The Atlanta Braves are one win away from their first World Series title since 1995 as they won Game 4 the way they've won all postseason: Clutch home runs and clutch relief pitching. The home run heroes were Dansby Swanson, who hit a 1-2 fastball from Cristian Javier out to right field in the bottom of the seventh inning, and pinch-hitter Jorge Soler who followed with a line shot to left field off a 2-1 slider that just cleared the fence. The back-to-black blasts turned a 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 victory.
Once again, the Atlanta bullpen stepped up, although this time with a surprise participant: Kyle Wright, who relieved starter Dylan Lee with the bases loaded in the first inning, escaped that jam with just one run scoring, and then allowed only one more run over his 4.2 innings. The Astros had runners all over the place against him, but they would leave 11 runners on base. If the Braves go on to win this World Series, don't forget Wright's unsung performance -- from a pitcher who was added to the roster only for the World Series after spending most of the season in Triple-A (and who owns a 6.65 career ERA in the majors).
After Wright was done, it was Chris Martin, Tyler Matzek, Luke Jackson and Will Smith tossing the final four scoreless innings, Jackson surviving the eighth when Eddie Rosario hauled in Jose Altuve's long drive to left with a running catch as he crashed into the wall. Braves relievers now have a 1.61 ERA in the World Series over 22.1 innings and 2.94 over the entire postseason.
The Astros have Framber Valdez going in Game 5 against yet another bullpen game for the Braves. But the Houston offense has to get going. Alex Bregman, in particular, has looked lost, going 1-for-14 with five strikeouts so far in the World Series and 6-for-36 since the start of the ALCS. Managers hate to overreact, but Dusty Baker has to consider sliding Bregman down in the order. He could move Carlos Correa or Yuli Gurriel up to third and move Bregman down to seventh, keeping his R-L-R-L-R-L-R order intact, although given the makeup of the Atlanta bullpen that doesn't really matter all that much. Baker should simply want his better hitters up earlier in the lineup, and right now, Bregman is not one of his better hitters.
Another note: Astros closer Ryan Pressly entered in the seventh after Javier allowed the two home runs, but he ended up throwing 33 pitches, so we'll see how long he can go in Game 5. A.J. Minter didn't pitch in Game 4 for the Braves, so he should be good for two innings and Matzek, Jackson and Smith were all efficient enough that pitching a third straight day shouldn't be an issue. It's a bullpen day for the Braves, but this has been the postseason of the bullpen with relievers throwing more than 50% of all innings: Maybe that's a good thing.
Here are the biggest moments from Game 4:
Back-to-back homers put Atlanta on top
We knew this game was going to turn into a battle of the bullpens ... wait, we just said that. Game 4 has turned in favor of the Braves as Dansby Swanson and pinch-hitter Jorge Soler go back-to-back off Cristian Javier in the seventh inning, both balls just barely clearing the outfield wall. Soler's ball was smoked -- 107 mph and sailed just past a leaping Yordan Alvarez. A tough play for sure, but Alvarez looked like a DH playing left field tracking the ball. Javier had been lights out this postseason with nine scoreless innings, but he had been a little homer-prone in the regular season with 16 allowed in 101.1 innings.
Dansby Swanson and Jorge Soler are the first Nos. 8 and 9 hitters ever to hit back-to-back home runs in the World Series, according to @EliasSports.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) October 31, 2021
This is what can happen to him and Astros fans will no doubt be wondering if Dusty Baker should have tried to get the final nine outs from Kendall Graveman and Ryan Pressly, but that's an easy second guess after the fact. Javier had earned a high-leverage inning from the way he's been pitching. Braves reliever Luke Jackson got help in the eighth with some great defense from Eddie Rosario.
Will Smith will try to close out the lead and give the Braves a 3-1 series edge.
Braves on the board, but could it have been more?
We knew this game was likely to turn into a battle of the bullpens and here we are. Astros lefty Brooks Raley held lefties to a .191 average in the regular season, but in the sixth, Eddie Rosario doubled off him and Freddie Freeman walked. Phil Maton came on and fanned Ozzie Albies on a 3-2 fastball at the top of the zone for the second out, but Maton hung a 2-2 curveball to Austin Riley, who drilled an RBI single to left field. Yordan Alvarez made an ill-advised throw home -- he had no chance to get Rosario -- which allowed Riley to reach second base (Alex Bregman was at third base instead of in cutoff position). You are correct if you've noticed a lot of bad outfield throws this postseason (and a couple memorable good ones as well). Anyway, terrible fundamental there by the Astros that could have haunted them, but after intentionally walking the ice-cold Joc Pederson to face red-hot Travis d'Arnaud, Maton froze d'Arnaud on a fastball down the middle to escape the jam.
Altuve is at it again
After leaving seven runners on through the first three innings, the Astros finally make it 2-0 on Jose Altuve s 23rd career postseason home run (moving past Bernie Williams for second on the all-time postseason list behind Manny Ramirez's 29). It was a long 434-foot blast to center field and, believe it or not, his first home run to center all season. Of his previous 35 home runs including the postseason, 34 had gone to left field or left-center and one to right field.
Oh, and let's see what the organist plays next time Altuve steps up to the plate: This time it was "It's a Small World." Last night it was "I'm a Little Teapot." Not so funny when the little guy crushes one over the fence.
Keeping things close
Fascinating sequence in the top of the third as the Braves escape another bases-loaded jam, this time with no damage. With runners at first and third and two outs, the Braves intentionally walk Yuli Gurriel, the AL batting champ, to have Kyle Wright face the No. 8 hitter -- pitcher Zack Greinke, who was batting ahead of catcher Martin Maldonado. Greinke singled in his first at-bat and is one of the best hitting pitchers in the game, but he also batted just twice all regular season. It's a high-leverage run-scoring chance, but if you pull Greinke you need seven innings from your bullpen. On the other hand, Greinke hasn't pitched well since mid-August. Dusty Baker let him hit and Greinke grounded out. We'll see if that turns out to be the right move.
We'll see if that turns out to be the right move.
A rough start for the rookie
Well, that could have been a lot worse for the Braves. Rookie southpaw Dylan Lee faced four batters and gave up an infield single and walked the two left-handed batters he faced, but Kyle Wright came on with the bases loaded and one out and induced an RBI groundout from Carlos Correa then struck out Kyle Tucker on a 96-mph fastball up in the zone. Tucker would probably like another hack at a 1-2 fastball down the middle that he fouled off. It was a big gamble for the Braves starting a pitcher with just 4.2 innings in the majors, even if they were hoping to just get one inning out of him. In the end, Snitker is fortunate that it's 1-0 instead of 3-0 considering both these pitchers weren't even on the original playoff roster for the Braves in the NLDS.
Atlanta can rest easy
The pearl necklace worn by Braves outfielder Joc Pederson has become the accessory du jour for the postseason. The necklace got noticed in early October when Pederson was wearing it when he crushed a three-run homer to beat the Milwaukee Brewers in Game 3 of the NLDS.
"I take them off when I sleep," Pederson said on Oct. 11. "I got them through my jeweler. And, yes, they're real pearls."
But, in Game 3 of the World Series, the necklace broke. Stephanie Apstein of Sports Illustrated reported that Pederson had his jeweler flown to Atlanta with a replacement.
And, to a sigh of relief to the superstitious, Pederson has his pearls for Game 4.
Greinke in great company
In the National League park, the pitcher bats. Greinke will bat eighth in the lineup, ahead of catcher Martin Maldonado. That spot in the lineup puts Greinke in some rare company.
Greinke only had two at-bats this season. He is a career-.225 hitter.
Checking in for Game 4.— MLB (@MLB) October 30, 2021
Will Houston even the series tonight? pic.twitter.com/L6Kw0CFEYx
game cut— Cut4 (@Cut4) October 30, 2021