HOUSTON — It had been nearly four years since the Houston Astros enjoyed the taste of victory in a World Series game at Minute Maid Park, an almost inexplicable stretch of five straight losses at home in the Fall Classic.
The last home win came in Game 5 of the 2017 World Series, when Houston beat the Los Angeles Dodgers on its way to its only championship. Home is supposed to be where sports teams flourish, so Dusty Baker, the Astros’ manager, could only shrug when asked about it, especially because he was not around for the first four of those defeats.
“Nothing remains the same over a period of time,” Baker said on Wednesday afternoon. “I also believe in the law of averages, so we reel off a bunch of them.”
Baker’s assessment came to fruition later on Wednesday as Houston beat Atlanta, 7-2, in Game 2 at Minute Maid Park, for the Astros’ first win at home in the World Series since Oct. 29, 2017.
The losing streak included all four home games in the 2019 World Series, won by the Washington Nationals, the only World Series in which the road team won all seven games.
On Wednesday, the Astros took advantage of sloppy play by their opponents and some luck, too. They opened a big lead in a wacky second inning, in which eight batters came to the plate and four of them scored on a collection of lightly hit but well-placed balls that frustrated Atlanta starter Max Fried.
Fried was not pitching poorly, as evinced by the fact that Atlanta Manager Brian Snitker never had a relief pitcher warming up during the inning. He could see that the Astros were not bashing balls to the far reaches of the park. It was more that they kept finding holes in the defense.
Yuli Gurriel, Houston’s first baseman, tapped a ball into the vacated area on the right side of the infield against Atlanta’s defensive shift. That sent Kyle Tucker to third base, and Tucker scored on an infield tapper by Jose Siri as the ball settled into a safe triangle between Fried, second baseman Ozzie Albies and first baseman Freddie Freeman.
Then things really fell apart. Martín Maldonado, the catcher batting ninth, singled on a bouncing ball into left field. Eddie Rosario fielded it, but he threw the ball back to the third base bag, when no fielder was covering. The ball bounced away and Siri was able to score on the error. Then Maldonado went to third on a wild pitch and scored on Michael Brantley’s single to right field.
Fried set down the next 10 batters he faced, and was finally lifted in the sixth inning after he issued a walk to Yordan Alvarez and a single to Carlos Correa. Atlanta committed another error in the sixth, by Albies, as Houston extended its lead, 6-2.
Jose Altuve added a bases-empty home run off Drew Smyly in the seventh. It was his 22nd postseason home run, tying him with Bernie Williams of the Yankees for second on the career list, behind Manny Ramirez’s 29 for Cleveland, Boston and the Dodgers.
The Series now shifts to Atlanta for the next three games, beginning on Friday. By winning on Wednesday, Houston avoided the fate of the last 12 World Series teams to fall behind, 0-2. All of them lost their series, as did 18 of the last 19 teams that lost the first two games. The lone exception was the 1996 Yankees, which lost the first two games of that World Series to Atlanta, but stormed back to win the next four games.
Atlanta has won only one World Series game since then, and that came in Game 1 on Tuesday against Houston.
Baker had said after Houston’s Game 1 loss that he did not even know how to panic, and noted that was also the case after his team fell behind, two games to one, to the Boston Red Sox in the American League Championship Series.
Baker said that after that Game 3 against Boston, he received text messages of support from friends, tinged with desperation, as if the Astros were in an insurmountable hole.
“It’s like, dude, this is a seven-game series,” Baker said of his response to those messages. “It ain’t no one-game series. If it was a one-game series, I mean, you can save all of us sleepless nights, and just go home now.”
But the Astros already were at home when he said that, and for the first time in six World Series tries, they actually won there.