HOUSTON — A healthy swing by Jorge Soler powered the Atlanta Braves to a smashing start in the World Series.
In the lineup for the first time since a positive COVID-19 test, Soler became the first player to begin a World Series with a home run and the Braves, despite the loss of pitcher Charlie Morton to a broken leg, hushed the Houston Astros 6-2 Tuesday night in Game 1.
Boosted by a strong bullpen effort, Adam Duvall’s two-run homer and a late sacrifice fly from Freddie Freeman, the Braves coasted in their first Series appearance since Chipper Jones and their Big Three aces ascended in 1999.
“So much happened really quick,” Atlanta manager Brian Snitker said.
Every Braves starter wound up getting a hit and more than four hours later, this was the scene in their dugout: outlandish outfielder Joc Pederson sipping a glass of red wine and smoking cigars with closer Will Smith.
That victory party lasted a couple of minutes until a security guard ambled over and told them it was a smoke-free building.
Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa and the Astros, meanwhile, mostly looked lost at the plate. This is their third World Series in five seasons — and first since their 2017 illegal sign-stealing scheme was revealed.
Before the game, Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred said there were plenty of sleuths monitoring the dugouts, clubhouses and stands to guard against any possible shenanigans.
“There’s a lot more people watching what goes on as a result of the issues that we’ve had,” he said.
Game 2 is Wednesday night, with Braves lefty Max Fried starting against right-hander José Urquidy.
“You’ve just got to like blow this game off and then come back and realize that tomorrow’s — that’s the beauty of baseball,” 72-year-old Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “Tomorrow’s another day, and who knows? That’s the way I look at it. Ball’s going to bounce our way tomorrow.”
Soler’s no-doubt jolt into the left-field seats on Framber Valdez’s third pitch quickly drained all the juice out of Minute Maid Park, quieting a boisterous, sellout crowd.
“The energy was amazing and electric, especially after we took a 1-0 lead after that home run,” Soler said through a translator.
As for his feat?
“I didn’t know that was a thing until I was told a little later on in the game,” he said.
Fresh off dispatching the defending World Series champion Dodgers in the playoffs, the Braves weren’t done, either. Aggressive in every way, they kept teeing off against their former, longtime National League rivals.
Moments later, Ozzie Albies stole a base and Austin Riley hit an RBI double, taking a rare swing at a 3-0 pitch.
Soler, who missed five playoff games after testing positive for the coronavirus, added an RBI grounder in the second. And when Duvall launched a two-run homer, it was 5-0 and the Braves had made even more October history — the only team to score in each of the first three innings in a World Series opener.
“I think we obviously swung the bats there early pretty well, and doing that on the road, kind of getting them first at-bat jitters out of the way, it’s big,” Duvall said.
At that point, Braves batters were far from the only ones making noise. The few Atlanta fans sprinkled in the sea of orange had started their familiar chop chant, too.
Right then, it looked as if everything was going right for the Braves.
But baseball can be a fickle game, and the fates can spin faster than the best curveball.
Because in the bottom of the third, Atlanta absorbed its own big hit.
As he struck out Altuve, Morton suddenly grimaced and took an awkward step. His teammates, Snitker and a trainer soon joined him on the mound, and just like that, Morton was gone.
Turned out a hard comebacker by Yuli Gurriel that ricocheted off Morton’s leg to Freeman at first base for an out to begin the second had done more damage than anyone realized.
Morton stayed in for another inning, amazingly, before gingerly walking off with a fractured right fibula. The 37-year-old righty, the winning pitcher for the Astros in Game 7 of the 2017 World Series, will be replaced on the roster. He’s expected to be OK for spring training.
“God bless him, I hate it for him. Really hate it for him,” Snitker said. “He’s such a great person, great person and teammate. I do, I really hate it for him because I know he’s really looking forward to this run with us.”
A.J. Minter replaced Morton and got the win, permitting one run in 2 2/3 innings while throwing a career-high 43 pitches. Atlanta relievers Luke Jackson, Tyler Matzek and Smith finished it.
Altuve and the Astros did little all night. The All-Star second baseman struck out three times — he’d never done that in 73 prior postseason games.
Alex Bregman, Yordan Alvarez and the Astros never seriously threatened in the later innings. Their only runs, in fact, came on shortstop Dansby Swanson’s fielding error in the fourth and Correa’s groundout in the eighth.
The game wasn’t nearly as close as the score indicated. It was more like a romp — during the seventh-inning stretch, as fans did a sing-a-long to “Deep In The Heart of Texas,” Braves backup catcher William Contreras locked arms with starter Travis d’Arnaud and did a little Texas two-step as they switched places warming up Jackson.
STATS AND STUFF
It was the first World Series action with a packed stadium since Game 7 at this very park in 2019, when a sellout crowd silently filed out after watching the Nationals rally past Houston. … Soler and Duvall became the first teammates both acquired midseason to homer in the same World Series game. … Soler returned late in the NLCS and went 1 for 2 with a double in a pair of pinch-hit appearances. … The Astros fell to 0-4 in World Series openers. … No team has won a World Series game in its own park since the Dodgers beat Boston in 18 innings in Game 3 of 2018. The visiting team won every game in 2019, and last year’s Series was played at a neutral site in Arlington, Texas.
Braves: After two fine playoff starts, Fried faltered in Game 5 of the NLCS at Dodger Stadium. With a chance to clinch, the Atlanta ace gave up five runs and eight hits in 4 2/3 innings.
Astros: Urquidy was tagged by Boston for six runs over 1 2/3 innings in his previous start in Game 3 of the ALCS. He has postseason pedigree, though, pitching five scoreless innings as a rookie to beat Washington in Game 4 of the 2019 World Series.