HOUSTON — Atlanta Braves reliever A.J. Minter emphatically pumped his fist coming off the mound after an inning-ending strikeout in Game 1 of the World Series.
It was only the third inning in what would be another long postseason game for the Braves bullpen — and another win for those relievers as Atlanta opened its first World Series since 1999 with a 6-2 victory over the Houston Astros.
Minter certainly didn’t expect to be entering that early Tuesday night, especially with starter Charlie Morton on the mound with a 5-0 lead. But Morton hunched over and grabbed at his lower right leg after Jose Altuve took a called third strike to start the third inning.
“It hurts losing Charlie,” Minter said. “But if you’ve been watching us all year, we’ve just been answering the bell and overcoming adversity all year.”
After Morton departed with a broken fibula, having pitched an entire inning since initially getting struck by a comebacker, the Braves relievers came through again like they have so much this postseason. Left-hander Minter, who got the victory, was the first of four relievers who combined to limit the Astros to two runs while striking out eight with one walk over 6 2/3 innings.
“We’re just going to treat it the same way, next guy up,” Minter said. “Coming in third inning, I just knew I was trying to cover as many innings as I possibly could. Wasn’t just trying to be efficient, not trying to overthink it.”
Relievers have recorded six of Atlanta’s eight wins in this October run, even though the Braves were expected to be among the more traditional teams this fall in terms of leaning on their starters. They have also pitched more innings than the starters (49 2/3 to 46 1/3), a significant reversal from the regular season when the bullpen accounted for only about 40% of the innings pitched.
Luke Jackson, Tyler Matzek and lefty closer Will Smith followed after Minter. It was the same quartet of relievers — and in the same order — that handled the final five innings in a pennant-clinching win over the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 6 of the NL Championship Series on Saturday night.
And it was also Minter, Jackson, Matzek and Smith in order to close out the NL Division Series in Game 4 against Milwaukee.
“Every single person in that bullpen has a huge heart, has huge fight,” catcher Travis d’Arnaud said. “There’s nothing more you want as a catcher is to know that everybody loves each other and everybody picks each other up and they’re not afraid of anyone. I think going forward, I think we’re going to be just fine.”
A Texas native who went to Texas A&M about 100 miles from Minute Maid Park, Minter threw a career-high 43 pitches with 30 strikes over 2 2/3 innings. He allowed a double to Michael Brantley right after entering the game, but then got Alex Bregman on a groundout before a nasty cutter that got Yordan Alvarez swinging at a pitch out of the zone for the final out — prompting the reliever’s high-energy response bouncing off the mound.
Minter had averaged only 14.4 pitches in his 61 regular-season appearances, with a high of 32. His high this postseason had been 26 pitches while striking out four in two perfect innings in NLCS Game 6 against the Dodgers.
“That was huge what A.J. pulled down,” manager Brian Snitker said. “We went to him earlier than we normally would, but like I said earlier today, you do things differently here in this arena, I think. A.J. (has) been so good this postseason. Just not him, all the bullpen. That was huge tonight what he did, how he stretched the game to get us to those other guys.”