to-back bullpen games, but we have the pitching staff to do that. We have the pitchers to cover innings down there, and a lot of pitchers stepped up today.”

Thanks to Kyle Wright allowing just one run over 4 2/3 innings in Game 4 on Saturday, the Braves were able to overcome Dylan Lee retiring just one of the four batters he faced as an opener. But they didn’t get the same assistance from their bulk guys when they gave their Game 5 start to Davidson, who entered this game with a grand total of five career appearances, none of which had been made since June.

Davidson rolled through the first inning, surrendered two runs in the second and surprisingly was allowed to bat with one out and none on in the bottom of the second. The decision to stick with the 25-year-old southpaw backfired when the third inning began with Dansby Swanson bobbling a Jose Altuve grounder and Michael Brantley drawing a walk.

Davidson exited and watched helplessly as Jesse Chavez immediately allowed Carlos Correa’s RBI double and Yuli Gurriel’s game-tying groundout.

“After two innings, that’s just a lot of game to cover, especially with some guys down,” Snitker said. “We were going to stretch [Davidson] as far as we could, and I think we did.”

As the Braves mapped out this game, they had hoped to get about 75 pitches from Davidson and then a few innings from Minter, who entered having allowed just one run and five hits over 11 innings this postseason. He was the only primary reliever who hadn’t been used on Saturday.

“My God, he’s been so good and he’s had such a great postseason,” Snitker said. “He had to work really hard. It didn't work.”

Minter came on to replace Chavez and struck out Brantley to end the fourth, but the southpaw encountered trouble after Correa and Gurriel singled in the fifth. A Kyle Tucker groundout advanced both runners and prompted the Braves to intentionally walk Alex Bregman to load the bases with two outs.

Bregman produced a .777 OPS during the regular season and he has a .634 OPS this postseason. So he's not as dangerous a hitter as he’s been in the past. But he certainly posed a bigger threat than Martín Maldonado, who has a .297 OPS this postseason.

But Minter issued a five-pitch walk to Maldonado to force in the tying run and then allowed Marwin Gonzalez to loft a two-run single to left field. Maldonado made things more difficult as he crowded the plate.

“Obviously with Maldonado, I could tell he was going up there trying to work a walk,” Minter said. “For me, it was just, I tried to aim the ball instead of just driving it to the mitt. That's obviously the one thing I would take back. And then … a flare shot to score two runs, just like that.”

As the Braves have consistently done throughout this season, they must flip the page and look forward to not having to construct any more bullpen games the rest of the way.

“It's just one of those games where it was a battle for both sides,” Minter said. “You've got to tip your hat for Houston just staying in the game, just battling the at-bats and battling hits, and baseball happened tonight.”