Braves facing a pivotal Game 3 as World Series returns to Atlanta

10/23/21 - Atlanta - Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Ian Anderson reacts after getting the third out during the top of the third inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers in game 6 at the National League Championship Series at Truist Park, Saturday October 23, 2021, in Atlanta. Curtis Compton / curtis.compton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton

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10/23/21 - Atlanta - Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Ian Anderson reacts after getting the third out during the top of the third inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers in game 6 at the National League Championship Series at Truist Park, Saturday October 23, 2021, in Atlanta. Curtis Compton / curtis.compton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton

The Braves will play their first home World Series game in more than 20 years Friday. And it will be pivotal.

After splitting two games in Houston, the Braves and Astros are down to a best-of-five. In the past four decades, the World Series has been tied through two games 17 times. The Game 3 winner won the championship 13 times.

While the Braves are thrilled to be home for the next three contests; they’re returning wounded. Starter Charlie Morton broke his leg in Game 1 and he’s out. Co-ace Max Fried was charged with six runs in his outing Wednesday, when instead of his team seizing command of the series, manager Brian Snitker spent the postgame presser explaining errors and discussing the silver linings of Dylan Lee and Kyle Wright.

Ian Anderson needs to excel Friday. The Braves need innings out of him because they’re set to pitch back-to-back bullpen games in Game 4 and 5. They’re down to two traditional starters, and with the situation facing them, there’s added importance on Anderson pitching deeper into the game. He went only three and four innings, respectively, in his past two outings.

Anderson said he’ll try to use the Astros’ unfamiliarity with him to his advantage. None of the Astros’ hitters have faced Anderson. The right-hander noted the Astros are losing a spot in their lineup at Truist Park, where there isn’t a designated hitter.

“I think when you have the batting champ batting seventh (Yuli Gurriel), that definitely makes your lineup pretty deep,” Anderson said. “It’ll be different playing in a National League ballpark, I think we can use that to our advantage. But they have a ton of names, and they keep coming at you.”

The Braves have confidence in Anderson, who’s shown his maturity since his debut in August 2020. The 23-year-old outdueled Yankees ace Gerrit Cole in his first start. He’s since pitched a Game 7 (of the 2020 National League Championship Series), a division-clinching victory and the pennant-clinching win over the Dodgers in this month’s NLCS.

“He’s like 65 years old in a 24-year-old person’s body,” reliever Luke Jackson said. “It seems like he’s seen everything, when he hasn’t seen anything. It’s one of those things where he’s just an old soul and goes out there and does the work. He punches the clock kind of guy, 9 to 5, let’s go. Let me go out there and pitch. Today’s the World Series, tomorrow’s opening day, and today’s Wednesday at noon in Pittsburgh. It’s kind of all the same to him, and that’s what makes him pretty special.”

Manager Brian Snitker added Thursday afternoon: “He couldn’t help but grow (over the last year). He dropped in here last year, we thrust him immediately into the playoffs. He came in and pitched against the Yankees in his first start. We forced him to grow up. Getting to know him from spring trainings, he’s just a mature guy. Mature player, kid, man. He’s been through a lot in a short major league career, a lot of experiences, pitched a lot of big games here. The more he experiences that, the more he’s going to continue to grow.”

Anderson will oppose 24-year-old Astros right-hander Luis Garcia, who will try to keep the Braves’ offense quiet for the second consecutive game. After scoring six runs in Game 1, the offense managed two Wednesday.

Perhaps returning to Truist Park will help. The Braves have benefited from fervent crowds down the stretch. They’ve won 10 of their past 11 home games, including sweeping the Phillies to secure the NL East and going 5-0 in the postseason.

The Braves won their NL Division Series by beating the Brewers in Game 4 at home. They topped the Dodgers three times at Truist Park in the last round. They could win the World Series by taking each of the coming home games during what’s expected to be a rainy weekend.

“I know (the crowd is) going to bring it,” Fried said. “We’ve got some really great fans, and I know that they’ll be ready to be cheering us on. We’re ready to get back home.”

It won’t be easy. The Braves are somewhat running on fumes. They’ll lean on their offense and core relievers, but they’ll need some heroics from unheralded pitchers such as Wright and Tucker Davidson, who are forced into bigger roles given the dire pitching circumstances.

“The bullpen’s going to play a big part, obviously, in what we’ve got going on because we lost a huge starter,” Snitker said. “So we’re going to have probably two games in a row that we’re going to pitch 18 innings out of that bullpen. We’ve got some guys that have two days off now, and it will be the next three games at home. It’s kind of like the whole roster is going to have to be used just because of the situation we’re in. It happens. So we’ll just try and piece it together the best we can.”

These Braves have overcome so much. It’s only appropriate they’re faced with more unexpected obstacles in their season’s finale. They’ll have to win one more uphill battle to host a parade down Peachtree.