Atlanta heads home, hoping to find strength in defiance
By Tyler Kepner
The Atlanta Braves have not won a home game in the World Series since the night they clinched a championship in 1995. That was three stadiums ago, before Turner Field (a repurposed Olympics venue) and their more recent move to Cobb County.
“The atmosphere is awesome,” said Brian Snitker, Atlanta’s manager, as the World Series shifted to Georgia after Wednesday’s 7-2 loss to the Houston Astros. “Braves Country is real. It’s real.”
The local fans will have many reasons to rock the Battery, the hive of new apartments, stores and restaurants surrounding 5-year-old Truist Park, at Game 3 on Friday night (8:09 p.m. ET, FOX). The World Series — tied one game apiece — has not been to town since 1999, and that’s reason enough to celebrate. But there’s more.
You can understand if the fans in Atlanta bring an edge to the game. The Astros are largely reviled beyond Houston for illegally stealing signs during their 2017 championship run. They make for an easy villain.
Another villain, from the point of view of Atlanta’s fans, is Major League Baseball, for pulling this summer’s All-Star Game from Truist Park to protest restrictive new voting laws in Georgia. A third villain is just about everyone else — or, at least, all those folks who want the fans to stop doing the tomahawk chop after 30 years, and want the franchise to change its name, too.
There is precedent for that, after Washington’s football team and Cleveland’s baseball team dropped their long-standing Native American nicknames. But the Braves are not budging, MLB is not pushing — and there may just be no realistic way to stop thousands of fans from chanting and chopping in unison. Shaming won’t do it.
Beyond all that, former President Donald Trump is expected to attend Game 4 on Saturday night. Trump last took in the World Series two years ago in Washington, when he was shown on the scoreboard and booed by the fans in attendance. Another NL East ballpark may be more forgiving.
Whatever happens, this will be a showcase for Atlanta fans, a chance to climb onto the national stage no matter what the rest of the country thinks. The team made a spirited comeback to win the NL East, then ripped through the Milwaukee Brewers and the Los Angeles Dodgers, going undefeated in five home playoff games.
The fans have already taken to the us-against-the-world theme. During the NL Championship Series, a Los Angeles Times columnist compared Truist Park to a sterile shopping mall, and tweeted that the fans were mostly interested in a postgame trip to the Waffle House.
The team responded by serving Waffle House in the press box last week. Current and former Braves have endorsed the Georgia-based chain as something of a rallying cry on Twitter, and “Sterile Shopping Mall” T-shirts have shown up in Atlanta’s dugout.
“I know they’re going to bring it,” starter Max Fried said of the Atlanta crowd. “We’ve got some really great fans, and I know that they’ll be ready.”
Here’s the problem: the Astros will be ready, too. In their five-year playoff streak — all with a core infield of José Altuve, Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa and Yuli Gurriel — the Astros have gone 15-13 in opponent’s ballparks, with victories in Boston, Los Angeles, Cleveland, New York, Washington, Minnesota and Chicago.
Most significantly, the last time the Astros traveled after Game 2 of the World Series, they won three in a row at Nationals Park in 2019, spoiling Washington’s first time hosting the World Series in 86 years. If they have the same kind of road trip to Atlanta, the Astros will come home with a championship trophy.
“We are very focused on winning,” said starter José Urquidy after beating the Braves on Wednesday, “and finish the series over there.”
As joyously defiant as four decks of fans may be, the Astros will probably shrug. No team has been jeered as lustily (or as deservedly) as the Astros lately, and they just keep winning. They are the last team that would be intimidated.
“Nothing is easy in baseball, especially playoffs, but when you’ve been in situations before, you know how to handle it,” said Altuve, whose homer at frenzied Fenway Park turned around the American League Championship Series in Game 4.
“So I know what my team is capable to do to win three in a row, to come back from things that we don’t want, the situations we wouldn’t want to be in. But we overcome those situations.”
Altuve’s homer in Boston came on the first pitch of the eighth inning; on Wednesday against Atlanta, he connected on the first pitch of the bottom of the seventh. Ian Anderson, the Braves’ rookie starter, would be wise to remember that if Altuve leads off, as expected, Friday night.
“If I’m doing good, I want to swing,” Altuve said. “If I’m doing bad, I want to swing because it might be the only pitch I get. So it’s not a secret that I like swinging.”
It’s also not a secret that home-field advantage has been meaningless in recent World Series. No team has clinched in its home ballpark in eight years. The Astros won Game 7 at Dodger Stadium in 2017, and lost Game 7 at home two years later to Washington.
“You kind of thrive on the animosity from the crowd,” said former National Max Scherzer, who started that seventh game in Houston. “It’s kind of fun to pitch on the road and everybody’s just screaming. You just have that road warrior mentality.”
The visitors from Houston have it. The fans in Atlanta will demand to be heard, but that might be just how the Astros want it.