HOUSTON — It was another painful, traumatic injury, one that could destroy Atlanta’s World Series championship hopes.
You don’t lose your Game 1 World Series starter Tuesday night to a broken leg, shrug it off, and expect to beat the powerful Houston Astros.
Then again, Atlanta has lived with cruel adversity all year long, so what’s another obstacle the size of the CNN Center to stop them now?
Atlanta, numb to catastrophic injuries at this juncture, still managed to roll to a 6-2 victory over Houston in Game 1 at Minute Maid Park despite losing veteran starter Charlie Morton to a fractured right fibula.
Certainly, Morton epitomized Atlanta’s resiliency and toughness this night.
He was smacked by a 102.4-mph comebacker by Yuli Gurriel that was hit so hard it caromed off his ankle and rolled directly to first baseman Freddie Freeman.
Morton stayed in the game, and in the next 10 pitches, struck out Chas McCormick and induced a lineout by Martin Maldonado. He went to the bench, the ankle started swelling, but still came back out in the third. He struck out Jose Altuve on six pitches, but on the last one, an 80-mph curveball, he stumbled off the mound and nearly fell to the ground. He then came out of the game.
He immediately went in for X-rays, which revealed the fractured fibula, ending his season.
It left GM Alex Anthopoulos scrambling for reinforcements.
Anthopoulos, has been forced to find help on the fly all year. Baseball executives thought he was living in a fantasy world in mid-July when they lost Ronald Acuna for the season, and with the team still mired in mediocrity with a sub-.500 record, Anthopoulos pushed his chips all in.
They made six trades in July, acquiring four outfielders, with Anthopoulos refusing to surrender, as his players watched in disbelief.
“When you lose the best player in the National league in July,’’ Freeman says, “there’s a lot of doubt, especially when we couldn’t go over .500 at all. You’re just wondering how we were going to do it.
“And Alex goes out and just trades for the world.’’
So, of course it shouldn’t be a surprise that they paid off dividends Tuesday night, with two of their new outfielders, Jorge Soler and Adam Duvall, driving in four of the runs.
Their new outfield quartet of Eddie Rosario, Joc Pederson, Duvall and Soler have driven in 28 of their 45 runs this postseason, accounting for 62% of their runs.
Pretty nice reinforcements considering none of the players were even in Atlanta’s organization at the All-Star break.
“They complete our team,” said Atlanta manager Brian Snitker, “those guys, and they’ve been big for us since they got here, and they’re continuing to be every day.”
Soler became the first batter to hit a leadoff homer in the top of the first in World Series history, and it only went downhill for the Astros. They were down 2-0 after the first four batters of the game, 3-0 after the first 10 batters, and 5-0 after the first 15 batters.
Yes, nothing like a little aggressiveness to silence a sellout crowd of 42,825, a lesson Anthopoulos learned seven years ago when he was GM of the Toronto Blue Jays. The Blue Jays were within three games of a wild-card berth, Anthopoulos stayed pat, and fell out of the race.
“Our players were crushed,” Anthopoulos said. “I didn’t truly understand. These guys were like, ‘If I’m going to lay it on the line and we have a chance to win, and you’re not going to do your part to help with that, why am I here?’
“You owe it to them.”
This time, they traded for Pederson from the Chicago Cubs two days after the All-Star Game, brought in Soler from Kansas City, Duvall from the Miami Marlins and Rosario in a straight salary dump from Cleveland in which they actually received $500,000.
“We were in this position because we didn’t have any depth,” Anthopoulos said. “We didn’t have any outfielders we felt good about. We had some guys who did a nice job for two weeks, three weeks. If you go get three and then one of those guys gets hurt, you’re in the same boat.
“So let’s try to get four, and if anything your bench will be stronger.”
The trades barely drew a yawn. After all, Soler was hitting .192, Duvall .229, Pederson .230 and Rosario, who was injured at the time, hitting .254.
Still, the moves jolted the clubhouse, knowing the front office wasn’t surrendering.
“It showed these guys,’’ Snitker said, “that we’re not going to sit and hang our heads.
“We’re going to go for this thing.”
Voila, Atlanta took off after the trade deadline and won the NL East with 88 victories. They knocked off the Milwaukee Brewers in the NL Division Series, stunned the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL Championship Series, advanced to the World Series for the first time since 1999, and beat the Astros for the first time since June 25, 2014.
But, don’t think the Astros are worried about having their backs against the wall heading into Game 2.
“Our team doesn’t worry, and our team’s very confident,” manager Dusty Baker said after the game. “We have the knack of bouncing back after losses, after tough losses because they don’t quit, they don’t give up, they don’t get down. That’s the secret of sports.”
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