Hot Stove # 176 – World Series Matchup – Houston Astros vs. Atlanta Braves

Tonight, Game 1 of the 2021 World Series. Houston Astros vs. Atlanta Braves.

Braves vs. Astros World Series Game 1 starting lineups and pitching matchup

Or as some will pose, the Houston Cheaters vs. the Atlanta Choppers.

Spoiler alert. I find good reasons to set aside the Cheaters and the Choppers and root for the Astros and the Braves. And there will be great baseball on the field. The ALCS and NLCS gave us good evidence of that.

ALCS – Houston vs. Boston: In 2017, I strongly rooted for the Houston Astros to win the World Series over the Dodgers. Partially because the franchise had never won before. And also because I loved watching the joyful play of Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman, Yuli Gurriel, George Springer and their Astro teammates. But in early 2020, it was disclosed that many of those players, working with bench coach Alex Cora, had cheated by using technology to steal signs.

In exchange for their cooperation in the investigation, no players were disciplined. Cora was suspended for the 2020 season, but by then he was managing Boston. He had moved on to the Red Sox in 2018 and led them to a World Series victory. After serving his suspension last year, he was rehired to manage Boston in 2021.

So both teams in the 2021 ALCS were playing under the cloud of the 2017 scandal. I’ll let a long-time Royals pundit sum up the result:

As for the games…

Game 1: Houston over Boston, 5-4. Both starters were gone by the third inning. Each team used eight pitchers. This was a common theme throughout the league championships.

Boston’s Enrique (Kike) Hernandez was the hitting star of the game, but in a losing cause. He had four hits: two homers, a double and a single. This combo has more total bases than a cycle (an extra homer instead of a triple), but there is no common laudatory name for this mixture of hits. I knew that Joe Posnanski addressed this omission a few years back, so I took to Google, searching “tricycle and Posnanski.” Bingo! In a 2017 article, Joe reported on how he and his co-hosts were covering a game where Mookie Betts was working on a cycle, lacking only a triple. On the next at bat, Mookie homered. Joe and his fellow sportswriters decided to coin some terms for “better than a cycle” scenarios – those where a batter is a hit shy of the cycle, but has two home runs.

Double, triple and two home runs. No single. UNICYCLE.

Single, triple and two home runs. No double. BICYCLE.

Single, double and two home runs. No triple. TRICYCLE.

So Kike Hernandez had hit a TRICYCLE. Yet no such word (that I know of) was uttered by the sportscasters or written by the sportswriters. But it’s here in Hot Stove.

Game 2: Boston over Houston, 9-5. The game can be summed up by Boston’s first two innings. They jumped out to an 8-0 lead with a grand slam in each inning. First time ever for two grand slams in a postseason game.

Game 3: Boston over Houston, 12-3. Boston again wrapped up the game early, taking a 9-0 lead by the third inning. Four of the runs came on their third grand slam of the series, a new record for most in a postseason series. “Boston Slam Party” shirts were rushed out.

Game 4: Houston over Boston, 9-2.  Boston took a 2-1 lead in the first inning and then essentially ended its quest to win the ALCS. Over the next 26 innings (balance of Game 4 and all of Games 5 and 6), Boston scored one run. The Astros scored 22.

The big hits for Houston in Game 4 came in the 9th inning after the plate umpire blew a third strike call which would have ended the inning with no runs scored. After that call, Houston scored seven runs (full story on the umpire mistake in Hot Stove #175).

Game 5: Houston over Boston, 9-1. Houston had good pitching and hitting. Boston, neither. Houston’s Yordan Alvarez had three hits (one a homer), setting the stage for…

Game 6: Houston over Boston, 5-0. Alvarez had four hits: a single, two doubles and a triple. His seven hits in Games 5 and 6 were more than the entire Boston team (five) for those two games. The defensive gem in Game 6 was by Houston (and former Royal) catcher Martin Maldonado who fired a bullet to second base to complete a strikeout/caught-stealing double play (video here; radio call here).

Houston won the game (5-0) and the ALCS (4-2). Alvarez was 12 for 23 (.522) and was named MVP (photo below).

Yordan Alvarez Wins ALCS MVP for Astros - The New York Times

NLCS – Los Angeles vs. Atlanta: The Dodgers won 106 games in the regular season, but did not win their division. Atlanta won only 88, but it was good enough to be first in the NL East. Winning its division gave Atlanta home field advantage, so Games 1 and 2 were at Truist Park in Atlanta, one of the three major homes of the tomahawk chop. A brief history…

1980s: The Florida State Seminoles are given “credit” for starting the chop as a complement to the war chants of their band, the Marching Chiefs.

1990: The Northwest Missouri State band performed at a Kansas City Chiefs game. The director of that band was a Florida State graduate and had adopted the same routine. It caught on at Arrowhead.

1991: The stadium organist prompted Atlanta Braves fans to start the chop, and it gained nationwide attention when the Braves played the Minnesota Twins in the World Series that year. In the small world of baseball, the Dodgers and Braves are connected to this early chop history. The president of the Braves in 1991 was Stan Kasten, and he is currently the president of the Dodgers. Kasten is one of the people interviewed in a clip from the 1991 Series – a very informative three minutes (video here).

Washington no longer has the Redskins. Cleveland, no Indians. But the chop lives on for now. The Chiefs have attempted to soften the effect, but the drone of the “Arrowhead Chop at GEHA Field” remains with us. Get ready for more in the World Series – and the tweets and articles that will follow. Authors of two of my favorite baseball books have already weighed in:

But we must move on to baseball. So try to ignore the drone of the chop in your head and check out this recap of the NLCS games…

Game 1: Atlanta over Los Angeles, 3-2. With both teams getting good pitching, the teams entered the 9th inning tied 2-2. In the top of the ninth, the Dodgers threatened after two were out. Chris Taylor walked and then Cody Bellinger singled. Taylor rounded second and waited too long to decide what to do. He got caught in a rundown and the rally was over (video here). Molly Knight tweeted “Taylor had the TOOTBLAN of the season.” I did not know that term, so went to Google and found that it’s an acronym for “Thrown out on the basepaths like a nincompoop.” Perfect. In Atlanta’s half of the ninth, they won the game with a walk-off single.

Game 2: Atlanta over Los Angeles, 5-4. The teams took turns with the lead and entered the ninth inning tied 4-4. Just like the night before, sans a TOOTBLAN, Atlanta won with a walk-off single in the ninth.

 Game 3: Los Angeles over Atlanta, 6-5. The teams moved from Atlanta to L.A. for Games 3-5. The Braves lost a 5-2 lead in the 8th inning when the Dodgers scored four runs and won the game 6-5. The big hit for the Dodgers was a 3-run homer by Cody Bellinger, and it’s impact was colorfully described by Jorge Castillo in the Los Angeles Times: “The swing, a tomahawk chop to the Atlanta Braves’ hearts, replenished the Dodgers’ World Series aspirations. The building shook. The Dodgers exhaled.”  For one day.

 Game 4: Atlanta over Los Angeles, 9-2. Atlanta’s Eddie Rosario was already having a good postseason, but Game 4 was a showcase. Eddie hit a BICYCLE!. Remember from above, that’s two homers, one triple and one single (but no double). He had plenty of help as Atlanta rolled to a 9-2 win.

Game 5: Los Angeles over Atlanta, 11-2. It was L.A.’s turn for multiple homers. Chris Taylor hit three. A. J. Pollock hit two. Two players hitting multiple homers in the same postseason game has only happened three times. The first was in the 1932 World Series when Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig each hit two (one of them being Ruth’s “called shot”). Then, 88 years went by before it happened again. Last year, two San Diego sluggers matched Ruth and Gehrig in the 2020 NL “Wild Card Series” under the Covid playoff format:

The Taylor/Pollock version had an added bonus. Since Taylor hit three, he and Pollock (below) are the only two players who have combined for more than four homers in a postseason game. Note that Taylor wears Ruth’s #3.

 Los Angeles Dodgers Duo Match Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig Record With Haul vs  Atlanta Braves - EssentiallySports

 Los Angeles won 11-2, taking two of three in L.A. The teams headed back to Atlanta.

[Royals Trivia: There have been 12 players who have hit three homers in a postseason game. Only Ruth has done it twice (1926 and 1928). A big thrill for Royals fans came in Game 3 of the 1978 ALCS against the Yankees. George Brett hit three homers, but in a losing cause.]

Game 6: Atlanta over Los Angeles, 4-2: Atlanta led three games to two, but the Dodgers had two star pitchers in line for Games 6 and 7 – Max Scherzer and Walker Buehler. But Scherzer had been overused and had a sore arm. Buehler pitched on short rest and gave up one key hit that was the difference in Game 6, a 3-run homer by none other than Eddie Rosario.

The Dodgers had a good opportunity in the 7th. Behind 4-1, they scored a run to make it 4-2, and they had runners on second and third with nobody out. A hit by any of the next three batters could tie the game. Reliever Tyler Matzek came in for Atlanta and struck out three straight batters to strand the two runners. He did a twirl off the mound when he got Mookie Betts for the third out (video here). In the 8th, Matzek raced out of the dugout and got the 2-3-4 in the order out on six pitches. A stellar performance.

Atlanta won the game (4-2) and the NLCS (4-2).

The NLCS MVP was Eddie Rosario who had 14 hits (.560), 3 HR, 9 RBIs and an OPS of 1.647. Below, Rosario with his son and his MVP trophy.


[Royals Trivia: On this same date (October 23) in 2015, the Royals won the ALCS to take the American League pennant. Video here.]

[Atlanta Covid Trivia: After being traded by Kansas City to Atlanta, Jorge Soler was a major contributor to the Braves second-half success. But after the third game of the NLDS, Soler tested positive for Covid. He was placed on leave and missed the balance of the NLDS and the first four games of the NLCS. Early reports said he had been vaccinated, but Soler later said that was not the case. “I feel different now. I feel bad about it, and I’m going to get a shot as soon as I can.” I know what Charles Barkley would say about the decision not to vaccinate (rant video here). Soler pinch hit in Games 5 and 6, getting a strikeout and a double.

When the NLCS returned to Atlanta for Game 6, it was announced that country singer Travis Tritt would sing the national anthem. This was a surprise to many because Tritt has said he would not perform at any venue with rules designed to curb the spread of Covid (masks, vaccines). Under MLB rules, the playing field is a “restricted” area and all non-playing personnel on the field must be vaccinated. The solution: The traditional singing of the anthem from the field was relocated to the fan side of the backstop so Tritt could be on ground untainted by restrictions.]

Why It’s Good If Houston Wins – Dusty Baker: Because of the sign-stealing scandal, Houston is an unpopular team outside of Texas. But many are rooting for the Astros because they want to see Dusty Baker manage his first World Series winner. Baker has taken five different teams to division titles, but has not won a World Series. Two of my favorite baseball writers agree. Below, Jane Leavy retweeting Claire Smith.

Claire Smith, a long-time beat writer and national reporter, is the only woman in the writers’ wing of the Hall of Fame. Rita and I met Claire at a Negro Leagues Baseball Museum event in 2017 (below, Rita with Claire).

Jane Leavy is the author of acclaimed bios on three baseball legends: Sandy Koufax (A Lefty’s Legacy), Mickey Mantle (The Last Boy) and Babe Ruth (The Big Fella). On her book tour for The Big Fella in 2018, she stopped in KC for a Rainy Day Books event. Her friend KC lawyer Steve Fehr set up a dinner, and we luckily got invited. Below, Jane at the head of the table; clockwise from there: Cynthia Wendt, Lonnie, Rita, Cheryl Dillard, Pat Titterington and Steve.

Dusty Baker was drafted by the Atlanta Braves in 1967. He was hesitant to play in the Deep South, but a call to Baker’s mother from Atlanta’s Henry Aaron convinced him to sign. He made his first MLB appearance after being called up in September of 1968. He was only 19, but he and 62-year-old Satchel Paige spent a good amount of time together. Satchel had been employed by the Braves to give Satch service time to qualify for his baseball pension. As recounted in Claire Smith’s touching piece in the Athletic, Satch referred to Dusty as “Daffy.” From Claire’s piece:

“‘Now you know my name is Dusty!’ Baker recalls replying with mock indignation on more than one occasion. ‘How could a man whose fishing rods I carried around never get my name right? Goodness!’ ‘I know your name is…Daffy!’ Baker says, again quoting Paige, the long-ago whimsical retort that to this day still makes the veteran manager laugh. Baker’s memories of fishing rods, of Paige and, yes, satchels he literally carried for his elderly friend are still as sharp as they were formed in 1968.”

 A big influence on Baker during his Atlanta years was Henry Aaron who became his mentor and friend. Baker was in the on-deck circle in 1974 when Aaron hit #715. Below in his Braves uniform (12), Baker with Negro League great Cool Papa Bell, Henry Aaron and Satchel Paige. Tonight, Baker will manage the Astros against his former team.

Hank Aaron, Satchel Paige, Cool Papa Bell, Dusty Baker Signed | Lot #42193  | Heritage Auctions

One of the best ways to appreciate Dusty Baker is to listen to his interview with Bob Kendrick on the Black Diamonds podcast. There are stories of Satchel, Aaron, the Civil Rights era and more. Click here for a clip of Baker discussing Satchel’s “throat cutter” pitch, and here for the full podcast (41 minutes). It’s a baseball delight.

Baker was traded by the Braves in late 1975 to the Dodgers. It was there that he was accidentally involved in the beginning of a multi-sport tradition. In 1977, Baker hit a home run on the last day of the season. It was a triumphant moment for the Dodgers because Baker became the fourth player on the team to hit 30 or more homers that year (a record). Glenn Burke was on deck and threw his hand up in the air to greet Baker at the plate. Baker was not sure how to respond. “His hand was up in the air, and he was arching way back. So I reached up and hit his hand.” The exchange is considered by many to be the first-ever “high five.”

Baker is known for chewing toothpicks (“excellent source of protein”). It’s a habit he acquired when his wife urged him to quit chewing tobacco. His toothpick chewing has been curtailed by Covid. As a cancer and stroke survivor, he is protective of his health and usually wears a mask and gloves in the dugout. He says he wears the wrist bands to wipe the perspiration off of his forehead (sometimes they have a message, like the ones with the likeness of Josh Gibson, Negro League star).

So I’ll be happy for Dusty if Houston wins. But it’s not redemption for the Astros of 2017. I think they were good enough to win without cheating that year. But they took away our desire to appreciate that. The stigma will not go away with a victory this year. Ask the Chicago Black Sox and Barry Bonds how this works.

Why It’s Good If Atlanta Wins – The General Managers: I have a little Royals bias here. John Schuerholz was the general manager of the Royals from 1981 to 1990. He is fondly remembered in Kansas City for building the team that won the World Series in 1985. He left KC for Atlanta where he was GM from 1991 through 2007. He became the first GM to lead teams to World Series titles in both leagues. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2017. Below, Schuerholz in his KC days with manager Dick Howser.

The current GM of Atlanta is Alex Anthopoulos who has served as GM from 2018 to 2021.

The Daily Chop: Anthopoulos, All-Star Votes, Fixing the Braves, and more  Atlanta MLB - Talking Chop

From 1991 to 2021 (31 seasons), Atlanta won its division 19 times. Fourteen came in the Schuerholz era, one under Frank Wren in 2013, and now four under Anthopoulos. The team also had Wild Card berths in 2010 and 2015. This impressive chain of 21 trips to the postseason has netted them one World Series title (1995). The frustration level in Atlanta is justifiably high.

If the Braves win this year, much of the credit will go to Alex Anthopoulos. There was some optimism when the season started, but the team suffered two big losses. Marcell Ozuna led the NL in homers and RBIs in 2020, but an injury and a domestic abuse incident ended his 2021 season after just 46 games. Ronald Acuna Jr., considered to be one of the top five players in baseball, tore an ACL just before the All-Star game and was out for the season. These losses left big holes in the lineup.

Anthopoulos went shopping and picked up four spare parts from other teams: Eddie Rosario who became the NLCS MVP; Joc Pederson who has made wearing a pearl necklace a thing in Atlanta; Jorge Soler who regained his home run stroke after being picked up from the Royals; and Adam Duvall who had 16 homers and 45 RBIs in just 55 games. The Braves got 55 home runs from players who started the season with other teams (a record). Below, three of the “Fab Four” (from left, Rosario, Duvall and Soler).

Fab Four acquisitions lead Braves - The Lima News

The Braves went from a 52-55 start to 88-74 at the end of the season, enough to win the weak NL East. By the time they got to the postseason, they were much better than an 88-win team.

In contrast, by the time the Dodgers were in the NLCS, they were in much worse shape than the 106-win team they had been in the regular season. By then they had lost big-time pitchers Clayton Kershaw and Trevor Bauer and half of their infield (Max Muncy and Justin Turner). Their remaining starters were stretched thin in their NLDS win over the Giants, and it showed in their games with Atlanta. Molly Knight’s summary was just right: “The Giants killed the Dodgers. It just took them a week to die.”

 Two additional reasons to favor Atlanta:

1. If history is any guide, we will see Texas Senator Ted Cruz preening around in his Astros jersey. Yuck.

2. We will likely hear from Covid-spreading Governor Greg Abbott. There is some history here.

In 2015, the Royals and Astros were facing each other in the ALDS. In the other ALDS bracket, the Rangers were playing the Blue Jays.

With two Texas teams in the mix, Governor Abbott (or his media team) was keeping an eye on the games.

Houston was leading the Royals two games to one and had taken a 6-2 lead in the 7th inning of Game 4. It the Astros held the lead, they would move on to the ALCS.

It was at this moment that Governor Abbott sent a tweet:

Did Texas Governor Greg Abbott Just Jinx The Astros? | HuffPost Canada  Politics

The Royals scored seven runs in the last two innings and won 9-6. Shall we say Gov. Abbott was premature.

The next day, the Royals won Game 5 and advanced to the ALCS.

In the other bracket, Toronto won, so both Texas teams were out. Sorry Governor Abbott. Not.

Lonnie’s Jukebox – “Dancing On My Own”: The Red Sox are no longer in the postseason, but the beat of their clubhouse anthem lives on. In victory celebrations, the players jumped and danced to a catchy version of “Dancing On My Own” – video here.

Kevin Plawecki’s teammates once rolled their eyes at his music choices. Now they’re all singing along.

Never heard of it? Neither had I. So I looked it up. The song was written and first performed in 2010 by Robyn, a Swedish singer. It was covered by British singer Calum Scott for his audition on “Britain’s Got Talent” in 2015. Then, Dutch DJ Tiesto added his own beats for a remix of the Calum Scott cover (this is the one blaring in the Red Sox clubhouse – click here). If you want to explore the others, click here for Robyn (on Saturday Night Live) and here for Calum Scott (over 454 million views).

How did the song find its way to the Red Sox? According to an article in the New York Times, it started with a player now with the Royals, Andrew Benintendi. In 2020, he and three other Boston players roomed together during the Covid-shortened season. Benintendi introduced the song to catcher Kevin Plawecki who loved the song and started playing it nonstop in the house. Plawecki made it his walk-up song and began playing it before and after games in the clubhouse, saying “The beat of it, the flow of it, puts you in a good mood,” but he acknowledged that the lyrics about a clubgoer watching a former lover with a new flame “doesn’t make sense at all” for baseball.

The song carried over to 2021 and became the team’s theme in the postseason. It became so integral to the Red Sox world that singer Calum Scott was brought in to throw out a first pitch in Game 4 of the ALCS. Below, on the field at Fenway, Kevin Plawecki and Calum Scott.


The story of the song has another turn. This year, Rolling Stone issued an updated list of “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time,” and Robyn’s recording is #20! Not a typo. This song that I never heard of is sitting among some classics. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. There have been decades of music since my Golden Oldie days, and each new generation of teenagers is entitled to its own music. But I thought Hot Stove readers might like to know the songs that barely beat out “Dancing On My Own.” Click on the song titles to listen:

#20: “Dancing On My Own” by Robyn (link above)

#19: “Imagine” by John Lennon

#18: “Purple Rain” by Prince

#17: “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen

To see the rest of the Rolling Stone list, including the 480 songs ranked lower than “Dancing On My Own,” click here.

Play Ball!