There were three keys to the Astros surviving Game 5 and taking the series back home.
- A strong Framber Valdez start
- The awakening of dormant bats
- Hits with runners in scoring position
After a first-inning Braves grand slam, it was clear that #1 wasn’t going to happen. Framber went 2.2 disappointing innings, allowing five earned runs. It seemed like he had doomed the Astros’ chances for a championship in 2021.
But if you’ve been watching the championship era Astros at all, you know they have no quit. They proved it once again tonight.
After anemic hitting in three of the four World Series games so far, tonight they got 12 hits, three by Carlos Correa, three by Yuli Gurriel, an RBI double by Alex Bregman, a hit and two runs from Jose Altuve, and three RBI, (team leading) from Martin Maldonado.
And let’s add two pinch-hit RBI by a man who is already an Astro World Series legend, Marwin Gonzalez.
Except for that of Yordan Alvarez, the dormant bats arose from the dead on this Halloween night.
And after going 1-19 with runners in scoring position in the three games they lost this Series, tonight the Astros were 5-15.
Ideally, the Astros would have wanted to strike first playing in a hostile road stadium. But any hopes that an early Astros ambush might silence the tomahawk choppers in the Braves stadium were dashed when Braves starter Tucker Davidson retired the Astros in the first inning facing the minimum three batters.
Indeed, it was the Braves who struck first, and they struck hard. Jorge Soler led off against Astros starter Framber Valdez with a single, but Valdez retired the next two batters.
Unfortunately, Austin Riley hit a tough but possibly playable grounder to third baseman Alex Bregman that he couldn’t handle. After a walk to Eddie Rosario to load the bases, the Braves seemingly put the game away in the first inning with yet another post-season grand slam against Astros pitching, this one by Adam Duvall.
The war cries from Braves fans were blood-curdling.
But the Astros did not quit and began nibbling away at the early Braves lead. In the second inning, the Astros cut the lead in half starting with a one-out Yuli Gurriel single, followed by a Kyle Tucker walk.
Alex Bregman came through in the seventh spot in the lineup after a terrible Series thus far with an RBI double to right-center, scoring Gurriel. Tucker would score on a Martin Maldonado sac fly.
After a solid inning by Valdez, the Astros tied the score in the third inning with two runs, starting with Jose Altuve reaching first on a Dansby Swanson error at shortstop. After a Michael Brantley walk, Carlos Correa doubled home Altuve against the new pitcher, Jesse Chavez, and Michael Brantley scored on a Yuli Gurriel groundout.
However, the Braves struck back decisively in the bottom of the third on one swing, a massive 460 homer by Freddie Freeman.
In the fourth inning, the Astros failed to take advantage of a Zack Greinke pinch-hit single, but relief pitcher and possible Game 6 or 7 starter Jose Urquidy held the Braves as well.
The Astros exploded forth with three runs in the fifth inning and their first lead of the game. Carlos Correa led off with a single off A.J. Minter, followed by a one-out Gurriel single. With runners on second and third and two outs, the Braves intentionally walked Alex Bregman, bringing up weak-hitting catcher Martin Maldonado.
Maldonado crowded the plate and refused to swing, and on a 3-1 pitch faked a bunt as Minter missed badly, walking in the Astros’ go-ahead run. (When I coached Little League I’d tell my bad hitters to not swing sometimes)
And then Marwin. Remember him? A little World Series history there, I believe. Pinch-hitting for Urquidy, Gonzalez looped a two-run single to left field, scoring Gurriel and Bregman.
Mid-season acquisition Phil Maton shut down the Braves in innings five and six, allowing two harmless hits with three K’s.
The Astros added an insurance run in the seventh on a...wait for it...a Martin Maldonado RBI single, scoring Kyle Tucker, who doubled to get in scoring position.
And yet another run in the eighth, thanks to old-school Jose Altuve hustle and clutch Correa hitting. Jose led off with a little grounder off the end of his bat on a bad pitch that barely squibbed into center field. Shades of early Altuve.
Altuve stole second on what should have been a successful pickoff, but he just barely beat the throw from first baseman Freeman to second on a play that on replay could have been called out. Altuve later scored on Correa's single.
Ryne Stanek held the Braves with a perfect seventh inning.
And Kendall Graveman closed out the game by shutting down the Atlanta squad in the eighth and ninth innings.
Once again, the Astros bullpen was spotless, pitching 7.1 innings of scoreless relief. Compare that to Framber Valdez's WS ERA of 19.29.
Who would have thought mid-season that the bullpen would be the reason the Astros would still be fighting in the World Series, and the starters and periodic weak hitting would be the main obstacles?
For his one inning of work, Jose Urquidy got the win tonight, making him the winning pitcher in both Astros wins this World Series, and making him the winning pitcher in three World Series games in his young career.
How many World Series wins does Justin Verlander have, I wonder? (Hint: He’s lost twice as many without a single win.)