Astros turn tide: ‘We needed that game’

Urquidy turns in stellar start; Altuve breaks out with homer

6:03 AM UTC

HOUSTON — Baseball and weather have a complication in common. They are both frustrating to forecast, changing with the whims of wind or wins. You can begin a day, as so many did here, to a smartphone alert of a tornado warning. And you can end a day, as so many did here, in the rare open air of Minute Maid Park in idyllic 73-degree conditions.

Such is weather, and such is baseball. Twenty-four hours earlier, the Astros were a listless unit, unable to produce even against a pitcher with a broken leg in their fifth straight World Series loss at home. But on Wednesday night, the Minute Maid roof opened up and so did the Astros’ offense. Houston’s pesky and productive approach early against Braves starter Max Fried paved the way to a necessary 7-2 victory that sends this best-of-seven Series to Atlanta knotted in a 1-1 tie.

“They knew that we needed that game,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said of his club. “And the roof being open, I mean, rarely is it open. Usually it’s not that cool. Usually it’s humid and muggy, and you welcome the roof closed. So it was different.”

Different indeed. Game 2 was everything Game 1 was not.

José Urquidy, who had previously pitched only 1 2/3 innings this postseason (and allowed six runs in the process in that Game 3 outing of the American League Championship Series against the Red Sox), gave the Astros the self-assured, satisfying start that Framber Valdez did not. Urquidy delivered five effective innings in which he allowed just a pair of runs on six hits with seven strikeouts and no walks. And the Braves, who had owned the opener, suffered in this one from porous pitching, a lack of clutch hitting and uncharacteristically iffy defense.

Whereas every member of Atlanta’s lineup had delivered a hit in Game 1, this time seven of nine Astros had a notch in the hit column, and even the lone holdouts — Alex Bregman and Yordan Alvarez — either scored or drove in a run. Jose Altuve sparked it all by snapping out of a 3-for-29 slump with two extra-base hits, the second of which was his 22nd career postseason home run — tying him with Bernie Williams for second all-time behind Manny Ramirez (29).

“I would say it was a must-win today,” Altuve said, defying math but not emotion. “We didn’t want to go to Atlanta down by two. So we left everything we had in there tonight. Obviously, very important win to tie the series to keep going from there.”

After the Astros dropped the opener, Baker had shrugged it off and promised, “Ball’s going to bounce our way tomorrow.”

The ball bounced down the left-field line as Altuve swatted a leadoff double that set up the Astros’ first run in the first. And though the score was tied at 1 the next inning on a solo shot from Braves catcher Travis d’Arnaud, the ball did a lot of bouncing for Houston in the bottom of the second.

Kyle Tucker, Yuli Gurriel and Jose Siri, a rookie inserted into a lineup in need of speed and energy, reached in succession on ground-ball singles, the last of which scored a run. When Martín Maldonado ripped — what else? — a ground-ball single through the hole on the left side of the infield, Gurriel scored from second and Siri from first, thanks to a throwing error by Atlanta left fielder Eddie Rosario that went to an uncovered third base. After one more ground-ball RBI single from Michael Brantley with two out, the Astros had jumped out to a 5-1 lead on Fried.

“It wasn’t like [Fried] was getting banged around,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “Balls that found holes, checked swings, we threw a ball away. It was just a weird inning.”

Fried, who was trying to bounce back from an uncharacteristically rough outing in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series after a sensational second half, did settle in from there. That he was able to pitch into the sixth despite that early eruption was helpful to an Atlanta team that will be leaning heavily on the ‘pen in the wake of Charlie Morton’s fractured right fibula.

But the damage had been done.

“Obviously, I’m not happy about it,” Fried said. “Playoffs is a big momentum game. You got to do everything you can to keep the crooked number off the scoreboard. At the end of the day, they put up four runs in that inning. You need to do better next time, just making pitches, getting out of it.”

Though the Braves got another run on the board with Freddie Freeman’s RBI single in the fifth, Houston did more damage when Alvarez scored on a sixth-inning fielder’s choice and when Altuve smacked a solo shot off Drew Smyly that went deep into the Crawford Boxes in the seventh.

“Well, he’s good,” Baker said of Altuve. “My dad used to tell me it’s OK to get down, just don’t stay down. So he didn’t stay down.”

Neither did these October-tested Astros.

“The difference between this group and some other groups that I’ve had is the fact that they’re always looking for something good to happen,” Baker said. “In Washington, we had a very talented group, but they had lost in the first round before I got there two or three times, and so therefore you start looking for things to happen. This group looks for good things to happen and expects good.”

So while the roof was open, Minute Maid Park was quite a bit louder Wednesday than it had been on Tuesday. And now the World Series heads to the open air of Truist Park, where what is now a best-of-five series begins — or, rather, opens — on Friday night.

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