2021 World Series recap

Minute Maid Park, the home of the Houston Astors, hosted Games 1,2 and 6 of the World Series

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Minute Maid Park, the home of the Houston Astors, hosted Games 1,2 and 6 of the World Series

Stephen Wade, Staff Writer

The 2021 World Series, the 117th edition of the Fall Classic, was a battle between the Atlanta Braves and the Houston Astros to determine who would be on top of the baseball world.

Representing the National League, the Braves made their first World Series appearance since 1999 and were looking to win their first championship since 1995. The Astros have represented the American League in three of the last five Fall Classics (2017, 2019, 2021), winning in 2017.

The Braves powered through a lot of adversity and injuries this season that led to a losing record for much of their season. Atlanta’s young star outfielder, Ronald Acuña Jr., was on pace for an MVP season before tearing his ACL midway through the season. Pitcher Mike Soroka suffered an Achilles injury early in the season that put him on the disabled list for the season. With some help from players acquired at the trade deadline, the Braves won the National League East division for the fourth consecutive season.

On the other hand, the Astros were a powerhouse in 2021, winning their West division with a record of 95-67. Houston led the American League in runs, hits, RBI, batting average, and on-base percentage. However, accusations of sign-stealing in the wake of their 2017 World Series victory, where Astros players were accused of stealing signs, still haunts the franchise.

Game 1

The Series began at Houston’s Minute Maid Park. Atlanta’s leadoff hitter, outfielder Jorge Soler, homered on just the third pitch of the game. Soler became the first batter to hit a home run in the first plate appearance of a World Series. The Braves went on to score five runs in the first three innings, driving Astros pitcher Framber Valdez out of the game early.

Former Astro Charlie Morton, who pitched the final out of the Astros’ 2017 World Series victory, started for the Braves. In the second inning, Morton was hit by a ground ball before retiring the next three batters he faced before exiting the game. X-rays showed that the impact fractured Morton’s fibula, knocking him out of the Series.

The Braves then turned to their bullpen, where the efforts of A.J. Minter and Will Smith held the Astros to only two runs. The Braves went on to score another run in the eighth inning, to bring the final score to 6-2, giving Atlanta a 1-0 series lead.

Game 2

Atlanta started ace pitcher Max Fried and the Astros went with pitcher José Urquidy. Houston’s offense came to life in front of the home crowd, putting up five runs and seven hits off Fried. Second baseman José Altuve led the way with two hits, two runs scored, a run batted in, and a home run. Altuve’s homer tied for second-most postseason home runs all-time with 22.

Urquidy lasted five innings for the Astros, allowing only two runs and six hits, before the bullpen came in and held the Braves to one hit and no runs.

While the Braves offense only put up two runs, catcher Travis d’Arnaud had a standout performance with two hits, including a two-run home run in the second inning. He also scored on first baseman Freddie Freeman’s single in the fifth inning.

The Astros won this game 7-2, and tied the series at 1-1.

Houston made history in Game 2, logging the first home team World Series win since 2018. Every game of the 2019 World Series was won by the visiting team. In 2020, because of COVID-19 protocols, the World Series was played at a neutral location to limit traveling.

Game 3

The series returned to Atlanta, where fans packed Truist Park for the first World Series game in Atlanta since 1999. The Braves honored legendary outfielder Hank Aaron, who died in January, with a special pre-game ceremony where his son Hank, Jr., threw out the ceremonial first pitch.

This was the first time since 2006 that two rookie pitchers started against each other in a World Series game. Ian Anderson got the ball for Atlanta and Luis Garcia for Houston. Both went to work early, keeping the game scoreless for the first two and a half innings, before Braves outfielder Eddie Rosario scored on third baseman Austin Riley’s double in the bottom of the third inning. Garcia was taken out of the game in the fourth inning after allowing only one run and three hits.

Anderson was dominant through five innings of work, limiting the Astros to no hits, no runs, and only three walks. Despite the no-hitter in progress, Braves manager Brian Snitker pulled Anderson after five innings and turned the game over to the bullpen.

Atlanta’s bullpen pitchers – A.J. Minter, Luke Jackson, Tyler Matzek, and Will Smith – went one inning each and allowed a combined two hits. In addition to the the shutout pitching performance, d’Arnaud homered again, making him the first catcher to homer in back-to-back World Series games since 1955.

The Braves won 2-0, and took a 2-1 Series lead.

Game 4

There was a lot of pressure riding on Game 4. Would the Braves take a commanding 3-1 lead at home, or would the Astros tie the series at 2-2? The difference could be a huge momentum shift for whichever team wins.

The Astros started Zack Greinke and was placed eighth in the lineup instead of the usual No. 9 spot for pitchers. He was the first starting pitcher to not bat ninth in a World Series game since Babe Ruth in 1918.

The Braves decided to let the bullpen handle the game and started relief pitcher Dylan Lee. The Astros took the lead early after loading the bases and forcing Lee out of the game. Kyle Wright came in relief, but the Astros got a run across before Wright could get out of the inning.

Altuve added to the lead with a solo home run to give the Astros a 2-0 lead, which put him in lone possession of second-most postseason home runs all-time, with 23. Greinke was pulled after only four innings, allowing no runs and four hits while striking out three and walking none. A double by Austin Riley brought home a run in the sixth inning reducing the deficit to one run.

In the seventh inning with one out, shortstop Dansby Swanson and Jorge Soler hit back-to-back solo homers to give the the Braves a 3-2 lead, which they held onto for the win. The victory gave Atlanta a commanding 3-1 series lead.

The momentum also shifted in the favor of Atlanta, as this was the first game where the team that scored first did not win the game, and it was also the first lead change of the entire series.

Game 5

On Halloween night, the Braves had an opportunity to be the first team to win the World Series at their home ballpark since the 2013 Boston Red sox.

The Astros went back to starting pitcher Framber Valdez, while the Braves turned to Tucker Davidson. Prior to this, Davidson had not played in an MLB game since June 15 of this year. He was added to the roster to replace the injured Charlie Morton.

A grand slam from outfielder Adam Duvall in the first inning gave the Braves an early lead. But the Astros returned the favor in the second inning, with RBIs from third baseman Alex Bregman and Catcher Martín Maldonado. Houston proceeded to tie it up in third to make it a 4-4 ballgame. Freddie Freeman homered later in the third to put the Braves up by one.

The Astros tied it again in the fifth inning, 5-5, when Maldonado walked with the bases loaded. Houston scored two more runs on a single by pinch-hitter Marwin González to garner a 7-5 lead.

The offense would not stop there, as Maldonado drove in his third run of the game on a single in the seventh inning. Correa also brought in a run on a single in the eighth. The Astros’ 9-5 win sent the series back to Houston, denying the Braves a championship victory at home.

Notable in Game 5 was Astros pitcher Zack Greinke’s pinch-hit single, making him the first pitcher to get a pinch-hit in a World Series game since 1923.

Game 6

Back in Houston, the Astros started Rookie of the Year candidate Luis García. The Braves brought ace Max Fried back on the mound. Despite Fried getting his ankle stepped on while trying to cover first base with the bases loaded, he managed to keep Houston from crossing home plate and went on to dominate Houston’s lineup.

Jorge Soler gave Atlanta the lead in the third inning with a two-out, three-run home run. This was followed by Dansby Swanson’s two-run homer and Freddie Freeman’s two-run double in the fifth inning. With a 6-0 lead, the Braves’ bats were not done, as Freeman smashed a solo homer in the seventh inning to extend the lead.

Fried pitched a masterpiece through six innings, allowing only four hits, no runs, no walks and six strikeouts – a much-needed improvement for Fried and the Braves after his disappointing Game 2 start. Tyler Matzek would come in to pitch for Atlanta in the seventh and eighth innings, allowing one hit and striking out four.

Atlanta closer Will Smith came in to pitch the ninth inning. After allowing a leadoff single to Astros outfielder Michael Brantley, Smith retired the next two batter.

With two outs in the bottom of the ninth, first baseman Yuli Gurriel stepped up to the plate for Houston.

Gurriel hit a ground ball to shortstop – where Dansby Swanson fielded it and, after a slight hesitation, threw to first base, where Freddie Freeman caught the final out of the 2021 World Series.

It seemed fitting that long-time Freeman, the heart and soul of this team, caught the final out. Freeman has played his entire 14-year career with the Braves organization. In that time he has been the epitome of consistency: missing very few games, hitting for high averages, making five All-Star appearances, and being named the NL MVP last season. Braves fans already are chanting for the front office to re-sign him, as he is a free agent this off-season.

“I’m lost for words. This is it. This is everything you work for,” Freeman said in a post-game interview with FOX Sports. “We’re in November right now and we’ve been doing this since February, and we’ve had so many ups and downs this year, and for us to be world champions… that is awesome to hear.”