HOUSTON – Atlanta’s pitching preserved a one-run lead. The offense made it count.

The Braves, who led by a run for most of Monday’s series opener at Minute Maid Park, hung four in the ninth to beat the Astros 6-1. Atlanta is 10-5 after winning its first game back in Houston since Game 6 of the 2021 World Series, which ended with the Braves hoisting a trophy.

Five observations:

1. Hoping to keep the deficit at a run, Astros manager Joe Espada turned to Josh Hader, the closer the Astros gave a five-year, $95 million deal over the offseason. Over his career, Hader, whose stuff can be devastating, has been remarkably reliable.

This is when the Braves, held in check all night, exploded.

They scored four runs – all charged to Hader. They chased him after he’d recorded only one out in 22 pitches. A nail-biter turned into a blowout.

“That was huge – against one of the toughest closers in this game,” Michael Harris II said. “It gives us a lot of confidence and just shows we can go up against anybody. We have belief in our bats one through nine. It gave us a lot of confidence against a tough guy like Hader.”

When Hader entered, it went like this: Adam Duvall walked and advanced to second on a wild pitch. Orlando Arcia singled to score him. Ronald Acuña Jr., Ozzie Albies and Austin Riley knocked three consecutive singles – and Riley’s hit plated a run.

After Hader struck out Matt Olson, Espada made the long trek to the mound to remove a closer that had failed him on this night. The Braves, on the other hand, can celebrate a victory that might have ramifications for Tuesday’s game – they eliminated Houston’s closer and preserved their own.

Hader on Monday pitched for the second straight day. He’s appeared in three out of the last four games. He’ll likely be down on Tuesday.

Raisel Iglesias, on the other hand, warmed up but never pitched. With a five-run lead, the Braves went to Jesse Chavez. Iglesias would’ve pitched for a second straight day, but instead sat and watched the final three outs – and he might be able to pitch each of the next two days if needed.

2. Last April, as A.J. Minter struggled, he had two battles with Yordan Alvarez in the same weekend. He lost both of them.

In the series opener, Alvarez launched a two-out, two-run homer off Minter. In the finale, Alvarez tied the game with a two-run single.

Both times, Minter tipped his cap. The pitches weren’t mistakes – Alvarez is simply one of baseball’s most dangerous hitters.

Almost a year later, Minter saw Alvarez again. This time, the Braves led by a run, and Snitker summoned Minter with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning because the Astros had put two men on base.

“I would be lying if I said I wasn’t looking at the iPad during the game, watching my scouting report against him, and seeing him get a home run and a big double or whatever to win the game,” Minter said. “So yeah, it was nice to get a little bit of payback with that.”

Minter won this battle. He got Alvarez to pop out to shortstop Luis Guillorme for the final out.

Minter started Alvarez with a fastball low and away for a strike. Then he went with a fastball up, but it landed above the strike zone for a ball. The third pitch was a fastball at the top of the zone, and Alvarez was under it.

Then Minter pitched a scoreless eighth.

3. Alvarez. Kyle Tucker. Jose Altuve. Alex Bregman.

The Astros’ lineup features big names. And yet, Darius Vines – the 25-year-old righty with five big-league appearances before Monday – showed no fear. He attacked.

Vines hurled 4 2/3 innings of one-run baseball. Considering he hadn’t pitched since April 4, Vines’ stuff looked crisp.

And he did it in a “postseason kind of atmosphere,” as reliever A.J. Minter called it.

“It was kind of juiced up a little bit,” Minter said. “And for Vines to come in and not let the situation get too big, just kind of slow the game down, and just throwing strikes, pitching to contact, I thought he did an unbelievable job.”

Vines threw 29 four-seam fastballs, 21 cutters and 21 changeups. His cutter produced six whiffs on nine swings. Three of his four strikeouts came on the cutter, the other on the changeup.

As the Braves look to fill the rotation vacancy left by Spencer Strider, who underwent internal brace surgery to repair his UCL, Vines had a nice audition. It seems, at least for now, that he’s earned another start.

And this kind of outing – versus this powerful lineup – gave Vines even more confidence.

“That lineup is really good from one through nine,” he said. “Just being able to execute and get them to chase my pitches and get them to swing and get outs felt amazing.”

4. In the second inning, Houston starter Spencer Arrighetti battled and battled as he tried to get the third out. The Braves, though, were particularly relentless. They kept fighting, and soon scored twice.

Arrighetti got two quick outs before Travis d’Arnaud hit a first-pitch double. Then the Braves pushed him.

Jarred Kelenic drew a walk. Arrighetti had Guillorme at 1-2, Ronald Acuña Jr. at 0-2 and Ozzie Albies at 1-2 – and all three reached base. Guillorme’s infield hit brought in one run, and Albies was hit by a pitch to score another.

“It’s always big against a team like this,” Snitker said of that inning. “You have to do that, because their pitching is so good, the offense is like ours. It’s just overall a very good ballgame to win.”

5. Ten days separated Vines’ last appearance and Monday. This was no easy assignment, especially versus Houston’s lineup.

And then the Astros punched in the first inning. They scored once. It could’ve gotten worse, but Vines kept them to a run.

“Honestly, it’s been a little while since I’ve thrown, but once you’re out there you’ve just gotta get outs,” Vines said.

In his third MLB start, Vines showed the Braves poise and guts. Then he pitched into the fifth, and almost completed it.

“He did a great job just battling through to get there, and hung with himself,” Snitker said.

Stat to know

14 - Ozuna on Monday extended his MLB-best hitting streak to 14 games.


“He doesn’t give in and he changes speeds and moves it around. He always just kind of hangs there. He just keeps pitching and doesn’t give in. That was really impressive. Very, very impressive outing.”-Snitker on Vines

Up next

On Tuesday, Reynaldo López will face Astros right-hander Hunter Brown. First pitch is at 8:10 p.m.