Riley halved Houston’s 2-0 lead with an RBI single in the sixth. Swanson tied the score with a homer in the seventh. Soler followed him with another homer off the bench.
The Braves are one win away from their first World Series championship since 1995. That’s the only time the Braves have won it all since moving to Atlanta. They’ll get up to three tries to do it again because of the offensive formula they’ve perfected this postseason.
The Braves usually get one big hit from a star. Riley did it again in Game 4. So many times, the Braves have gotten offense from complementary veterans in lineups. On Saturday it was postseason-marvel Eddie Rosario, No. 8 hitter Swanson and pinch-hitter Soler.
“Throughout the entire postseason, going all the way back to Milwaukee, we’ve had these at-bats and these hits that have sort of electrified and surprised the entire dugout,” Rosario said via an interpreter. “And they’ve energized us and sort of motivated us to keep going. So we’ve all had some success and we’ve all been able to experience it.”
The three runs in Game 4 were enough because the Braves once again got effective pitching from some unlikely sources. This time it was Kyle Wright, who hadn’t been in the majors since June 23 when the Braves summoned him for the Series.
Manager Brian Snitker had to construct a so-called bullpen game. The Braves opened with rookie Dylan Lee. He couldn’t throw strikes, was done after recording one out and was charged with a run. Snitker turned to Wright, who gave the Braves a chance by holding Houston to one run over 4-1/2 innings, Jose Altuve’s homer in the fourth.
Braves right-hander Chris Martin pitched a scoreless sixth. That set up the best Braves arms out of the ‘pen for the final three innings. But the Braves still trailed 2-0. They needed a rally.
Rosario, MVP of the National League Championship Series, got it started in the sixth with a double off lefty Brooks Raley. The next batter, Freddie Freeman, walked. Astros manager Dusty Baker summoned right-hander Phil Maton to face Braves switch-hitter Ozzie Albies. Albies struck out with a full count.
Riley followed with a single that scored Rosario. The Astros intentionally walked lefty hitter Joc Pederson, who’s been struggling. They wanted Maton to get to righty Travis d’Arnaud, who’s heated up. D’Arnaud fell behind 1-2 in the count, fouled off a pitch and then looked at strike three.
Braves lefty Tyler Matzek allowed one hit and no runs in the top of the seventh. It was a tight, tough game. The Astros kept leaving runners on base. The Braves struggled to produce base runners. They sorely needed some power. Swanson and Soler provided it.
Swanson has scuffled at the plate for most of the postseason while providing little pop. In 13 games before Saturday, Swanson had one extra-base hit among 11 total with 13 strikeouts. He ended that power slump by driving Cristian Javier’s 0-2 fastball just over the brick wall in right field.
Said Snitker: “I’ve been waiting for Dansby to do a Dansby-esque type thing. The kid likes the moment, I know that. He has for as long as he’s been here.”
During the regular season, Soler was the best of the four outfielders the Braves acquired before the trade deadline. He didn’t hit much in the NLDS. He didn’t play much in the NLCS because he ended up on the COVID-19 list.
Soler homered to lead off Game 1 of the Series. He did it again in Game 4 off Javier, who hadn’t allowed a run in four previous appearances this postseason (nine innings).
“It means a lot to me and my family,” Soler said via an interpreter. “At the beginning of the year, I wasn’t part of this team. The organization traded for me. Obviously, I’m grateful to be here. It truly means a lot to be able to be here with this group of guys.”
Credit: Curtis Compton
Credit: Curtis Compton
The three runs ended a night of frustration against Greinke. He was viewed more as an opener than a starter for his game. He appeared twice in Houston’s previous 13 games this postseason, on Oct. 10 and Oct. 19.
Greinke pitched around two hits for a scoreless inning against the White Sox in Game 3 of an American League Division Series. Baker went back to Greinke to start Game 4 of the ALCS against the Red Sox. He lasted just 1-2/3 innings while giving up a two-run homer.
Baker tried Greinke again Saturday. The Astros, like the Braves, had run out of good starting options. Baker’s reasoning: Greinke had pitched in a lot of big games. But even Baker wasn’t sure how much he’d get from Greinke. He said he was pleased with how it turned out: four innings, no runs, four hits, three strikeouts, no walks.
All four Braves hits against Greinke were singles. Greinke twice ended scoring threats by getting the Braves to ground into double plays. The Braves also couldn’t do anything against the first reliever Baker called on, right-hander Ryne Stanek. He retired them in order in the fifth.
Braves hitters kept grinding, as they’ve done all playoffs. Then Rosario and Riley started the comeback before Swanson and Soler completed it with their home runs.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, it was the third time in Series history that players hit game-tying and go-ahead homers back-to-back. Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig did it in the 1928 Series and Pedro Guerrero and Steve Yeager did it in 1981. Swanson and Soler are the first Nos. 8 and 9 hitters to hit back-to-back homers in the Series.
Swanson: “I feel like we were just kind of -- not dead all day, but I feel like they did such a good job of keeping us at bay for so long and we didn’t have too many opportunities. Then we were able to make something happen there in that inning. Man, just tremendous.”
That’s the blueprint the Braves have followed all season. It’s got them on the verge of winning another Series championship.