AP Photo/David J. Phillip
Before the first inning of Game 5 of the World Series was even over, Atlanta had a 4-0 lead on the Houston Astros, and Truist Park was generating the kind of noise that can only come from long-suffering fans finally staring a championship in the face.
But the longer the night went on, the more that face started to look like the pale, lifeless visage of a repurposed William Shatner mask.
There wasn’t any one moment that turned this Halloween into the sort of nightmare with which Atlanta fans are all too familiar. It was more like death by a thousand cuts from knife-wielding slashers, as Houston’s offense finally came alive to bang out 12 hits and draw six walks to turn its early 4-0 deficit into a 9-5 win.
If there was one cut that hurt the most, though, it was probably Marwin Gonzalez’s go-ahead, two-run single in the fifth inning:
Though there was no Dr. Loomis to save the day for Atlanta on Sunday night, the club will at least live to fight another day.
All the Astros did was trim Atlanta’s lead in the series from 3-1 to 3-2. As was the case going into Game 5, Atlanta still only needs one win the clinch the organization’s championship since Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz and Co. won the World Series in 1995.
But now that the Astros are back from the dead, Atlanta may well come to rue not burying them when it had the chance.
Astros Players of the Game
- PH Marwin Gonzalez: 1-for-1, two RBI. Though not the most important hit he’s ever had for the Astros in a World Series game, his clutch single in the fifth was nonetheless his first hit of this postseason.
- C Martin Maldonado: 1-for-3, BB, three RBI. He went into Game 5 with just two runs batted in through his first 14 games of the playoffs. He deserves all the credit for beating that number on Sunday, as he generated a bases-loaded walk and took two great swings for a sacrifice fly and a run-scoring single.
- SS Carlos Correa and 1B Yuli Gurriel: They had five hits between them in this series entering Sunday. That number is now up to 11 after each collected three knocks in Game 5.
Atlanta Players of the Game
- CF Adam Duvall: 1-for-4, HR, R, four RBI. His grand slam in the first inning seemed to ice the series for Atlanta. Emphasis on “seemed.”
- 1B Freddie Freeman: 1-for-4, HR, R, RBI. It was ultimately for naught, yet his 460-foot solo home run in the third inning is still notable for being the longest home run of this postseason.
The Astros’ Very Own Halloween: Resurrection
After losing Game 4 in heartbreaking fashion on back-to-back home runs by Dansby Swanson and Jorge Soler in the seventh inning, probably what the Astros wanted most for Game 5 was to get off to a fast start.
Which is to say, not fall into an early four-run hole on a grand slam:
A GRAND START FOR THE BRAVES. pic.twitter.com/hoM6BRpo4N
According to FanGraphs, Atlanta had an 84 percent chance of winning Game 5 once Duvall crossed home plate. Given that the Astros had scored just two runs in Games 3 and 4 combined, even that figure perhaps understated how high Atlanta was riding.
Then the real Astros offense showed up.
It wasn’t exit velocity that heralded the return of Houston’s usual offensive might, as Atlanta still ended up with eight of the game’s nine hardest-hit balls. It was more so that Astros hitters stopped trying to do too much. They worked six walks (though one was intentional) after drawing only 13 through the series’ first four games and swung with a general emphasis on hitting the ball through the holes of Atlanta’s defense rather than over the fence.
It’s not exactly a virtue that the Astros didn’t hit any home runs in Game 5, but that they nonetheless collected a dozen hits was a taste of their good ol’ days of the regular season. They led Major League Baseball in hits and by an especially large gap over the next team with regard to non-homer hits.
With their collective approach back on track in Game 5, the Astros were finally able to get the line moving. They went into the contest with just four hits in 31 at-bats with runners in scoring position for the series. They’re now 9-for-46 after tallying five knocks in such situations on Sunday.
You could make the case that such an effort was inevitable but spare some credit for Astros manager Dusty Baker too.
He rolled the dice with a significant lineup change for Game 5, moving Alex Bregman from the No. 3 down to No. 7 while also bumping up Correa to Bregman’s old spot and Gurriel to Correa’s former slot at No. 5. Perhaps it’s a coincidence that all three looked more comfortable and confident on Sunday. Then again, perhaps not.
For Atlanta, one silver lining to be gleaned from Game 5 is that its five runs represent its second-best output of any game in this series. With Duvall’s and Freeman’s contributions tonight, it also stretched its overall home run advantage to 8-2.
More worrying, though, was the extent to which manager Brian Snitker saw his pitching fall apart in Game 5.
Said pitching had allowed just 11 runs through the first four games of the series, with six of those getting charged to Game 2 starter Max Fried. Making his first start for Atlanta since June 15, Tucker Davidson didn’t do much better in coughing up four runs (albeit just two earned) of his own in two innings.
Yet the game didn’t truly turn until, after initially entering in the fourth inning, A.J. Minter came back out in the fifth and finally hit a wall:
- First 7 Playoff Appearances: 11.0 IP, five hits, two walks, one run, 16 strikeouts
- Game 5: 1.0 IP, three hits, two walks, three runs, two strikeouts
Because he’s a part of the “Night Shift” trio along with fellow left-handers Tyler Matzek and Will Smith, Snitker must hope that Minter’s flop will prove to be a fluke.
Neither of the alternatives bode well for Atlanta. Either Minter is running out of gas, or Houston hitters have him figured after getting good looks at him in Games 1 and 3.
Mercifully, Minter and the rest of a relief corps that had to pick up a bunch of slack in Games 3 and 4 will have a chance to rest during Monday’s travel day. Since Snitker spared him from starting on three days’ rest in Game 5, Fried will now get to go on five days’ rest in Game 6 on Tuesday. If needed, Ian Anderson would be on regular rest for Game 7 on Wednesday.
At least to these ends, Atlanta has a leg up on the Astros even without injured ace Charlie Morton. Houston’s Game 6 starter will likely be Luis Garcia, who’ll be on short rest after coughing up three hits and four walks in 3.2 innings in Game 3. Even if the Astros force a Game 7, they’d have to hope that Jose Urquidy can bounce back quickly after pitching one inning in relief on Sunday.
But if the Astros offense can stay alive after emerging from its death-like state in Game 5, the upcoming pitching matchups may prove to be immaterial.
As it is, it’s something of a moral victory for the Astros that they now have the edge in runs scored (20-18) in this series. Of course, they also have recent experience riding a hot offense to a come-from-behind victory. The Boston Red Sox hit the Astros hard in the first three games of the American League Championship Series, but then the Astros hit them hard right back as they scored 23 runs over the next three games to win the series.
If what everyone saw in Game 5 was the Astros offense tapping back into that very same mojo, they can ensure that Atlanta never wakes from this nightmare.
What’s Next for Houston and Atlanta?
After an off day on Monday, the World Series will resume at Minute Maid Park in Houston for Game 6 on Tuesday. First pitch is scheduled for 8:09 p.m. ET. The presumed matchup is Fried for Atlanta and Garcia for the Astros.
If the home team wins, Game 7 would be on Wednesday.
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