The question that kept replaying in my mind during the Astros’ 9-5 thumping of Atlanta on Sunday night was this: What the heck took them so long? Throughout this bizarre World Series, Atlanta has continuously marched marginal major league pitchers to the mound to face what is supposed to be baseball’s best offense.
I mean no offense but — Dylan Lee? Kyle Wright? Chris Martin? Tucker Davidson? Jesse Chavez? Drew Smyly?
Two big league innings? Six innings this year? Thirty-five-year-old on sixth team? Twenty-one big league innings? Thirty-seven-year-old on 11th team? Lefty junkballer released twice in 2019?
This is the World Series?
There’s a famous “Saturday Night Live” skit where Dana Carvey is playing George H.W. Bush in a presidential debate, and he goes on some rambling, say-nothing message just so he can fill up his time, and Jon Lovitz as Mike Dukakis turns to the camera and says, “I can’t believe I’m losing to this guy.”
That has to be how the Astros feel. They came into this Series with the everything offense. Most runs. Most hits. Highest average. Highest on-base percentage. Best strikeout-to-walk ratio. Deepest lineup. This team obliterated Chicago’s excellent starting rotation — not one of the White Sox starters managed to last even five innings — and then they mercilessly destroyed the Red Sox by outscoring them 23-3 in the last three games of the ALCS.
And then they find themselves up against a wounded Braves team that’s wandering all the Peachtree Streets in town just to find a starting pitcher … and they can’t do a thing. It has been so weird.
But, finally, Houston broke through. Atlanta’s Adam Duvall started off the game with a grand slam, which seemed to put the Astros in trouble. If Atlanta had its regularly scheduled starter, Charlie Morton, available, they might have been able to start unboxing the champagne. Alas, Morton was home recovering from surgery to repair a broken fibula, and the Braves were counting on Tyler Davidson, a former 19th-round draft pick who pitched 43 total innings this year, counting the 23 innings he threw in the minor leagues.
Davidson had survived the first inning thanks to Carlos Correa’s double-play grounder, but it was clear in the second just how overmatched he was — a single by Yuri Gurriel, a walk to Kyle Tucker, an opposite-field double by the previously ice-cold Alex Bregman and a long sacrifice fly by Martin Maldonado made the score 4-2. Astros manager Dusty Baker helped Davidson and Atlanta out by sending pitcher Framber Valdez to the plate with a runner on third and his team down two runs in an elimination game. And Valdez dutifully struck out.
But Atlanta manager Brian Snitker repaid the favor in the second by letting Davidson hit — apparently, Snitker was convinced that Davidson had a little more to give. It’s worth mentioning that Davidson has had seven big-league at-bats, and he has struck out all seven times. There was a lot of weepy, “This might be the last time we see pitchers hit,” commentary being written before and during this game. I would guess I’m about as romantic about baseball as anybody but, yeah, I don’t need to see any more Framber Valdez or Tucker Davidson at-bats. I’m good.
Back to the game — third inning, Davidson got Jose Altuve to ground to short, but Dansby Swanson booted it. I’m telling you: I cannot figure out Dansby Swanson.
Davidson then walked Michael Brantley on five pitches, and that was that.
In came Jesse Chavez, who has been in baseball for a long, long time. When he looked into the crowd and saw Hall of Famer Chipper Jones in the stands, he didn’t think, “Wow, Braves legend!” He thought, “Hey, former teammate!” Chavez immediately gave up a 105-mph-exit-velocity double to Correa to score a run. He gave up an RBI grounder to Gurriel. The score was tied.
Third inning, Valdez — who was still in there — threw a middle-middle 95-mph fastball to Freddie Freeman. There are probably more dangerous things a pitcher can do than throw middle-middle 95-mph fastballs to Freddie Freeman, but none really come to mind. Freeman disintegrated the baseball. Really, he hit it so hard that the ball became antimatter and disappeared from the known universe. Atlanta led 5-4.