The Astros didn’t exactly bludgeon the Braves into submission in their 7-2 win Wednesday night in Game 2, at least not early on. Instead, they battered them with an endless barrage of bouncing balls and took advantage of defensive mistakes the Braves don’t usually make to tie the series, which heads back to Atlanta for Game 3 on Friday night.
The powerful Astros broke out in the second inning with an outburst resulting almost entirely from perfectly placed groundballs — the kind of groundballs that bounce the Astros’ way more often than not, the kind good-hitting teams seem to hit more often than others.
“The difference between this group and some other groups I’ve had is the fact that they are always looking for something good to happen,” said Baker, explaining that in other places he had been — such as, for example, Washington — a history of playoff failure left teams expecting the worst.
Kyle Tucker hit a clean single up the middle with one out to start the process. Then Yuli Gurriel poked a ball through the shifted Atlanta infield, taking advantage of a wide-open right side the Braves left that way by choice, leaving Braves starter Max Fried clenching his fist in silent frustration and moving Tucker to third.
“It’s baseball. Sometimes the ball gets hit and goes right to a guy. Sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes it finds a hole,” Fried said. “He did a really good job of seeing where we were positioned and staying inside it and just being able to beat it. Sometimes you just have to tip your cap.”
A batter later, Jose Siri hit a chopper to third base, too slow for the Braves to get him at first, just slow enough for Tucker to score. Altuve told Siri that hit — a broken-bat single, followed by a charge from first to third when Martín Maldonado hit a bouncing ball to the left side of the infield, was one of the biggest plays of the game. Maldonado’s ball was just out of the reach of Dansby Swanson and Austin Riley, both of whom ended up a few yards away from third base as the ball bounced into left.
October star Eddie Rosario picked the ball up there and threw it to third, but no one was standing there. As the ball bounced away, Siri scored, screaming, “Vamos, vamos!” as he crossed the plate — a sign that as reliable as these Astros are when it comes to scoring runs, they are still as excited to be here. Another run scored just seconds later on Michael Brantley’s single, completing an inning that might have ended with one run or even none had a fielder or two been elsewhere or a ball bounced a foot either way but instead ended with a 5-1 Houston lead.
Teams cannot usually afford to yield extra outs or easy bases in Major League Baseball. They can almost never afford to yield them in the postseason. But in the World Series, against a lineup so deep that the winner of the American League batting title is hitting seventh, extra outs and easy bases can amount to fatal blows.
“It happened fast,” Baker said. “It was like a feeding frenzy, and everybody wants to get in on it.”
Besides, cliched as the notion may be, Baker actually had reason to expect the bounces would start going his team’s way: The Astros generate more bounces than most teams, and they have all season.
Houston led the majors in contact percentage, making contact on 80 percent of its swings in 2021. All 29 other teams were bunched within three percentage points — the differences are generally not vast.
But the Astros were almost three full percentage points ahead of the second-place team, the Toronto Blue Jays. The Astros also owned the lowest strikeout percentage in the majors at 19.4 percent. Of the past four teams to win the World Series, none ranked lower than fifth in that category.
So it was that the Braves found themselves trailing the Astros 5-1 by the end of the second inning. When they looked up, Fried had thrown 43 pitches in two innings.
“I’m having a hard time convincing myself [Fried] struggled,” Braves Manager Brian Snitker said. “ … It wasn’t like he was getting banged around. Balls that found holes. Checked swings. We threw a ball away. That was just a weird inning.”
Neither side was particularly well positioned to handle a short start because both sides had to use their bullpens after short starts Tuesday. Neither side had to deal with one, at least relatively speaking. José Urquidy held Atlanta down until the fifth when Freddie Freeman’s two-out single gave the Braves a second run. Fried settled down after that tough-luck second, retiring 10 straight Astros from the second inning through the fifth, striking out five of them.
In fact, the lefty outlasted his Astros counterpart, Urquidy, who allowed two runs on six hits in a performance that should allow the Astros’ pitching staff to breathe somewhat heading into the travel day Thursday. Fried pitched into the sixth but did not record an out, departing with two on but having ensured the Atlanta bullpen wouldn’t carry as heavy a load as it did in Game 1.
But the Astros kept adding, aided by an error by Ozzie Albies in the sixth. The Astros didn’t even get an extra-base hit until the seventh, when Altuve hit a no-doubter to left field for his 22nd career postseason homer, tied for second all-time with former Yankees outfielder Bernie Williams. Their second extra-base hit came a batter later when Brantley doubled to right-center.
The trouble with the Astros is they do not merely put the ball in play: They finished third in the majors in slugging percentage, too. And they won a World Series game by five runs Wednesday night without needing much slugging at all.
— Chelsea Janes
This story has been updated. Highlights and analysis, by Scott Allen and Adam Kilgore in Washington, are below.
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