The joint was going crazy. The Braves had hit a grand slam home run right at the get-go of a possible World Series clinching game. The affect on Truist Park Sunday night was like popping the top on a cold one after it had spent 26 years in a paint shaker. The joy just erupted and got over everything.
There could have been no more promising way to touch off this night than Adam Duvall’s first-inning blast that staked the Braves to a 4-0 lead over Houston. In the Braves’ dugout, players jumped around as if they had just won a world war. In the stands, strangers hugged, and families began pressing the moment into the mental scrapbooks of their most cherished shared experiences, and they dared dream that this had to be The Night.
So, how did we get here?
Going back to Houston after a 9-5 loss Sunday.
Going back still with a 3-2 lead over the Astros in the best-of-seven series, but with a nasty case of emotional whiplash.
Because of the stupid rules. “It’s a nine-inning ballgame,” said Duvall, feeling the need to explain some of the basics. “We celebrated (the grand slam); we got excited; that’s what you do when you hit home runs. But it’s a long game. That happened in the bottom of the first. It’s a nine-inning game. They didn’t quit.
“We weren’t able to get it going again and keep the pressure on. Hats off to their pitchers, they kept us there when they needed to,” Duvall said.
Getting outscored 9-1 over the remaining eight innings pretty much explains it all.
Sunday was Exhibit A on how the thrill and cruelty of competition share the same bed, and how all first-inning confidence can be twisted into a gnawing angst by the end of the ninth.
Sunday proved to be a waste of not one, but two perfectly good swings that had such forever potential. Two long balls that might have been measured for posterity, right up there with the one David Justice hit one score and six years ago to win Atlanta’s first major championship. Now they are as meaningless as the ashes after a bonfire.
First, as to the Duvall shot that already is fading from memory.
What’s the only thing worse than being the team that gave up a World Series-scale first-inning grand slam? That’s being the team that hit the grand slam watching its four-run lead vanish in the next 30 minutes. Then it’s almost like what should have been a mythic moment never happened. It’s like being jarred awake from a beautiful dream by a sales call just as Charlize Theron is walking into the room.
Trust us, though, the slam happened as the Braves enjoyed another serving of Framber flambe. In Game 1 of the Series, Astros starter Framber Valdez gave up five runs in just 2-plus innings. He wasn’t any better in Game 5.
The Braves loaded the bases on Valdez in the first inning, Duvall striding to the plate with two out to the tune of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “They Call Me the Breeze.” The Astros held a meeting at the mound to discuss their approach against the National League’s RBI leader. It was the worst office meeting ever.
On Valdez’ first pitch, a sinker low and away, Duvall muscled the ball to the opposite field, clearing the brick in right and clearing the bases. It was just the third first-inning grand slam in the long history of the World Series, and the first since 1960.
But this was the second straight game the Braves were trying to juggle a bullpen game. The franchise that once started Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz over the haul of a World Series was now starting utterly untried Tucker Davidson one day after starting one Dylan Lee. Sooner or later, that’s going catch up to a team, and it did Sunday, the Astros tying the game by the top of the third inning.
“That was good, that was exciting right there,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said of the nice, early lead, “but we knew we still had a long, long way to go and anything could happen. It would have been great to keep adding on a little bit. We just couldn’t do that.”
“I’d much rather score that big run in the seventh inning, then we don’t have so much time to cover,” said the manager, who was offered no such choice.
But once more, the Braves market tested another long ball for posterity. This time, Freddie Freeman launched one 460 feet to right-center in the bottom of the third – approximately the same location Justice sent his Series-winner in 1995 two ballparks ago – regifting the Braves with the lead, 5-4.
That, too, however, was quickly overwhelmed by the 12 hits Houston put up the assortment of five Braves pitchers.
There would be no clinching win at home, the Braves losing here for the first time in their last eight postseason games. Now the question: How will they react after a letdown of this magnitude, needing to win one of two games back in Houston?
Like they have all year, Duvall said.
“We’ve learned to turn the page,” he said. That’s the page where his mighty slam is now a footnote.