ATLANTA — Houston Astros manager Dusty Baker strolled onto the field Sunday evening at Truist Park, looked around, and grinned.
“I like what I see,’’ Baker quietly said. “Look at these guys. They don’t panic. They’re not stressed at all. They’re relaxed.
“I’m telling you, they’re ready.’’
Oh, were they ever.
The Astros’ powerful offense finally came alive, ruining Atlanta’s hopes of a World Series celebration in front of the hometown crowd of 43,122, with an 9-5 victory at Truist Park.
The Astros still trail in the World Series, 3 games to 2, but the series now returns to Minute Maid Park where anything can happen.
Houston looked like the team that led the major leagues in runs (5.33) batting average (.267) and had the lowest strikeout rate of any team in baseball. Yet, for the first four games of the World Series, the Astros looked like imposters, averaging just 2.75 runs a game, batting .206, and striking out 36 times in 131 at-bats.
They couldn’t muster anything against Atlanta’s Game 1 starter Charlie Morton, who was pitching on a broken leg.
They lost to a merry-go-around cast of relievers in Game 3.
They lost to a Game 4 starter, Dylan Lee, who was making his first major-league start.
Now, they were facing a Game 5 starter, Tucker Davidson, who had not pitched in a major-league game since June 15.
But finally, normalcy prevailed, with Baker shaking up his lineup. He dropped Alex Bregman from the third spot all of the way to seventh, his lowest spot in the order since 2017. He moved Carlos Correa, Yordan Alverez and Yuli Gurriel up in in the lineup.
The Astros, after scoring just two runs with 10 hits in Games 3 and 4, produced 12 hits, including three doubles, with Correa, Bregman and Gurriel combining for seven hits and four RBI on Sunday.
You know things are going your way when Baker calls upon Game 4 starter Zack Greinke to pinch hit and he delivers a single to right field. It was the first pinch-hit by a pitcher in World Series since Jack Bentley in 1923.
The Astros’ offensive explosion should create a little consternation in Atlanta, particularly considering that Houston managed to shrug off a 4-0 deficit and turn it into a comfortable win.
Adam Duvall, one of four outfielders Atlanta GM Alex Anthopoulos acquired at the trade deadline, hit the first grand slam in the first inning since Bobby Richardson of the New York Yankees in the 1960 World Series.
While the crowd in Atlanta smelled its first World Series title since 1995, Baker stood quietly in the Astros’ dugout.
“I’m a person that believes in miracles,’’ Baker said before the game. “I really believe in miracles because I’ve had a few of them happen to me in my life…
“There’s been a number of issues that have happened in my life that let me know that there’s somebody above that’s helping to perform miracles.’’
Well, is it a miracle that No. 8 catcher Martin Maldonado, who had two RBI in his first 14 postseason games, drove in three runs Sunday night?
Is it a miracle that the Astros, who were 4-for-32 with runners in scoring position in this series, went 5-for-15 with runners in scoring position Sunday?
Is it a miracle that Atlanta, which had gone 7-0 at home in the postseason, lost for the first time?
You be the judge.
Now, of course, the Astros are seeking that miracle comeback, becoming only the seventh team in history to overcome a 3-1 deficit in the World Series.
“The hardest thing to do is to do it the first time,” Baker said after the game, “and then once you do it the first time, you figure that you can do it the second, the third, the fourth, and the fifth time. You call upon your past for confidence that you can do it”
The Astros, who were down 3-0 and forced a Game 7 against the Tampa Bay Rays in the ALCS a year ago, hardly are going to crumble now.
“The pressure’s still on us because they’ve got the lead. They’ve got to win one, and we’ve got to win two,” Baker said . “But the fact is we are going home. We didn’t want to end here.”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Astros stay alive in World Series, rally to win Game 5 in Atlanta
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