HOUSTON — Atlanta won its first World Series in 26 years Tuesday night behind the kind of power that is so much a part of the sport in 2021, but also behind what seems to have been de-emphasized this postseason: dominant starting pitching.
With Jorge Soler setting the tone early with a titanic three-run homer in the third and ace lefthander Max Fried throwing six scoreless innings, Atlanta took out the Astros, 7-0, in Game 6 of the World Series in front of a mostly quiet sellout crowd of 42,868 at Minute Maid Park.
Atlanta, which also got a two-run homer from Dansby Swanson and a solo shot by Freddie Freeman, last won the title in 1995, beating Cleveland that year in six games.
It was a title that seemed the longest of shots Aug. 1 when Atlanta, after a loss to Milwaukee dropped to 52-55.
"We seemed to hit every pothole, every bump possible on our road and we were able to overcome every single one of those," said Freeman, a free-agent-to-be who is expected to re-sign with Atlanta, for whom he’s played all 12 of his big-league seasons. "Absolutely incredible what this team was able to accomplish this year."
The 29-year-old Soler, one of several trade deadline acquisitions made by Atlanta’s president of baseball operations and general manager Alex Anthopoulos who shined the rest of the regular season and throughout October, was named World Series MVP after finishing 6-for-20 with three homers, three walks and six RBIs in the six games. (Anthopoulos tested positive for COVID-19 over the weekend and watched the game at his home in Atlanta.)
"They played great," said Astros manager Dusty Baker, whose contract expires after the season but said after the game that he would like to return to Houston next season. "We couldn't keep them in the ballpark. The pitching shut us down."
Fried was just 1-2 with 5.40 ERA in four starts this postseason prior to Tuesday, which included his start in Game 2 when he allowed a playoff career-high six runs. But he was brilliant Tuesday, allowing four hits and no walks in six innings and struck out six.
The 27-year-old’s night included a bizarre and gruesome-looking play in the first when the second batter Fried faced, Michael Brantley, hit a slow grounder to first. Freeman fielded the ball, then soft-tossed it to Fried, who struggled making the catch and finding the bag. As Fried tried to find it with his left foot, Brantley’s right foot came down forcefully on the pitcher’s left ankle, giving the Astros runners at first and second with none out.
After Fried was evaluated and cleared by Atlanta manager Brian Snitker and the training staff, the lefty set down three straight, two via strikeout.
"[I knew] I needed to empty the tank to get out of it," Fried said of the jam.
He was never seriously threatened again.
Soler hit one of the more memorable homers in recent World Series in the third, off Houston righthander Luis Garcia.
With two on and two out, Soler twice swung a tad early on 3-and-2 pitches, crushing first an 81-mph slider foul and then a 96-mph fastball foul. On the eighth pitch of the at-bat, an 83-mph cutter, Soler hammered it an estimated 446 feet over the train tracks in left. With the roof open on a clear, 72-degree night, the ball completely left the ballpark for a 3-0 lead.
"When it passed over my head," said Ozzie Albies, who was on second, "I was like, OK, it’s going to go out of the stadium for sure."
Atlanta added on — emphatically — in the fifth against righty Cristian Javier.
Albies walked and went to second on a wild pitch. Former Met Travis d’Arnaud struck out but Swanson hit his second homer of the series, hammering a 2-and-2 fastball to left to make it 5-0. Freeman’s RBI double later in the inning, which brought in Soler, who had walked, made it 6-0. Freeman’s homer to left-center in the seventh made it 7-0.
Snitker pulled Fried after six innings and 74 pitches (50 strikes), with lefthander Tyler Matzek (two scoreless innings) and Will Smith taking the baton from there and leading Atlanta across a finish line that seemed so far away when they were foundering just after the trade deadline.
"We could have easily shut down and said, maybe next year," third baseman Austin Riley said of being three games under .500 in August. "But the front office, the coaching staff, the players, we said, we’re not out of this thing. It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish and here we are."