Overcoming debilitating injuries to front-line players was a central theme in Atlanta’s run to the National League pennant, and Game 1 of the World Series provided another opportunity for the Braves to showcase their resilience.
Jorge Soler and Adam Duvall homered and the Braves overcame the loss of Charlie Morton by riding an early outburst to a 6-2 victory over the host Houston Astros on Tuesday.
The Braves scored in each of their first three at-bats, building a 5-0 lead against Houston’s Framber Valdez (0-1). The left-hander had twirled eight spectacular innings in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series against the Boston Red Sox, but three pitches into his fourth start this postseason, Valdez found himself trailing.
“It’s done with now,” Valdez said after allowing five runs on eight hits and one walk in two-plus innings. “I’m just going to have to come back in the next outing and do everything I can and work to be better next time.”
Soler and Duvall striking decisive blows was fitting. Both were part of a run on outfielders at the trade deadline, with the Braves opting to counter the loss of superstar right fielder Ronald Acuña Jr. by acquiring four outfielders in late July: Joc Pederson, Eddie Rosario, Soler and Duvall.
Soler drilled a 2-0 sinker from Valdez into the Crawford Boxes in left field, a 382-foot leadoff blast. The Braves recorded three batted balls with exit velocities of at least 105 mph in the top of the first inning, including an Austin Riley RBI double that scored Ozzie Albies and doubled the lead to 2-0.
After facing six batters in the first, Valdez faced seven more in the second, with Soler plating Travis d’Arnaud on a fielder’s choice grounder. Despite his struggles, Valdez retook the mound in the third but he faced just two batters. Duvall followed a Rosario leadoff single with a two-run homer to left for a 5-0 lead. The blast traveled 387 feet with a 111.7 mph exit velocity.
Morton pitched out of a bases-loaded jam in the bottom of the first thanks in part to a dazzling defensive play from Albies, who smothered a grounder from Kyle Tucker before assisting on the final out. Morton opened the second by taking a sharp grounder from Yuli Gurriel off his lower right leg but appeared unfazed while retiring the bottom of the Houston lineup in order.
In the third inning, Morton winced and buckled while recording a called third strike on the leadoff batter, Jose Altuve. He departed with Atlanta medical personnel, and the Braves later announced that Morton sustained a fractured right fibula that would sideline him for the remainder of the World Series.
“We’ve been through this many times this year, losing key components to our club. I mean, really key components,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “We’re going to continue. It’s not going to be an excuse or anything else. We’re going to go out and continue to try and win games.”
“We’ve overcome every adversity that’s come our way,” d’Arnaud added.
Armed with a five-run lead, Braves relievers A.J. Minter (1-0), Luke Jackson, Tyler Matzek and Will Smith covered the final 6 2/3 innings, allowing two runs on seven hits and one walk with eight strikeouts. Minter threw a career-high 43 pitches in 2 2/3 innings after replacing Morton in the third.
The Astros proved unable to mount a credible threat against Morton or the Atlanta bullpen. Michael Brantley finished 3-for-5 but was sandwiched between Altuve and Alex Bregman, who were a combined 0-for-9 with five strikeouts. Yordan Alvarez, the ALCS MVP, went 1-for-3 with a run and a walk, but the Braves limited the Astros to 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position.
Tucker and Gurriel each produced a two-hit game, but neither recorded an RBI.
Brantley said of turning the page to Game 2, “Yeah, that’s what this team does so well. It’s a one-game-at-a-time mentality always. We lost tonight. We’re looking forward to coming back tomorrow and playing a better game and hopefully, we get a win.”
Houston got run-scoring groundouts from Chas McCormick in the fourth inning and Carlos Correa in the eighth. Atlanta first baseman Freddie Freeman hit a sacrifice fly in the top of the eighth that plated Dansby Swanson.
Soler, Albies and Rosario each had two hits for the Braves.
Game 2 of the best-of-seven series will be played Wednesday in Houston.