HOUSTON — The Braves were six games out of first place in the NL East on July 28, didn’t get over .500 for good until Aug. 8 and finished the regular season with just 88 wins.
But on Tuesday, they ended a 26-year drought with their first World Series title since 1995, clinching the championship with a 7-0 victory over the Astros in Game 6 at Minute Maid Park.
Jorge Soler provided the biggest blow — a mammoth, three-run homer in the top of the third to open the scoring — while Dansby Swanson added a two-run shot in the fifth and Freddie Freeman homered in the seventh as the Braves pulled away.
Atlanta also got a terrific outing from Max Fried, who’d struggled in his previous two postseason appearances but delivered six shutout innings Tuesday.
It capped a remarkable turnaround for a Braves team that lost Ronald Acuna Jr. and Marcell Ozuna in its lineup and Mike Soroka from the rotation before it remade its offense prior to the July 30 trade deadline, adding Soler, Joc Pederson, Adam Duvall and Eddie Rosario.
Soler was excellent after coming over from Kansas City in July and also hit a go-ahead homer in the seventh inning of the Braves’ Game 4 win in Atlanta.
The Astros, still looking for another title after their 2017 championship became tarnished in the wake of the sign-stealing scandal that came to light two years later, had a chance to take an early lead against Fried in an attempt to extend the series, but the young left-hander responded.
After Houston right-hander Luis Garcia, pitching on three days’ rest, got off to a quick start with an easy top of the first, the Astros threatened in the bottom of the inning.
Jose Altuve led off with an infield single to shortstop and Michael Brantley followed with a chopper to first. Fried stumbled after he caught Freddie Freeman’s toss and missed first base — as Brantley reached on the Fried error.
To make matters worse for Atlanta, Brantley stepped on Fried’s ankle on the play. Fried limped back to the mound and threw several warm-up pitches to make sure he could continue.
And continue he did.
With runners on first and second and no one out, Fried — who allowed 11 runs in 9 ²/₃ innings in his previous two starts — this time responded by striking out Carlos Correa.
Yordan Alvarez bounced to second, allowing both runners to advance.
With two out, Fried then struck out Yuli Gurriel to keep the game scoreless.
It didn’t stay that way for long.
Garcia retired six straight to start the game before Ozzie Albies — dropped to seventh in the order while in an 0-for-10 skid — singled to right to lead off the third.
With two outs in the inning, Garcia walked Rosario, drawing a visit from pitching coach Brent Strom.
As left-hander Brooks Raley warmed with Freeman on deck, Soler hit a liner just foul down the third-base line before crushing a three-run shot that left Minute Maid Park — a rarity in a stadium that is typically closed during the postseason.
Houston manager Dusty Baker then replaced Garcia with Raley, but it was too late.
Two innings later, after Albies led off with a walk against Cristian Javier, Swanson took him deep with one out for a two-run homer that made it 5-0.
The Braves tacked on another run later in the inning when Soler drew a two-out walk and Freeman, due to be a free agent, belted a double to center to score Soler for a 6-0 lead.
The Astros were never able to get back in the game, and a gassed pitching staff — as well as a rested Ian Anderson ready to go for the Braves if the series had gone to seven games — had Houston in a tough spot even if it’d been able to win Tuesday.
But Fried and the Braves’ offense were too much.
Because it’s 2021, Fried was removed after six innings despite having allowed just four base runners and thrown 74 pitches.
Tyler Matzek allowed a leadoff single to Alvarez in the seventh, but tossed two shutout innings to extend his terrific playoff run.
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