The Houston Astros fended off elimination on Sunday night and denied the Atlanta Braves the chance to win the 2021 World Series at their home ballpark. The Astros defeated the Atlanta Braves in Game 5 of the World Series by a 9-5 final (box score) to force Game 6 and a return trip to Houston. The Astros still trail in the best-of-seven series by a 3-2 margin, and Atlanta remains one win away from its first championship since 1995.
The Astros fell behind early on Sunday, with Atlanta center fielder Adam Duvall hitting the ninth first-inning grand slam in postseason history. Nevertheless, the Astros were able to rally and tie the game at 4-4 in the third inning. Freddie Freeman then put the Braves back up with a solo home run. The Astros weren't done, though, as Houston received contributions from unlikely sources against Atlanta's usually reliable bullpen.
Catcher Martin Maldonado drove in three runs on the night, and Marwin Gonzalez plated a pair with a pinch-hit single. (We'd be remiss if we didn't mention that Zack Greinke -- yes, the pitcher -- also recorded an historic pinch-hit single.)
Historically, MLB teams who lead a series by a 3-2 margin have gone on to win said series 69 percent of the time. That bodes well for the Braves, who will now have two more chances to win another contest -- and, thereby, the championship.
Now for takeaways from Game 5.
Duvall powered up early
Adam Duvall has been yet another post-Ronald Acuña Jr. revelation for the Braves this season, in terms of both his power and his stabilizing glove in center. Early in Game 5, it was the bat that made the difference, as Duvall authored just the third first-inning grand slam in World Series history:
And here's this:
That's not only elevating for power against one of the most extreme ground-ballers in the game today, it's also doing so with two outs. For Duvall, that upped the "clutch factor" of the moment. When Duvall stepped to the plate in the first, the Braves had a 57.1 percent chance of winning Game 5. After he touched the plate to give the Braves a 4-0 lead, the Braves had an 84.3 percent chance of prevailing. That's a huge jump, to say the least. Unfortunately for Atlanta, the club couldn't capitalize.
Houston was relentless at the plate all night
That 4-0 lead the Braves barged to in the first didn't cause the Astros to give up. In the second, the theretofore struggling Alex Bregman cracked an RBI double, and then Martin Maldonado cut the Atlanta lead with a sac fly. In the third, Carlos Correa made it 4-3 when his double plated Jose Altuve, who had earlier reached on a Dansby Swanson error. Then Michael Brantley hustled home on a Yuli Gurriel ground out to tie the score.
The Braves retook the lead in the bottom of the third on a massive, 460-foot solo home run from Freddie Freeman, and that held until the fifth. At that point, the Astros pieced together their biggest inning of the night. Braves manager Brian Snitker opted to intentionally walk Alex Bregman and load the bases for Maldonado with two outs. Maldonado, crowding the plate and showing almost no willingness to swing, drew a five-pitch walk to tie the game again. Then pinch-hitter Marwin Gonzalez dumped a single to left that drove in two more and gave Houston a 7-5 lead.
In the seventh, the Astros added an insurance run -- again with two outs -- as Maldonado drove in his third run of the night with a line drive single that brought Kyle Tucker home. Carlos Correa tacked on another, yes, two-out run in the eighth with a single that brought Altuve in to score. That was all more than enough to send the series back to Houston.
Zack Greinke achieved a rare feat
Game 4 starting pitcher Zack Greinke, thanks in part to the Astros' diminished bench, garnered a pinch-hitting appearance in Game 5, and he made the most of it:
That sharp, line drive single to the opposite field left the bat at 105.9 mph, which made it Houston's hardest-hit ball of Game 5. So that was no cheapie. As for rare feat noted above, here we go:
However, the Astros weren't able to cash in on Greinke's plate-work, as Jose Altuve flew out and Michael Brantley struck out to end the frame.
The Houston bullpen dominated
All five of the Braves' runs were charged to Astros starter Framber Valdez, who lasted just 2 2/3 innings. After Valdez was lifted, five Astros relievers combined for 6 1/3 shutout innings. Along the way, they gave up just four hits and struck out six with no walks. Particularly key were Phil Maton and Kendall Graveman, who each worked two innings. For the series, the Houston bullpen now boasts an ERA of 1.75, which is more than a full run lower than Atlanta's mark of 2.76.
The Braves still have the edge, but it's been diminished
That's an obvious thing to say, given that Atlanta still leads the best-of-seven series by a count of three games to two. Teams up 3-2 who opened the series on the road have -- across the history of MLB best-of-seven postseason series -- won the series 61.8 percent of the time. That's a high figure, but consider that teams up 3-1 who opened up on the road have gone on to win the series more than 80 percent of the time. That's what the Braves squandered by blowing that 4-0 lead in Game 5.
Need more concerning news, Braves fans? Teams up 3-2 have won Game 6 just 28.6 percent of the time. In other words, history suggests we have a strong chance of this going the full seven games.