“I’ve always said the team that has that little boy in them that comes out are teams that do well in the postseason,” Snitker said. “If you’d have heard our dugout in the bottom of the ninth inning, I would have thought I was in an American Legion dugout, the way guys were cheering for each other. And I really believe that. I think the team that just plays with emotion and enjoys what they’re doing and all in the postseason are really dangerous.”
Under Snitker, the Braves formed an identity around comebacks and mental toughness. They’ve shown their propensity for the rally throughout the season and postseason, but no sequence exhibited it better than Saturday.
Swanson, the hometown shortstop who’d been having a difficult postseason run, had his storybook moment in the seventh. He was 11-for-47 (.234) with one extra-base hit and an RBI over 13 games entering the night. He was a Game 4 hero leaving it.
Swanson cranked a two-strike homer over the right-field wall to tie the score at 2-2, sending the 43,125 at Truist Park into a frenzy. It was the biggest hit of Swanson’s life, and one he said his girlfriend, soccer star Mallory Pugh, predicted.
“I don’t know if you can really sum it up,” Swanson said. “I just know that God’s blessed me so much to be here, getting traded here (from Arizona). It was probably the best thing that ever happened to me, to be able to be back home and to be able to play for this city and to just grow with this community. That moment, it means a lot. It really does.
“I have family here at the game. I have my best friends that I grew up with here at the game. It’s a special moment, and it’s really hard to put into words. So hopefully, we can talk after some celebration. The attitude, I feel like kind of what we said. We know that nothing’s done, nothing’s over. We’ve obviously learned that lesson before. We just got to go out and compete, and I feel like that’s the biggest motto for this team.”
Soler followed with a pinch-hit laser over the left-field wall that produced the first lead change of the series. He’s the second player in franchise history to hit a go-ahead homer in the seventh inning or later in the World Series, joining Eddie Mathews (Game 4, 1957). He hit the fourth go-ahead pinch-hit homer in World Series history, following homers by Ed Sprague (1992 against the Braves), Kirk Gibson (1988) and Dusty Rhodes (1954).
Once they had the lead, the Braves didn’t look back. Circumstances had forced them into a bullpen game. The contest got off to a rocky start. The offense looked lifeless for six innings after scoring only twice Friday. The Braves, keeping with the theme of their unthinkable campaign, weren’t deterred.
It was a strange start to a World Series game. Lefty Dylan Lee was the Braves’ opener, running out from the bullpen to the mound for his first career start. Lee wasn’t on the field for long. In his fifth career appearance, he faced only four hitters, recording one out and departing with the bases loaded. “I know that I’m a reliever now,” Lee said after the game.
Kyle Wright inherited the mess, limiting the Astros to one run. Wright helped the Braves through their scheduled bullpen game by covering 4-2/3 innings. He was charged with only one run, a solo homer by Jose Altuve in the fourth.
Perhaps it was Wright’s gutsiest outing as a pro. He lived on the edge but kept the Braves within two runs. He allowed five hits, walked three and struck out three. The Astros had a base runner in every inning against Wright, but he held them to an 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position – missed opportunities that loomed large by night’s end.
“Kyle is the reason we won the game,” Snitker said.
Wright appeared in only two games during the regular season. The top prospect’s struggles relegated him to Triple-A. He was a surprise add to the World Series roster after a strong finish to the season. He struck out the side during a relief appearance in Game 2, then built on that success with his showing Saturday.
Snitker said Wright spending the entire season in Triple-A aided his development. “He’s been through a lot in a young career, and we’ve created a lot of it, honestly.” Wright agreed that he benefited from working out his issues in the minors and pitching consistent innings.
“Honestly, it sucks being down there, but I completely agree,” Wright said. “I kind of hit the reset button a little bit. I was struggling a lot this year and was honestly a little lost. I kind of went and back and watched a bunch of old video to see where I was at when I was pitching well. I basically found where I needed to be and worked pretty strict on those mechanical changes, and I feel like it’s put me in a much better position now to be more consistent. I feel like my stuff’s been better, and everything has all around been better.”
Astros starter Zack Greinke looked like his old self, holding the Braves to four hits over four scoreless innings. His velocity hovered in the high-80s yet he was effective. The Braves grounded into two double plays and didn’t have a runner reach second.
Third baseman Austin Riley’s RBI single in the sixth cut Houston’s lead in half. The Braves hammered back-to-back homers for the first time in their World Series history a frame later. Their stable of key relievers – Tyler Matzek, Luke Jackson and Will Smith – kept the Astros scoreless to finish the game.
“I can’t say enough about our bullpen,” Snitker said. “My God. I’m going to talk to ownership and send them all to Hawaii for a week when we’re done.”
The Braves have held the vaunted Astros lineup to two runs over two games at Truist Park. Houston is 0-for-10 with runners in scoring position during that time.
“They say good pitching beats good hitting, and then when you don’t hit, they say what’s wrong?” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “And they’ve been pitching good against us. They’ve been pitching great against us.”
The Braves were under .500 until August. They lost their best player, All-Star starter and middle-of-the-order bat, among others. They won a measly 88 games, the lowest win total of postseason participants (though not an indication of the team’s production following the trade deadline).
Yet here they are, a win away from bringing Atlanta its second major professional championship, perhaps on Halloween night. The Braves are 7-0 at Truist Park this season, one victory shy of matching the franchise record for a home postseason winning streak.
They’re in this position because of an unforgettable seventh inning. Down the road, Swanson’s and Soler’s home runs might be mentioned as “The Night Sid Slid” and David Justice’s homer are today.
“Maybe we can have this chat in about 10 years when I’m getting old and I have kids and stuff like that,” Swanson said.
This is the 49th time a team has led 3-1 in the World Series. Forty-one times the team leading won the series (85.4%). The leading team clinched in Game 5 on 27 occurrences (56.3%).
That sets up Sunday: The Braves win the World Series with a victory. They’ll rely on another bullpen game. The Astros will start Framber Valdez, who surrendered five runs on eight hits in Game 1.