Braves' Statement Win vs. Astros Comes at Steep Price with Charlie Morton Injury

Zachary D. RymerOctober 27, 2021

AP Photo/Ashley Landis

Game 1 of the World Series was mostly an exercise in Atlanta getting everything it could have wanted. Above all, a win. And just below that, continued excellence for an offense that carried the team through the first two rounds of the 2021 playoffs.

The operative word there, however, is "mostly."

This is little comfort to the Houston Astros, who were generally lifeless in a 6-2 loss at Minute Maid Park on Tuesday. Though Atlanta's offense front-loaded what life it showed by scoring five of its six runs in the first three innings, manager Brian Snitker's bullpen made sure it held up by allowing just two runs over 6.2 innings to finish out the game.

Trouble is, that heavy workload was necessitated by what happened to ace starter Charlie Morton in the second inning:

Mark Bowman @mlbbowman

This was the Gurriel comebacker that got Morton's shin in the second inning. My guess is he had to exit because the area swelled over the past inning. <a href="https://t.co/NuV4Zm50Yh">pic.twitter.com/NuV4Zm50Yh</a>

That was a 102.4 mph ground ball off Yuli Gurriel's bat clanking off Morton's right shin. Though he stayed in the game and was even able to get three more outs, he had to come out in the third and was revealed to have a fractured fibula.

“I hate it for him. He’s such a great person," Snitker said, per Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post.

The 37-year-old's season is over, which means that Atlanta only has so much of an advantage even after gaining its first win in the World Series in 25 years.

Atlanta Players of the Game

  • DH Jorge Soler: 2-for-5, 1 HR, 1 R, 2 RBI. He just came off the COVID-19 injured list a few days ago, yet he erased any doubts about his swing by launching the third pitch of the game into the Crawford Boxes for a leadoff home run.
  • CF Adam Duvall: 1-for-4, 1 HR, 1 R, 2 RBI. He was quiet in the National League Championship Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers, but all was forgiven when he cranked a two-run shot in the third inning.
  • LF Eddie Rosario: 2-for-5, 1 R. The NLCS MVP just keeps hitting. He also made a pivotal defensive play, though we'll have more on that later.
  • LHP A.J. Minter: 2.2 IP, 3 H, 0 BB, 1 R, 3 K. He was first out of the gate in relief of Morton and did everything he could to keep momentum from shifting in favor of the Astros.

Astros Players of the Game

  • LF Michael Brantley: 3-for-5. On a night in which the Astros got only two extra-base hits and scored both of their runs on fielder's choice ground balls, he'll have to do for an offensive standout.
  • RHP Jake Odorizzi: 2.1 IP, 1 H, 0 BB, 0 R, 5 K. He basically had to justify Astros manager Dusty Baker not using go-to bulk ace Cristian Javier in relief of Framber Valdez after he could get only six outs. Suffice it to say, he did.

Was This a Pyrrhic Victory for Atlanta?

Or, for anyone who's not caught up on Roman-era military terminology: Did Atlanta's win in Game 1 come at too great a cost to be worth it?

Perhaps not, if for no other reason than the message sent by its offense.

Because the Astros led all of Major League Baseball in runs scored during the regular season and also entered Game 1 with a 27-run advantage on Atlanta for the postseason, the offensive advantage in this series seemed to reside decidedly with Houston. But before anyone could properly retort with words, Soler did it with his loud swing off Valdez:


SOLER POWER! <br><br>JORGE SOLER LEADS OFF THE <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/WORLDSERIES?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#WORLDSERIES</a> WITH A HOMER! <a href="https://t.co/iuC8zkP53y">pic.twitter.com/iuC8zkP53y</a>

Atlanta added another run in the first inning on an RBI double by Austin Riley and eventually stretched its lead to 5-0 on Duvall's two-run shot in the third.

As noted by ESPN Stats and Info, the homers by Soler and Duvall made it nine for Atlanta in these playoffs by players who played for another team during the regular season. That's a record.

More to the point, those were but two hits in a rare come-one, come-all hit party for Atlanta:

MLB Stats @MLBStats

For the 3rd time in franchise history, all 9 starters in the <a href="https://twitter.com/Braves?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@Braves</a>' <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/WorldSeries?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#WorldSeries</a> starting lineup have recorded a hit.<br><br>1999, Game 3<br>1948, Game 5 <a href="https://t.co/6oRrxUamGf">pic.twitter.com/6oRrxUamGf</a>

Cheap, these hits were not. Atlanta's hitters averaged 99.4 mph in exit velocity just off Valdez. And, to be clear, that's not just on the team's hits. It's for all of its 12 batted balls off the supposedly electric left-hander.

“It was my first World Series game so I’m not gonna tell you I didn’t feel any kind of pressure," Valdez said afterward, according to Danielle Lerner of the Houston Chronicle

To be fair to Valdez, Atlanta's offense has humbled many pitchers of late. Its hitters ranked second in the National League in average exit velocity after president of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos remade the team's offense at the July 30 trade deadline in response to Ronald Acuna Jr.'s season-ending knee injury.

More recently, Atlanta actually had slightly better exit velo in the NLCS against the Dodgers than the Astros did in the American League Championship Series against the Boston Red Sox.

Not to be overlooked is that Game 1 was also a defensive showcase for Atlanta. True to its usual form, the club hit all the right buttons with its infield shifts. Because there's nothing he can't do, Rosario added a stellar throw to his postseason highlight reel in the eighth inning:


Eddie Rosario’s terrific October continues. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/WorldSeries?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#WorldSeries</a> <a href="https://t.co/Z6jFMQWgoo">pic.twitter.com/Z6jFMQWgoo</a>

All this was no help to an Astros offense that also gave off a hint of rust following a three-day rest period. Yordan Alvarez, Kyle Tucker and company seemed to do nothing but make good takes and let rip good swings in the first two rounds of the postseason. But apart from Brantley, there were few of either to be found on Houston's side in Game 1.

The loss of Morton, though, has dire short- and long-term implications for Atlanta in this series.

For the former, Snitker had to call on four of his best relievers—Minter, Luke Jackson, Tyler Matzek and Will Smith—to throw 101 pitches in relief of Morton. The obvious good news is that they got the job done. The equally obvious less-good news is that their availability for Game 2 on Wednesday is at least compromised and maybe nonexistent.

Either way, it'll be up to Max Fried to come through with a strong start in Game 2. Or, the exact opposite of what he gave Snitker in Game 5 of the NLCS, in which the Dodgers tagged him for five runs on eight hits and two walks in 4.2 innings.

Assuming the series gets that far, Morton's injury leaves Atlanta without its presumptive starter for Game 5. If Jesse Chavez and Drew Smyly work in tandem again like they did in NLCS Game 4, the newly activated Kyle Wright might get the ball in Game 5. His career ERA through 21 appearances in the majors is 6.56, so that would qualify as "suboptimal."

Of course, Houston's starting pitching didn't look great coming into this series and it doesn't look better in context of the egg that Valdez just laid. But unlike Morton, at least he's healthy. And the last time he laid an egg in these playoffs, he responded by hurling eight one-run innings his next time out.

So while the Astros surely have wounds to tend to after Game 1, at least theirs are strictly figurative. The literal one on Atlanta's side is potentially much more damaging.

What's Next for Atlanta and Houston?

The second game of the World Series is scheduled for 8:09 p.m. ET at Minute Maid Park on Wednesday. It'll be Fried on the mound for the visitors and right-hander Jose Urquidy on the mound for the home team.

After an off day for travel on Thursday, Game 3 will take place at Truist Park in Atlanta on Friday.

Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference, FanGraphs and Baseball Savant.


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