ATLANTA — A World Series that had trundled merrily along for three games jumped the tracks on Saturday night.
The Houston Astros leapt out to a one-run lead before the Braves even came to bat. But Houston left runners on base scattered like Halloween candy after the bag breaks. The Braves used back-to-back solo homers and an astounding bit of glovework by Eddie Rosario to catch, then pass, then hold off Houston, 3-2, and now Atlanta stands just one game from its second world championship.
The Braves and Astros had alternated victories to start the series, with Atlanta bringing a 2-1 lead into Saturday night. The odds appeared to line up in Houston’s favor — Atlanta planned for a patchwork bullpen game, while Houston would send potential Hall of Famer Zack Greinke out for another shot at a World Series ring.
Pregame talk focused on two arrivals: the clouds that split open and once again rained out pregame practice, and the former president who decided to join baseball’s final festivities of 2021. Donald Trump arrived at Truist Park shortly before the first pitch, saluting admirers from a luxury box in the stadium’s right-field corner and joining in on a pregame chop.
Trump and the other 43,124 fans in attendance saw a game that started with a burst and then settled into the baseball equivalent of a mid-afternoon nap, long stretches of innings-eating pitching and slap-hit plate appearances that added up to little until late.
The Braves opted for literally the most unconventional start in World Series history, giving the ball to Dylan Lee. With only two games pitched in the regular season and only four more innings of major-league pitching experience than you Lee was by far the most inexperienced pitcher ever to start a World Series game.
He didn’t last long. Lee faced four batters and threw 15 pitches, 10 balls and five strikes. He surrendered an infield hit to Jose Altuve, then loaded the bases after striking out Alex Bregman. That was enough to bring Brian Snitker to the mound and send Lee to the dugout. Kyle Wright came on in relief and allowed one run on a fielder’s choice before closing out the frame, and a few innings more.
Greinke batted in the top of the second, and singled for what could well be the final hit by a pitcher hitting by virtue of rulebook requirements in major-league history. But the Braves kept the Astros off the scoreboard, thanks in large part to Austin Riley’s brilliant diving foul-line grab of an Altuve liner that would have scored at least a run.
Through the first three innings, Astros stranded seven runners and were 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position. Finally, in the top of the fourth, they cracked through again. Altuve, who had struggled hard through the first three games of the series, smacked a sinker over the center-field wall to increase Houston’s lead to 2-0. Altuve’s homer, the 23rd of his postseason career, broke a tie with Bernie Williams for second on the all-time list; only Manny Ramirez with 29 has more in MLB postseason history.
Wright pitched his way out of a fifth-inning two-out jam caused when Kyle Tucker singled, stole second and advanced to third on another Travis d’Arnaud throwing error. He intentionally walked Yuli Gurriel and then induced a pop-up out of pinch hitter Marwin Gonzalez to keep the score 2-0 halfway through regulation.
Greinke exited the game after four innings, scattering four hits, smothering the Braves and chunking the hit of his own. Wright wrapped up a workmanlike stretch run that saved a whole lot of stress on the Braves bullpen, surrendering one run over 4 ⅔ innings
The Braves finally joined the party in the bottom of the sixth. Rosario doubled, Freddie Freeman walked, and then Riley singled to left, scored Rosario, and advanced to second. One intentional walk to Pederson later, and d’Arnaud had a chance to come up big for a second straight night, following Game 3’s home run … but it wasn’t to be in this inning. Phil Maton struck out d’Arnaud looking and kept the Astros up 2-1 heading into the final third of the evening.
All the runners left on base — 11 through seven innings — came back to bite Houston in the bottom of the seventh. Swanson and pinch-hitter Jorge Soler hit home runs that cleared the right- and left-field fences, respectively, by a combined total of about 18 inches. That marked Atlanta’s first lead in Game 4, but also the first in-game lead change of the entire Series.
Atlanta took a 3-2 lead into the eighth, and Luke Jackson set down two batters before facing Altuve, once again swinging a bat in a crucial situation. Altuve rifled the first pitch he saw from Jackson into deep left field. Rosario gave chase to what appeared to be a certain double, but backhanded the ball on the run to shut down the Astros and leave the Braves three outs from a 3-1 lead.
The Braves now have their first opportunity to close out a World Series since Game 5 against Cleveland in 1995. Houston, meanwhile, will try to stave off elimination and avoid losing its second World Series in three years. Game 5 begins at 8:09 p.m. Sunday night.
Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @jaybusbee or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.