Atlanta vs. Houston: A World Series 6 decades in the making

October 24, 2021
Atlanta vs. Houston: A World Series 6 decades in the making

Freddie Freeman swinging onto baseball’s biggest stage for the first time, Jose Altuve and company back for more. Luis Garcia, Framber Valdez and a fresh set of Houston arms facing Ozzie Albies, Austin Riley and these eager, young Atlanta bats.

And the endless quest for Mr. Dusty Baker.

Atlanta-Astros, a lot to savour in this World Series, even a family faceoff. Atlanta manager Brian Snitker’s son, Troy, is a Houston hitting coach.

“It’s like the Snitkers are going to have a World Series trophy in their house here,” dad said Saturday night. “I don’t know who is going to own it, but we’re going to have one. So that’s a pretty cool thing, too.”

A matchup six decades in the making, pairing former National League rivals who’ve played more than 700 times, including five post-season series. Think of The Hammer and The Toy Cannon teeing up home run derby at the Astrodome, or Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz vs. Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio on a June evening on TBS.

Because of scheduling and COVID-19, the Astros and Atlanta haven’t seen each other since 2017. They’ll now meet for Game 1 on Tuesday night in Houston.

The Astros opened as a 3-2 favourite, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.

Ever since the news came out … about what happened in 2017, I think we’ve all wanted to prove what kind of class of players … and team that we are.— Astros DH/outfielder Yordan Alvarez on players being labelled cheaters

But before we begin, let’s just say it: There are many baseball fans who might not be thrilled to see either team here in late October.

Altuve and Astros teammates Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman and Yuli Gurriel will forever wear the label of cheaters after being part of a team that devised an illegal, sign-stealing scheme on its way to the 2017 championship.

Astros want to show they are ‘a great team’

At Minute Maid Park, they’re cheered. At every other ballpark, they’re heckled, and worse, as the game’s worst villains.

“Ever since the news came out, the bad news that we’ve had to deal with about what happened in 2017, I think we’ve all wanted to prove what kind of class of players that we are and team that we are,” American League Championship Series MVP Yordan Alvarez said.

“I wasn’t here with the team in 2017, but I’ve gotten booed just as equal as anybody else. So I think we all have the same mentality that we really want to win a World Series to demonstrate that we are just a great team,” he said.

The Astros are in the World Series for the third time in five years and got there, minus ace Justin Verlander, who missed the season while recovering from Tommy John surgery.

Atlanta overcame a season-ending knee injury to dynamic star Ronald Acuna Jr. in July and surged after being stuck at 52-55 in early August. Boosted by NL Championship Series MVP Eddie Rosario, Atlanta is making its first appearance in the Fall Classic since 1999.

Yet while the roster and stadium have changed, the sights and sounds in Atlanta remain. Throughout the NLCS, fans at Truist Park emphatically chopped and chanted during big moments.

In an era of social reckoning that saw the Cleveland Indians change their name to the Guardians and Washington’s NFL team get rid of a name considered racist, the scene in Atlanta is sure to draw increased attention.

On the field, and the bench, a lot of eyes will be on Baker.

Dusty Baker became Astros manager in 2020 in the wake of the team’s cheating scandal and at 72, with a lifetime of credentials, gets another chance to win a World Series. (Bob Levey/Getty Images/File)

He won the World Series as a player with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1981 and has taken five teams to the playoffs as a manager but never won the crown.

Baker no longer ‘outsider’ in Houston

Baker took this job in 2020 in the wake of Houston’s cheating scandal — “there’s a few things I still hadn’t accomplished” – and at 72, with a lifetime of credentials, gets another chance.

“Last year I felt like a substitute teacher, really. I was an outsider,” Baker said. “But this year, they made me feel like I was one of them and they were definitely always one of me. That’s what it’s all about. Everybody talks teamwork, they talk about a team, but it’s a feeling that you get for each other.”

Baker’s history in this matchup runs especially deep. Playing with Atlanta great Hank Aaron in 1968, he got first major league hit at the Astrodome in a loss to Jimmy Wynn and Houston.

Over the years, these teams met a lot, starting when the 1962 expansion Houston Colt .45s took on the Milwaukee Braves. There were the days of catcher Joe Torre trying to throw out young Joe Morgan, the Niekro brothers pitching against each other and fireballing Nolan Ryan facing Dale Murphy.

The .45s became the Astros in 1965 and from 1997-2005, the clubs played five times in the NL Division Series, with Atlanta winning three of the matchups. Houston moved from NL Central to the AL West in 2013.

Snitker certainly followed all of them. The 66-year-old Atlanta manager has spent four decades in the organization as a player, coach and skipper.

He tuned in Friday night when the Astros and son Troy beat Boston in the clinching Game 6 of the ALCS.

“That was neat. Proud of him. Got to FaceTime with him. Watched the celebration,” he said, hours before the Braves finished off the Dodgers in Game 6 of the NLCS.

“I told him the first time, it’s not this easy, you know, it’s really hard to get there, as we’re seeing. But it’s been a great experience for him and I’m happy for him. I said, I hope I can join you,” he said.

Hours later, he and the Braves were on their way.

Atlanta’s Morton gets ball in Series opener

Atlanta Braves right-hander Charlie Morton will see some familiar faces in Game 1.

The National League club announced Sunday that Morton would start the opener of the best-of-seven series against the hometown Astros, the team he played for from 2017-18.

Morton picked up the win for the Astros in Game 7 of the 2017 World Series. He spent two years with the club and the following two with Tampa Bay, facing Houston in both the 2019 American League Division Series and 2020 AL Championship Series.

Morton, 37, is 0-1 with a 3.77 ERA in three post-season starts this year. He received a no-decision Tuesday in Game 3 of the NL Championship Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers after allowing two runs on three hits with six walks in five innings.

The Astros will turn to left-hander Framber Valdez on Tuesday. He is 1-0 with a 4.20 ERA in three 2021 post-season starts.

Valdez, 27, was brilliant in his last outing. He permitted one run on three hits in eight innings to earn the win in a 9-1 victory over the Boston Red Sox on Wednesday.

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