On a brisk Halloween night at Truist Park on Sunday, the Atlanta Braves had a chance to exorcise their city’s recent sports demons.
By the time the final out was recorded in the wee hours Monday morning, old scars only had been flared up once again.
Instead of finishing off the Houston Astros and winning its first World Series since 1995 on home turf, Atlanta blew an early four-run lead en route to a 9-5 loss that will send the World Series back to Houston for Game 6 on Tuesday night.
“We are going back home, still alive,” Astros manager Dusty Baker told Fox, before adding: “We didn’t want to end with the celebration here.”
The Braves, of course, are still leading the best-of-seven series three-games-to-two. But it hardly felt that way as the 43,122 fans at Truist Park — who earlier in the night shook the building after Adam Duvall’s first-inning grand slam — quietly filed out, stunned into silence by the team’s first home loss of the postseason.
This is the same market, after all, that watched the Falcons suffer a historic 25-point meltdown in the Super Bowl four years ago. That has seen its basketball team sputter in postseason after postseason. Whose local college football program has made a habit of coming up short year after year.
And whose baseball team squandered an identical 3-1 series lead in last year’s playoffs, collapsing against the Dodgers in the National League Championship Series.
But those circumstances were different. Games 6 and 7 were back in Atlanta. The Braves still had veteran starter Charlie Morton in their back pocket too before he broke his leg in the World Series opener last week. And while they blew an early lead in that Game 5 against the Dodgers, it wasn’t nearly as deflating as what happened against the Astros on Sunday night.
“It’s a long game,” Duvall said. “And they didn’t quit.”
After a clean top of the first from rookie starter Tucker Davidson, the Braves’ magical October run seemed to reach its climax in the bottom of the inning.
Astros pitcher Framber Valdez gave up two singles and a walk. With the bases loaded, he threw Duvall a first-pitch sinker on the edge of the plate. And with a mighty swing, Duvall sent it soaring to right field, crushing only the ninth first-inning grand slam in postseason history.
Everything unraveled after that.
In the top of the second, slumping Astros third baseman Alex Bregman — who was dropped to seventh in the batting order for Sunday’s game — snapped a one-for-14 start to the World Series with an RBI double that keyed a two-run inning.
Reprieve came in the bottom of the third, when Freddie Freeman put the Braves back in front with a mammoth 460-foot solo home run to right-center field. But even that blast — in what was Freeman’s last home game as a Brave before he hits free agency this winter — wasn’t met with an eruption as much as a collective exhale, Atlanta fans hoping their franchise first baseman had ended their torment.
In the top of the fifth, the Braves’ previously dominant bullpen finally buckled. After left-hander A.J. Minter gave up a couple of singles, Atlanta elected to intentionally walk Bregman to get to Martín Maldonado, the light-hitting catcher who had some of the worst offensive numbers in baseball this year.
Minter, however, failed to find the zone, issuing a disastrous bases-loaded walk on just five pitches — on the last of which Maldonado showed a late bunt attempt before pulling back — to tie the score again.
“I tried to aim the ball instead of just driving it to the mitt,” Minter said. “That’s obviously the one thing I would take back.”
In the next at-bat, pinch-hitter Marwin Gonzalez flared a two-run single into left to give the Astros their first lead.
From there, Houston never looked back, tacking on a couple of insurance runs down the stretch, including Maldonado’s third RBI of the night, to complete the second-largest comeback win ever for a team facing elimination in a World Series game.
“It would have been great if we could have kept adding on,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “We just weren’t able to do that.”
Perhaps forebodingly, Atlanta’s last true threat to come back in the bottom of the eighth was extinguished by Houston setup man Kendall Graveman just before the stroke of midnight.
The Braves are still on the verge of completing their Cinderella run, needing to win just one of the next two games in Houston to end a 26-year title drought not only for their franchise but their entire city.
Sunday, however, presented the chance to do it at home.
Early on, all the momentum was in their favor. Then suddenly — and familiarly for sports teams in the heart of Georgia — it all disappeared.
“We’re playing for everything right now,” Duvall said. “It’s not gonna be easy.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.
Source: Yahoo Sports