HOUSTON -- Jorge Soler wasted no time at all in announcing his return to the top of the Atlanta Braves’ lineup.
Soler, making his first start since returning from the COVID-19 injured list, smashed the third pitch of the World Series to the Crawford Boxes beyond the left-field wall at Minute Maid Park in Game 1 on Tuesday, giving Atlanta a quick lead in what became a two-run first inning against the Astros and left-hander Framber Valdez, and an eventual 6-2 victory.
It was a historic World Series swing. Soler became the first player to homer in the very first plate appearance of a Fall Classic -- in other words, the top of the first inning of Game 1. Four players had homered in their team’s first plate appearances, but those were all in the bottom of the first: Don Buford for the 1969 Orioles, Dustin Pedroia for the 2007 Red Sox, Alcides Escobar for the 2015 Royals and Chris Taylor for the 2017 Dodgers against the Astros.
“To be honest, I didn't know that was a thing until I was told a little later on in the game,” Soler said, drawing a smile from teammate Adam Duvall during a postgame press conference. “For me, I wasn't thinking about anything like that.”
The fact it made history, Soler said, made “me and my family both very happy.”
Valdez missed the strike zone with his first two pitches before elevating a third straight sinker that Soler launched in the air. It was the same jolt Soler gave the Braves after coming to Atlanta in a midseason trade with the Royals and slugging .573 in 37 games to finish the regular season.
The smash vindicated a pre-series decision that faced the Braves, who’d used scorching-hot Eddie Rosario in the leadoff spot in five of seven games since Soler landed on the IL during Atlanta’s National League Division Series against the Brewers. Rosario responded by hitting .560 with three home runs and nine RBIs during the Braves’ win over the Dodgers in six games in the NL Championship Series, earning the series’ MVP Award.
Braves manager Brian Snitker said there was a chance Rosario returns to the top spot in the lineup against Houston right-hander José Urquidy in Game 2. But against the lefty Valdez, he went with Soler.
“I weighed both things all night,” Snitker said, “and then, just looking at how actually we could balance the lineup [he went with Soler in the top spot]. Because this is the postseason, you never know what they're going to do. Guys do stuff different than they have. And I find myself doing that. So just to try and structure the lineup for the game, for this one game. That's pretty much what it is.”