Major League Baseball

World Series 2021: Little things making the difference between Braves and Astros

October 28, 2021

By Pedro Moura
FOX Sports MLB Writer

HOUSTON — The World Series teams, it is increasingly clear, are not so separated in terms of talent. 

Neither has sufficient starting pitching. They each boast deep and star-driven lineups. They can both turn to talented but overly specialized bullpens. For the Braves, it is full of left-handed pitchers, and for the Astros, it is right-handers.

It seems, then, that this matchup will be decided on the margins. Which team will string together the key singles and sacrifice flies? Which team will be the beneficiary of more strokes of luck? 

In Game 2, the answer in both cases was decisively the Houston Astros, who soundly won 7-2 on Wednesday at Minute Maid Park to even this round. The Astros also received a bounce-back performance from Jose Altuve, who had perhaps the worst postseason game of his career in the series opener.

"It was a must-win today," Altuve said. "We didn’t want to go to Atlanta down by two."

And they won’t. Altuve himself attributed the difference in Game 2 to a sequence sparked by Jose Siri, a 26-year-old waiver claim with fewer than 30 major-league games to his name. Astros manager Dusty Baker inserted Siri into the lineup in search of a spark, and he found one.

Altuve doubled and then advanced a base apiece on two sacrifice flies. Travis d’Arnaud swatted a solo homer as the teams traded early blows. In the bottom of the second, the Astros seized control. Kyle Tucker and Yuli Gurriel knocked singles up the middle, the latter a shift-beater that Braves starter Max Fried could not help but compliment.

"He did a really good job of seeing where we were positioned, staying inside of it and just being able to beat it," Fried said.

For a five-run game, the decisive plays were on a smaller scale than you might expect. Following Gurriel to the plate, Siri beat out a weakly hit chopper, scoring a run. When Martín Maldonado then singled into left field, Siri took off for third base. Eddie Rosario threw there, failing to realize that no one was covering the base. That scored two runs. Michael Brantley then singled into right, scoring one more.

Astros starter Jose Urquidy held down the Braves from there. His elite control carrying him, he finished five innings while allowing only one more run to score. Baker called in Cristian Javier, whose command pales in comparison to Urquidy’s. Javier notched only four outs before Baker turned to his top relievers to finish it off.

The unheralded Urquidy recorded exactly as many outs as Fried but permitted a third as many runs. Still, Braves manager Brian Snitker said he was having a hard time convincing himself that Fried struggled.

"The first inning, they did some really good hitting," Snitker said. "The second inning, when they scored, it was kind of a weird inning. It wasn’t like he was getting banged around. Balls that found holes, checked swings, we threw a ball away. It was just a weird inning."

It was weird in the sense that the Astros managed four runs without an extra-base hit. It was also self-inflicted in the sense that at least two Braves made mistakes on Rosario’s errant throw. Snitker said that didn't worry him.

"Over the course of the 162 games that we just played and how good our guys are defensively," Snitker said, "it doesn’t bother me one bit."

Fair enough. But this series won’t be decided over 162 games. It’ll be decided by five. And one sloppy defensive play might be the difference. 

The test now is whether the Braves can bounce back as easily as the Astros did. Adding to the similarities between the teams, both managers specialize in performatively turning the page to the media.

"The way I look at it," Baker said after Game 1, "tomorrow’s our day."

Of course, he was right. But the biggest difference between the Braves and Astros was the trajectory of their seasons. The Braves were bad early and mediocre for a while until they came alive after the deadline. The Astros were steadily solid.

"Throughout the year, we didn't really go through too many scuffles," Astros swingman Jake Odorizzi said. "Because of that, we never really got too down on ourselves."

New to the team this year, Odorizzi said Wednesday afternoon that the Game 1 World Series defeat felt no different than a May 2 loss. He predicted that his teammates would play Game 2 facing no more self-imposed pressure than the night before. 

He, too, was right.

Pedro Moura is the national baseball writer for FOX Sports. He most recently covered the Dodgers for three seasons for The Athletic. Previously, he spent five years covering the Angels and Dodgers for the Orange County Register and L.A. Times. More previously, he covered his alma mater, USC, for The son of Brazilian immigrants, he grew up in the Southern California suburbs. Follow him on Twitter @pedromoura.

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