Series: Braves lead 3-1
Series odds: Astros +400, Braves -500
Game 5 pitching matchup: LHP Framber Valdez (11-6, 3.14 ERA) vs. Bullpen
Andy McCullough: Braves
Eno Sarris: Astros
C. Trent Rosecrans: Astros
Nick Groke: Astros
Sahadev Sharma: Astros
The cardiac Braves came back (again) at home (again) with back-to-back bombs off the bats of Dansby Swanson and Jorge Soler to steal Game 4, then sealed it with Eddie “Super” Rosario’s web gem. Atlanta can be slowed, but cannot be stopped. The opener faced four hitters and left with the bases loaded. From there, Houston never could completely crack the Braves bullpen.
If you’re sick of seeing the decline of starting pitching play out on your TV screen this postseason, watching Game 5 — with the Astros at the brink of elimination and the bullpenning Braves 27 outs from a World Series title — won’t make you feel any better. It’ll be another army of Atlanta relievers attacking the Astros. That horse, as they say, has left the arm barn.
Speaking of, here’s the horse story you were promised. It was almost sunset on a Thursday in May 2017. I had a few hours to burn before a late flight out of Atlanta, so another baseball writer (Adam Berry of MLB.com) and I headed to a sports bar near the airport. We were sitting at a stoplight on Old National Highway when I saw something flash in the rearview mirror. I turned my head just in time to catch a chestnut horse thundering past us at a full gallop. The sound was as alarming as the sight of it. Horse hooves on asphalt; it ain’t right.
The horse and its helmetless rider ran the red light, dodging cars as they raced over a bridge and down the other side, out of view. It was terrifying. I was certain that once the light turned green we’d come across carnage up ahead.
Instead, we found the horse in the turn lane, waiting to make a legal left turn into the parking lot of a Mexican restaurant.
A little while later, at the sports bar, the bartender asked if we had any questions. We had many, none about the menu. We told him what we’d seen. “Is riding horses on the highway, like, a thing around here?” I asked. The bartender shook his head. He said he’d never seen a horse in the neighborhood. He didn’t seem to believe our story, and we weren’t sure we believed our eyes and ears, either. We were a little delirious after covering a Pirates-Braves series that had featured a rain-delayed game ending at 1:52 a.m. and an extra-innings finish the following night. We ordered burgers and beers and tried to forget about it.
Just as we were closing our tabs that night, the bartender started laughing. He pointed behind us. The horse and its rider had just turned into the parking lot. Now, this is not some stale “a horse walks into a bar” joke. I wouldn’t stoop so low when the stakes are this high. The horse stayed outside. The rider climbed from the saddle to talk to friends. Somehow, the scene seemed completely normal now. We were numb to the absurdity. I took a photo for posterity.
It was time to go to the airport, so we left the bar. I saw the horse. The horse saw me. I nodded. The horse did nothing. Four years later, nothing about that night makes sense except for what the horse did next. As we walked toward the rental car, the horse whinnied behind us, and so I turned back around. The chestnut horse was looking at me with its long face.
“The bit ends tonight,” the horse said.
I nodded again. Horses know bits.
“Braves in five,” the horse said.
Stephen J. Nesbitt·
Senior Writer, Pittsburgh
Astros at Braves Game 5: 2021 World Series picks, expert selections, betting odds with Atlanta one win away from a title