The 117th edition of the Fall Classic got underway last night with the Braves and Astros squaring off in Houston. Amusingly, it’s the sixth time that they’ve faced each other in the postseason, as they squared off five different times in the National League Division Series between 1997 and 2005, the latter stage of Houston’s Senior Circuit days. The Chipper Jones-led Braves dominated the first three matchups with a 9-1 record, but Houston rebounded with back-to-back NLDS victories in ‘04 and ‘05 (the latter on Chris Burke’s walk-off homer in the 18th inning of Game 4).
2005 doesn’t seem that long ago, but it really is, especially for the Astros. That was the year of their first World Series appearance, and after a major rebuild, they returned to prominence in 2015 and have won three pennants in the last five years. Atlanta went through a few facelifts of its own and is now back in the Fall Classic for the first time since the Yankees swept them in 1999. So how did the first showdown go?
What happened last night?
World Series Game 1
(Braves lead 1-0)
The Astros were the favorite at the outset of the World Series, but the Braves did their part to prove that they were a worthy foe in the very first inning. Jorge Soler got to make a start at DH due to the Houston setting, and he led off the ballgame with a homer into the Crawford Boxes, the first player in MLB history to begin the Fall Classic with a bang. Although others had clubbed leadoff homers in the home half of the first, Soler was the first to do so in the actual first at-bat of the game.
Atlanta quickly built on that 1-0 lead too, as Ozzie Albies reached on an infield single, won everyone in America a taco by stealing second, and then scored on Austin Riley’s double to the left-center-field gap. Framber Valdez recovered from there to hold Atlanta to the two runs, and while both teams saw chances with the bases loaded in the subsequent half-innings, only one Atlanta runner crossed home plate, and the score was 3-0 after two.
The Braves knocked Valdez out of the game in the third, though. NLCS MVP Eddie Rosario singled, and Adam Duvall joined the home run parade with a 111.7-mph missile to right. Atlanta led, 5-0, and that was the end of Valdez’s night, as he failed to build on his commanding eight-inning start against Boston. However, Charlie Morton was unable to give much length to the Braves either, as the veteran was forced from the ballgame with an injury that was later revealed to be a fractured fibula. It’s a brutal blow, as Atlanta will have to make due without its most reliable starter for the rest of the World Series.
The battle of the bullpens was on. Jake Odorizzi led a contingent of Astros relievers who calmed the Atlanta bats with shutout ball through seven, and on the other side, A.J. Minter stepped up big in relief of the ailing Morton (later earning the win). Houston got on the board thanks to an error by Dansby Swanson, but the short reliever still threw 2.1 innings of three-hit ball, extending himself longer than he normally goes. Luke Jackson rebounded from an awful NLCS to retire five of the next six batters.
The Braves added an insurance run in the eighth in meager-but-efficient fashion: a Swanson walk, a Soler infield single that rolled into no-man’s land to allow Swanson to go to third, and a Freddie Freeman sacrifice fly. That came in handy when Yordan Alvarez quickly got it back on a leadoff triple; he was plated on a Carlos Correa groundout to make it 6-2. The score held there, and while the Braves lost Morton, they won Game 1 to steal at least one on the road.
What’s on deck?
World Series Game 2
Houston Astros vs. Atlanta Braves
(José Urquidy vs. Max Fried)
Time: 8:08 pm ET
Venue: Minute Maid Park
Yes, it’s only a 1-0 advantage, but World Series leads are precious. Remember how the Yankees made a comeback from down 0-2 to Atlanta in the 1996 Fall Classic? That was amazing, but unusual. In the 24 World Series since then, the Game 1 victor has gone on to win it all 20 times (83.3 percent). The paths may vary between sweeps and seven-game classics, but it’s a tough road to hoe making a comeback from down even a single game.
Tonight in Houston, the Braves will aim to prolong that trend and move up 2-0 while the Astros hope to become the outlier and tie this series up before the series heads to Atlanta. Although they’re the road team and leading the series, the Braves probably need to steal this one with a real starter on the mound in Fried. He faltered in the potential NLCS clincher on Thursday, but has otherwise been quite good.
Atlanta will have Ian Anderson for Game 3, but beyond then, they might not have another real starter until a potential Game 6. Without Morton, it’s a race against the clock to win three more games, and their bullpen can only throw so many innings. Minter, Jackson, Tyler Matzek, and Will Smith all saw work in the opener, and if Atlanta wants to win this series, they’ll need all those relievers (and more) to remain in top form.
On the other side, the Astros have suddenly lost five World Series games in a row at home — a true oddity for a club that normally dominates at Minute Maid Park. But they haven’t won one since their sign-stealing was in full force during the wild Game 5 of the 2017 World Series against the Dodgers. Urquidy will get the ball and he’s only pitched 1.2 ineffective innings since the regular-season finale October 3rd. His 2021 season showed the capacity for more, but he’ll likely need more than two runs of support from the Astros’ lineup to win.