HOUSTON — That was, dare we say … easy? A team that hadn’t reached the World Series since 1999 or won a Series game since 1996 took the lead on the night’s third pitch. The Braves scored in each of the first three innings, which set a Game 1 record. They didn’t score in the fourth, a lapse for which Brian Snitker will surely send his players to bed without a goodnight snack.ExploreMichael Cunningham: Braves show they can hit too
The Braves won Game 1 of the World Series 6-2. Ordinarily, winning Game 1 of the World Series is a splendid thing. These being the Braves, complications arose.
Charlie Morton, their starting pitcher, limped off the mound after he struck out Jose Altuve on a curveball leading off the third. Morton’s follow-through was awkward. He was hurting somewhere, though the “where” wasn’t clear. More than a half-hour later came the word: We won’t see Morton again this postseason. He broke his right fibula.
It was believed the injury occurred when Yuli Gurriel smacked a grounder off Morton’s lower leg leading off the second. Sixteen pitches, three outs and one X-ray separated Gurriel’s ground ball and Morton ultimate concession to the pain. Said reliever A.J. Minter: “If he struck out a guy on a broken leg, that’s remarkable.”
Snitker said afterward that Morton got an X-ray between the second and third innings that didn’t show the break. Said Snitker: “He wanted to keep going. He said it kind of hurts more when I run than when I throw. That’s Charlie. He wants to be on this stage. God bless him. I really hate it for him. I know he was looking forward to this run with us.”ADVERTISING
A second X-ray, taken after Morton left the field in the third inning, showed the fracture. Snitker said he wasn’t sure when the break actually occurred. “It might be something he did that was going to happen when it did.”
Catcher Travis d’Arnaud said he and Morton spoke between innings. “He said, ‘That really got me good,’ and he was walking a little funny,” d’Arnaud said. “I didn’t think it was broken. I just thought he’d taken a ground ball off the leg.”
Asked if he’d ever heard of a pitcher throwing 16 pitches after breaking his leg, d’Arnaud said: “That blows my mind. I don’t think he knew it was broken, but it was starting to get there. I think he sacrificed himself so A.J. could get ready.”
The Braves announced that Morton should be ready for spring training, which is dandy. A more immediate concern: The Braves have three games to win before they’re done with this season. Losing their No. 1 starter doesn’t enhance their chances.
There is, however, a possibility the Braves could finish the Astros before Morton’s normal turn comes again. Max Fried is scheduled to work Game 2. He’s very good. Ian Anderson will start in Game 3 on Friday in Cobb County. He’s pretty good. Game 4 figures to be a bullpen game. All the Braves need to do to dance around Morton’s absence is sweep this thing. And now I’ll shut up, at least about that.
Morton recorded seven outs before departing. That left 20 for the Braves’ bullpen to cover. Twenty’s a bunch even if the other team spotted you five runs. (In the battle of starting pitchers, Morton won. He got through 2-1/3 innings. Framber Valdez endured two, leaving after Eddie Rosario singled and Adam Duvall homered to open the third.) Minter entered in the third, several innings before his accustomed cue, and yielded a double to Michael Brantley. Minter escaped by whiffing Yordan Alvarez on a cutter.
In the fourth, Kyle Tucker doubled. Gurriel singled. Dansby Swanson, trying to turn a double play and end the inning, dropped Chas McCormick’s grounder. Tucker scored on the error. Another hit, and the Astros might have been onto something. Minter struck out Martin Maldonado (another cutter) and induced Altuve to pop to Minter himself.
Every World Series contestant dreams of the start the Braves made a reality. Jorge Soler, leading off again after exiting COVID-19 quarantine, hit Valdez’s third pitch, a sinker, into the Crawford Boxes in left. Ozzie Albies beat out the first of two infield singles this night. He stole second. He scored when Austin Riley doubled to left-center.
D’Arnaud led off the second with a single to right. Joc Pederson singled to left. Valdez had nothing, and he was fortunate to escape that inning with only one run scoring. There was no escaping the third. After Duvall’s homer, also into those Boxes, the Astros’ starter was done. He’d yielded eight hits against six outs. With Lance McCullers unavailable for the Series because of arm soreness, Houston needed their Game 1 guy to hold up his end. He couldn’t.
ATL – HITTERSWORLD SERIES – GAME 1
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Minter was great again. He went 2-2/3 stressful innings. He was touched for one run. He struck out five. Usually when we see a late-inning guy deployed so early, it’s because his team is losing big and he’s just there to eat innings. Minter’s team was leading by five when he was summoned, which meant he was charged with protecting that lead. The Braves’ lead was four when he threw his 43rd and final pitch. Alex Jordan Minter was the star of Game 1.
Those packed into Minute Maid Park were Texas loud and Texas proud in the half-hour before first pitch, but the Braves a lead had a numbing effect. Their bullpen never let the game grow close enough for the home crowd to grow re-energized. Rosario’s throw from deep left field to throw out Gurriel trying to take second on a ball off the top of the fence was the ultimate chiller, not to mention another in a long series of the great Rosario’s amazing October deeds.
The Astros surely are better than they were made to look Tuesday, but a lost Game 1 at home always thrusts the losing side into better-win-Game-2 territory. If this goes seven, the Braves will rue not having Morton to start it. Ergo, it would behoove them to get this over ASAP. Three wins to go.