The Atlanta Braves mounted a late comeback against the Houston Astros on Saturday to take Game 4 of the World Series by a score of 3-2. The Braves now lead the best-of-seven series by a count of 3-1, which means they're only one win away from their first World Series title since 1995.
Buoyed by a strong start from 38-year-old Zack Greinke and yet another postseason home run from Jose Altuve, the Astros held a 2-0 lead going into the sixth inning. At that point, though, the Braves began getting to the Houston bullpen. A two-out single by Austin Riley plated Eddie Rosario, but the Braves weren't able to do any additional damage. In the bottom of the seventh, though, Dansby Swanson and Jorge Soler each hit solo home runs off Cristian Javier to give the Braves a 3-2 lead. Per Elias, Swanson and Soler are the No. 8 and No. 9 hitters to hit back-to-back home runs in World Series history.
The Braves managed the victory even though their starting pitcher, Dylan Lee, was able to retire only one of the four batters he faced to begin the planned bullpen game. Kyle Wright followed him and did the heavy lifting, as he allowed only one run -- the homer by Altuve -- in 4 2/3 innings of work. From that point, four Atlanta relievers combined for four shutout innings. Will Smith worked the ninth for his sixth save of the 2021 postseason. Eddie Rosario also aided the cause with a ranging catch at the left field wall to rob Altuve of extra bases in the eighth. Astros hitters in Game 4 left 11 runners on base and went 0 for 8 with runners in scoring position.
Game 5 is scheduled for Sunday evening back at Truist Park. A Braves win in Game 5 will make them the first team to clinch the World Series on its home field since the Red Sox in 2013. Here are five takeaways from Game 4.
Greinke gave the Astros everything he had
Zack Greinke gave the Astros everything they could have wanted in Game 4 and more. In what might have been his final MLB appearance -- Greinke's contract is up this offseason and soon-to-be 39-year-olds aren't always in demand -- Greinke tossed four scoreless innings on 58 pitches. He had not thrown more than 37 pitches in a game since Sept. 19.
Greinke allowed four hits in his four innings (one single in each inning), and his 12 swings and misses were his most since he had 14 in a 7 2/3-inning start against Cleveland on July 4. It was artistry. A veteran starter cutting through a quality Braves lineup with smarts and guts, not overpowering velocity and breaking balls designed in a pitching lab. It was refreshing, honestly.
Also, Greinke got a hit! He started in the eighth spot in the lineup -- Babe Ruth is the only other pitcher to hit higher than ninth in the World Series -- and singled up the middle in the second inning. The upcoming collective bargaining agreement is expected to implement the universal DH, meaning Greinke may have recorded the final hit by a pitcher in World Series history.
Four scoreless innings (and a hit!) is pretty much the best-case scenario for Greinke at this point. He was limited to three short appearances by COVID-19 and a neck issue in September, and he looked to be nearing the end of the line during his ALCS start against the Red Sox. Game 4 wasn't a true turn-back-the-clock effort for Greinke, but it was damn good.
Atlanta's bullpen kept the Astros in check
By design,. Lee was the opener in Game 4 -- he is the first pitcher ever to make his first career start in the World Series -- and it did not go well. He retired only one of the four batters he faced and was charged with a run. The four batters faced are the fewest by a World Series starter since David Wells exited Game 5 in 2003 with an injury after a 1-2-3 first inning.
Kyle Wright inherited the bases loaded with one out from Lee and allowed a run on a Carlos Correa ground out. He limited Houston to just the one run, however, which was a good outcome, and he logged another four innings with just one more run allowed. The Astros went 0 for 8 and left nine runners on base in the first five innings alone. They had chances to blow the game open, but didn't.
Wright gave way to Chris Martin, Tyler Matzek, Luke Jackson, and Will Smith, who combined to throw four scoreless innings to close out the game. Thirteen of the final 15 batters the Astros sent to the plate made outs, and they did not have a runner advance beyond first base after the fifth inning. They had Lee and Wright on the ropes early but couldn't capitalize, and it cost them.
Atlanta has held the high-powered Astros -- Houston led baseball in runs per game this season -- to two runs or fewer in three of the four games this series. That's after the Astros scored at least three runs in every game in the ALDS and ALCS. All told, the Astros are 4 for 32 (.125) with runners in scoring position in the series. Just a remarkable job of pitching and defense by the Braves.
Houston's bullpen blew it
Going into Game 4, Astros relievers had allowed two earned runs in their previous six games and 27 1/3 innings. They then allowed three runs in the span of 10 batters in the sixth and seventh innings to turn a 2-0 lead into a 3-2 deficit. Austin Riley got Atlanta on the board with an RBI single against Phil Maton in the sixth inning.
In the seventh, Dansby Swanson and Jorge Soler clubbed back-to-back solo home runs against Cristian Javier to give the Braves the lead. It was the first lead change of the series and those are the first back-to-back homers in Braves postseason history. Swanson's home run came in an 0-2 count, the first 0-2 homer Javier allowed all season. To the action footage:
Soler's home run is the second go-ahead home run in the seventh inning or later of a World Series game in Braves franchise history. The other is Hall of Famer Eddie Mathews' walk-off home run against the Yankees in Game 4 of the 1957 World Series. That was back when the Braves called Milwaukee home.
Furthermore, Soler is only the fourth player in history with a pinch-hit go-ahead home run in the World Series. Here's the list:
- Jorge Soler, Braves vs. Astros in 2021 Game 4
- Ed Sprague, Blue Jays vs. Braves in 1992 Game 2
- Kirk Gibson, Dodgers vs. Athletics in 1988 Game 1
- Dusty Rhodes, Giants vs. Cleveland in 1954 Game 1
Overall, Houston's bullpen has been dynamite this postseason, though the relievers cracked in Game 4. Brooks Raley, Maton, and Javier retired only four of the 10 batters they faced en route to blowing the 2-0 lead. Yes, the offense could have given them more breathing room, but sometimes you need your bullpen to make a 2-0 lead stand up, and they couldn't do it in Game 4.
Altuve is now second in postseason homers
Only one player in history has hit more postseason home runs than Jose Altuve. Altuve launched a solo home run against Kyle Wright in the fourth inning of Game 4 -- the Truist Park organist attempted to troll him by playing "It's a Small World" as he walked to the plate -- giving him 23 career postseason homers. Here's the all-time postseason home run leaderboard:
- Manny Ramirez: 29 in 493 plate appearances
- Jose Altuve: 23 in 354 plate appearances
- Bernie Williams: 22 in 545 plate appearances
- Derek Jeter: 22 in 734 plate appearances
- Albert Pujols and George Springer tied with 19
No surprise the list skews recent given all the extra rounds and games they play these days. As for Altuve, he has five home runs in 13 games this postseason, and two in four World Series games. He has averaged one home run every 38.8 plate appearances during the regular season. In the postseason, it's one homer every 15.4 plate appearances. The guy levels up in October.
The Braves are one win away
The series is not over yet, but the Braves are in excellent position. They hold a 3-1 series lead and, historically, teams that take a 3-1 lead in the World Series have gone on to win the series 87 percent of the time. It's 84 percent for all best-of-seven series. Bottom line: Atlanta has three chances to win one game to clinch its first championship since 1995. The Astros must win three straight games against a Braves team that hasn't lost three straight games to a single opponent since late August.