Baker plays the long game with bullpen

Astros drop Game 3 but align relievers for the next two games in Atlanta

October 30th, 2021

ATLANTA -- The skies over Truist Park were gray and dreary all day Friday leading into Game 3 of the World Series, and they didn’t get any better once night fell and Ian Anderson threw zeros through an intermittent drizzle. For the Astros, finding a silver lining through air chilly enough to see one’s own breath by the end of a 2-0 loss to the Braves wasn’t easy.

And yet, if manager Dusty Baker needed it, he could look to his bullpen and see relatively fresh arms at his disposal for Game 4 on Saturday night. Considering what his Braves counterpart faces, with the possibility of bullpen games for the next two nights with the Series still in the balance, that means something.

“I was all about winning today, and we'll deal with tomorrow, tomorrow,” Atlanta manager Brian Snitker said after his club took a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven World Series. “We're going to have to use a lot of the other guys, and that's just -- hopefully, we score more runs.”

The Astros’ staff is set up well to make that a difficult task.

On a night when the Astros didn’t record a hit until the eighth inning, they had the potential tying run at the plate at the end, and they didn’t have to blow out the leverage end of their bullpen to get there. In the process, Baker struck the balance between trying to win the game and trying to maintain his best chance to win the series.

“You get a stretch of three games in a row, you've got to do what you can tonight to hold that game where it was,” Baker said afterward. “But we have some relatively fresh arms.”

Though rookie starter lasted just 3 2/3 innings and 72 pitches, the Astros drew 4 1/3 innings of one-run relief. , counted on to deliver more than three outs for the third time in his past four outings, recorded five outs with only an infield single and a walk allowed over 28 pitches. retired the top third of the Braves’ lineup for the last out of the sixth inning and the first two of the seventh. made his 10th appearance of the postseason, but threw just four pitches to strike out Austin Riley to end the seventh.

Not until the eighth inning, with the Astros still in a 1-0 duel, did Baker turn to one of his primary late-inning relievers. gave up the insurance run on a Travis d’Arnaud solo homer -- the only homer he has allowed to a right-handed hitter all season. Still, Graveman’s 11-pitch inning wasn’t taxing.

The combined effort stretched the Astros’ bullpen work to 15 1/3 innings of two-run ball in this World Series, with just eight hits and five walks with 19 strikeouts.

The list of pitchers used didn’t include , who received a second day of rest after his four-out, 27-pitch performance in Game 2. He now has a chance to piggyback starter Zack Greinke in Game 4 if Baker wants. The combination worked well in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series at Fenway Park in a win that arguably turned that series around.

Also not used was , who now has three days of rest since throwing 42 pitches in Game 1. By using Graveman in the eighth inning, the Astros saved closer , putting him potentially in line for back-to-back outings in Games 4 and 5. He began the postseason with back-to-back outings to help the Astros take command of their Division Series against the White Sox.

Stanek has pitched on consecutive days only once this postseason, but it happened under similar circumstances -- a five-pitch, one-out performance in Game 1 of the ALCS against the Red Sox, followed by a scoreless inning in Game 2.

Given the rotation situation, Game 3 was arguably a must-win for the Braves. They got it thanks in no small part to five hitless innings from Anderson but still stretched their key bullpen pieces in the process.

“Nothing's changed for us,” said Tyler Matzek, who gave up Houston’s first hit but continues to flummox Astros hitters. “We're going to go out there and be aggressive. That's what we try and do, try and pound the strike zone, stay in good counts. And that's going to help us go deep in the game or be able to go two innings, three innings, four innings, whatever we need to do.”

As for the Astros, they have concerns, but their bullpen, for now, isn’t one of them.

“If anybody knows how to pitch in a big game, it's Greinke,” Baker said. “We don't know how long he's going to go. Just give us as much quality as you can, and then we'll turn it over to somebody else.”