Late Homers Have Atlanta on the Brink of a Championship

ATLANTA — Dansby Swanson held his right arm in the air as he floated around the bases. Excitement had been slowly building through the night as a sleepy Atlanta Braves lineup started to wake up. But after Swanson’s game-tying home run clanked off the top of the right field wall in the bottom of the seventh inning of Game 4 of the World Series, Truist Park erupted.

Moments later, Jorge Soler drilled a pinch-hit go-ahead home run just over the left field wall and the merriment doubled. Players jumped out of the home dugout. Swanson, who grew up a Braves fan outside of Atlanta, screamed, clapped and waved his arms as he watched Soler run. After failing to get a runner into scoring position for most of the game, suddenly Atlanta was one win away from a title.

Dansby Swanson tied the game with a solo home run in the seventh.Credit…Elsa/Getty Images
Soler followed him with a solo home run of his own, putting Atlanta on the verge of clinching a title.Credit…Elsa/Getty Images
The back-to-back homers were a shocking turn of events for a team that had trailed since the top of the first inning.Credit…Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Trailing most of Saturday, Atlanta snatched a 3-2 victory from the Houston Astros and took a three-games-to-one lead in the best-of-seven series. Atlanta entered the postseason with the fewest wins (88) of any of the 10 teams in the playoffs and is now one win away from claiming its first World Series title since 1995.

For a second straight chilly night in suburban Atlanta, the home team made the most powerful offense in baseball look feeble. On Friday, Atlanta took a no-hitter into the eighth inning and held Houston scoreless. A day later, Atlanta fell behind early but a cadre of pitchers did enough to keep the game close for its offense.

Before the game, Atlanta fans were prompted by the team to do the tomahawk chop, a tradition of chanting and waving that has been called offensive by several Native American groups. Among those doing it were former President Donald J. Trump and his wife, Melania. (He did it again during a sixth-inning rally by Atlanta.)

Former President Donald J. Trump and his wife, Melania, participated in the “tomahawk chop” with fans at Truist Park.Credit…Elsa/Getty Images
Fans continued to enthusiastically do the chop, which many consider to be offensive.Credit…Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

In April, Trump called for a boycott of Major League Baseball after its commissioner, Rob Manfred, moved the annual All-Star Game from Truist Park because of Georgia’s new, more restrictive voting law. Atlanta chief executive Terry McGuirk recently told USA TODAY that Trump had called M.L.B. about wanting to attend the game and the team was surprised but they accommodated him by giving him his own suite.

In a statement released on Saturday afternoon, Trump thanked Manfred and Randy Levine, the Yankees’ president, for the invitation. Later, an M.L.B. spokesman said, “As previously reported, President Trump requested to attend.”

With few other reliable options to start Game 4, the teams turned to pitchers with starkly different levels of experience. Houston tapped Zack Greinke, a former Cy Young Award winner with 530 career regular-season games who had been relegated to the bullpen entering the postseason. Atlanta turned to the rookie Dylan Lee to kick off their bullpen game.

Jose Altuve singled in the first inning. He and his teammates had chased Atlanta’s starter, Dylan Lee, with only one out in the opening frame.Credit…Erik S Lesser/EPA, via Shutterstock

Before this postseason, Lee’s only major-league action was two regular-season relief appearances this year. On Saturday, he became the first pitcher in history to make his first major league start in the World Series.

Unsurprisingly, Lee sputtered. He faced four batters, giving up a single and two walks, and notching just one out. His replacement, Kyle Wright, another pitcher who spent nearly the entire season in the minor leagues, provided a lift.

Wright surrendered five hits and three walks over four and two-thirds innings but just one run. Greinke, who had thrown only four and two-thirds innings this month and no more than 37 pitches in any outing, spun four scoreless innings on 58 pitches. Both teams’ offenses, particularly Houston’s, struggled to convert base runners into runs.

Jose Altuve had homered in the fourth inning, increasing Houston’s lead to 2-0. Credit…Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

After stranding seven runners through the first three innings, the Astros broke through. When Wright left a sinking fastball over the heart of the plate in the fourth inning, Altuve walloped it over the center field fence for a solo blast that gave Houston a 2-0 lead. It moved Altuve into sole possession of second place in career postseason home runs (23). Only former Cleveland and Boston slugger Manny Ramirez (29) has more.

But as Atlanta Manager Brian Snitker cycled through one stout reliever after another, it bought time for his team’s hitters. When left fielder Eddie Rosario doubled with one out in the sixth inning, it was the first time Atlanta had a runner in scoring position on Saturday. He scored to halve his team’s deficit when Austin Riley singled to left field.

Austin Riley slid into second safely when he put Atlanta on the board in the sixth inning with a run-scoring hit.Credit…Brett Davis/USA Today Sports, via Reuters

An inning later, Atlanta smashed its way into the lead. Strong all postseason, Astros reliever Cristian Javier threw an 0-2 fastball over the heart of the plate to Swanson. He clobbered it to the opposite field for his first home run of this October.

One batter later, Soler sent a 2-1 slider, also down the middle of the strike zone, over the fence and Atlanta closer to a title.

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