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Opinion: As Astros' swagger returns, it faces only thing that could stop it: Atlanta's home-field advantage

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HOUSTON — Astros rookie center fielder Jose Siri welcomed All-Star second baseman Jose Altuve to the press conference stage as Siri sat with his sweatsuit unzipped halfway down his chest, exposing his gold chains.

Altuve, who doubled and homered in the Astros’ 7-2 win Wednesday night over Atlanta to even the World Series at one game apiece, plopped down on the chair next to Siri and then quickly grabbed his arm.

Siri took off his gold ring, grabbed Altuve’s hand and placed his ring on Altuve’s finger.

What in the world is going on, inquiring minds wanted to know?

“He's just giving me his ring, so I can flash ... bling," Altuve said.

A lavish ring now.

A World Series ring to come?

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Just in case anyone had any doubt, the Astros' swagger is back, and it will be heading to Atlanta believing it is the superior team, ready to win the World Series.

Houston Astros second baseman Jose Altuve (27) celebrates after hitting a solo home run against Atlanta during the seventh inning in Game 2 of the World Series.
Houston Astros second baseman Jose Altuve (27) celebrates after hitting a solo home run against Atlanta during the seventh inning in Game 2 of the World Series.

“We know that we are facing a hard team over there," said Astros starter Jose Urquidy, who became the first Mexican-born pitcher to win multiple World Series games and the first pitcher to make back-to-back World Series starts without walking a batter. “We have to do a good job there, I mean, we are very focused on winning. And finish the series over there."

Siri, laughing at the braggadocio, said: “For sure. For sure."

The Astros, in the World Series for the third time in five years, would have to win the next three games in a row to clinch the championship in Atlanta beginning Friday night [8:09 ET, FOX] at Truist Park.

Certainly, the Astros are talented enough to get it done, but we’re talking about an Atlanta team that is 23-11 since Sept. 9. Atlanta hasn’t lost two consecutive games in five weeks, dating back to Sept. 18.

It also has won five consecutive postseason games at home this year with two champagne parties after winning the National League Division Series and NL Championship Series.

Home-field advantage in Atlanta, they’ll proudly tell you, is for real.

“Electric," Atlanta catcher Travis d’Arnaud said. “A lot of fun. Can't wait. Can't wait to get back home."

It has been 22 years since Atlanta hosted a World Series game, and if the atmosphere in The Battery surrounding Truist Park is anything closely resembling the scene during the NLCS, even Wrigleyville will pale in comparison.

“It's real," Atlanta manager Brian Snitker said. “That's why I think it was so important to split here. I mean, realistically, you want to win two, but if you can split and get out of here, and go home where we've been really good, that's very positive."

The negative, of course, is that they’ll be facing a team that suddenly has found its strut.

Altuve, who was in a 3-for-29 skid since the start of the ALCS, doubled in the first inning, and homered in the seventh.

Altuve now has 22 career postseason homers, tying Bernie Williams for second place on the all-time list and trailing only Manny Ramirez with 29.

It was his third career postseason game with at least two extra-base hits, tying Willie Randolph and Chase Utley for the most by a second baseman in history.

“I think the key is nobody in the room is thinking about being the hero," Altuve said. “We just want to win. We're rooting for each other. I think that's the way we played [Wednesday]. You saw the result.

“For me, the stats don't matter because you're winning. You can be 0-for-20, but what about if you get the big hit? That's what playoffs are about."

The Astros showed they can beat you any way they want. They can out-slug you, or win purely on making contact, with only three extra-base hits — and just one before the seventh inning. Their four-run rally in the second inning was courtesy of five singles. They pulled off a double steal. And their speed helped force Atlanta into two errors.

“Willie McGee and the Cardinals, they used to always tell us that speed kills," Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “Speed makes you do things you wouldn't normally do. It makes you rush. It puts pressure on the opposition. …

“You've got to calculate it, but you've got to be daring, and you can't be afraid of making mistakes."

The Astros can't be counted out. They were down in the ALCS 2-1 against the Red Sox and won the next three games, outscoring Boston 23-3.

They lost Game 1 of the World Series 6-2, shrugged it off and turned Game 2 into a laugher.

“These guys don't worry," Baker said. "They weren't worried about [Game 1]. I mean, some people in this room thought the series was over already after one game, but it's a seven-game series."

Now, there may be people who believe the Atlanta is done, particularly with Game 1 starter Charlie Morton out with a broken leg.

“It's kind of like the whole roster is going to have to be used, just because of the situation we're in," Snitker said. "It happens. So, we'll just try and piece it together the best we can.’’

It’s a best-of-five series now, with Atlanta having only two of their full-time starters (Max Fried and Ian Anderson) the rest of the series. Atlanta is going against a powerful Astros team that has a rested pitching staff and veteran position players who know how to win.

“I've had some talented teams, but something always would happen along the way," Baker said. "The Bartman play [in Chicago], then the play in Washington where we just got hit in the face with the bat off of Javy Baez. …

“The difference between this group, and some other groups, is that this group looks for good things to happen. And expects good.’’

We’re about to see if that vibe follows them to Atlanta.

“I know they're going to bring it," Fried said. “We're ready to get back home.’’

Follow Nightengale on Twitter: @Bnightengale

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: World Series: Astros' swagger back, faces only thing that can stop it