ATLANTA — It was like a lightning bolt from the sky, and in a stunning sequence of just five pitches Saturday evening, Atlanta stunned the Houston Astros, 3-2, moving within one victory from their first World Series title in a quarter-century.
Atlanta, trailing the entire night, sent the sellout crowd of 43,125 partying into the streets at the surrounding Battery with back-to-back homers that will be talked about for generations.
Atlanta, trailing 2-1 with one out in the seventh inning, watched No. 8 hitter Dansby Swanson hit his first home run of the postseason with an opposite-field shot over the right-field wall, and four pitches later, it was pinch-hitter Jorge Soler hitting a homer over the left-field wall.
It was the first lead change of the World Series, giving Atlanta a 3 games to 1 lead with Game 5 scheduled Sunday night (8:15 ET, Fox) at Truist Park, where Atlanta has won all seven games this postseason.
It was a dramatic turn of events with Swanson and Soler becoming only the fifth pair of teammates to go back-to-back in World Series history, and the only National League team accomplishing the feat, joining Pedro Guerrero and Steve Yeager of the 1981 Los Angeles Dodgers.
And Soler’s homer was only the fourth pinch-hit, go-ahead homer in the seventh inning or later in World Series history, last accomplished by Ed Sprague of the 1992 Toronto Blue Jays.
The back-to-back blasts had the fans screaming and chanting into the night, while Swanson wisely ducked for cover, making sure this time there would be no damage to his face.
It was a week ago during Atlanta’s raucous celebration in the NLCS that left Swanson profusely bleeding from above his left eye, suffering a nasty cut that required four stitches.
This night, he came out unharmed, but sitting on top of the world.
Swanson, who was hitting just .225 with only one extra-base hit this postseason, was down 0-and-2 in the count, seeing all sliders from Cristian Javier. He threw a 95-mph fastball with the next pitch. Right down the middle. Swanson didn’t miss it, sending it over the right field wall. He ran around the bases with his right arm thrust high into the sky.
Soler, who missed the start of the postseason after testing positive for COVID-19, was ahead 2-and-1 in the count when Javier tried to throw an 80-mph slider past him. Soler hit a line drive shot that barely cleared the wall.
Javier, who had given up just four hits while striking out 15 batters in nine innings this postseason, was removed, serenaded by the tomahawk chants echoing in the ballpark, and Atlanta’s bullpen made sure it would stand.
When he scored the game-winning run in Atlanta’s Game 2 victory over the Dodgers in the NLCS, he was victimized by an errant helmet, and instead of celebrating with his teammates in the clubhouse, he was getting stitches.
“It’s funny now,’’ Swanson told USA TODAY Sports, “but at the time, I was not happy. It is what it is. Battle scars, baby!’’
This night, the Astros were the ones left scarred, ruining Jose Altuve’s heroics.
Altuve, with the organist playing, “It’s a Small World After All,’’ hit the 23nd home run of his postseason career in the fourth inning. It was the second-most in history behind only Manny Ramirez’s 29 homers in 111 postseason games. Altuve hit his 23rd homer in just 77 postseason games.
It was Altuve who set the stage for the Astros’ night. He swung at the first pitch of the game for an infield single off rookie Dylan Lee, who became the first pitcher whose first start was in a World Series game.
The Lee family didn’t get a chance to savor it long.
He lasted just 15 pitches, becoming the first starting pitcher since 2003 to last four batters or less.
Atlanta reliever Kyle Wright was rushed into the game to prevent a complete disaster, inheriting a one-out, bases-loaded jam. He escaped, with the only run scoring when Altuve scampered home on Carlos Correa’s groundout. He lasted 4 ⅔ innings, giving up Altuve’ homer, the longest outing by an Atlanta reliever in World Series history.
The Astros’ 2-0 lead was cut in half by Austin Riley’s two-out, run-scoring single in the sixth inning, and then completely disappeared, unraveling the early work by Astros 38-year-old starter Zack Greinke.
Why, if he wasn’t a nuisance enough to Atlanta, Greinke even drilled a a one-out single to center in the second inning, becoming the first pitcher to produce a hit in a World Series game since Corey Kluber for Cleveland in Game 4 of the World Series against the Chicago Cubs.
Greinke couldn’t help but laugh, with the Astros hooting and hollering from the bench.
Who knew that by the end of the night, it would be Swanson and Soler who got the last laugh.
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