WASHINGTON (AFP) — Dansby Swanson and Jorge Soler smashed back-to-back home runs and the Atlanta Braves defeated Houston 3-2 on Saturday to reach the brink of their first World Series title since 1995.
Swanson and Soler hammered solo blasts in the seventh inning to grab the lead as the Braves seized a 3-1 edge in Major League Baseball’s best-of-seven final, which could end with game five Sunday in Atlanta.
“It’s such a cool moment for this city but we’ve got one more and we can’t take anything for granted,” Swanson said. “We’ve got to be ready and come out and play our game tomorrow.”
The Braves, who improved to 7-0 at home in this year’s playoffs, are playing in the World Series for the first time since 1999.
The Astros are in the World Series for the third time in five seasons, seeking their first crown since 2017.
“We’ve got to win tomorrow,” said 72-year-old Astros manager Dusty Baker, chasing his first title as a manager. “We’ve had our backs to the wall before. Our guys know what we have to do.”
Houston relief pitcher Cristian Javier entered in the seventh inning and the 24-year-old Dominican right-hander was tagged for back-to-back solo homers by US slugger Swanson to right field and Cuban pinch-hitter Soler to left field that gave the Braves a 3-2 advantage.
“In that moment, the ‘compete’ factor went through the roof,” Swanson said. “Something amazing happened.”
When Soler followed him with what proved to be the winning run, Swanson said, “I told him you didn’t have to one-up me by hitting yours so hard.”
Soler, who won a World Series crown with the 2016 Chicago Cubs, said through a translator he was “focusing on the fastball but ready for the slider when it came.
“This is one of the most enjoyable teams I’ve ever played on. We have no fear. And now we’re one win away from winning the World Series.”
Atlanta reliever Luke Jackson entered in the eighth and retired the Astros in order, with leftfielder Eddie Rosario making a backhanded running catch to rob Houston’s Jose Altuve of a base hit.
“It was incredible,” Soler said of Rosario’s catch. “It was like a movie.”
In the ninth, Braves left-handed closer Will Smith struck out Michael Brantley, induced a pop fly out by Alex Bregman and got Yordan Alvarez to ground out to first to end the game.
It was the fourth comeback victory of the playoffs for the Braves, a mark bettered in MLB history only by the six victory rallies of the 1995 Braves on their way to the title.
Altuve put Astros ahead
Atlanta’s Dylan Lee, a 27-year-old left-hander, became the first pitcher whose first MLB start was in the World Series.
Altuve singled while Brantley and Alvarez walked before Lee was replaced after 1/3 of an inning by right-hander Kyle Wright, who went 4 2/3 innings.
Carlos Correa grounded out to drive in Altuve for a 1-0 Astros edge but Wright struck out Kyle Tucker to end the threat.
“I was just trying to give my team a chance,” Wright said. “The job is not done but we’re in a good spot.”
Altuve blasted a solo homer in the fourth to give Houston a 2-0 lead.
“We left 11 on base,” Baker said. “We didn’t have a bunch of chances after the first four innings.”
Astros pitchers scattered four hits over the first five innings before left-hander Brooks Raley entered in the sixth.
Raley surrendered a one-out double to Rosario and walked Freddie Freeman before being replaced by right-hander Phil Maton, who surrendered a single to Austin Riley that scored Rosario, setting the stage for the seventh-inning heroics.
The Astros were forced to add catcher Garrett Stubbs for reserve catcher Jason Castro, who was put on the Covid-19 list.
Former US President Donald Trump attended, doing the controversial “Tomahawk Chop” cheer in support of the Braves before the contest.