ATLANTA — From where he stood in the infield, Carlos Correa had a perfect angle to watch Adam Duvall launch a grand slam that put the Atlanta Braves up 4-0 on the Astros in the bottom of the first. Correa could only stand and watch as Austin Riley, then Eddie Rosario, then Duvall trotted right past him on the way home.
The Houston Astros were already on the brink, down three games to one. Now, they were over the edge, clinging to roots and limbs along the edge of the cliff. All around them, the Truist Park crowd of more than 43,000 cheered, chanted and chopped, music and beats pounding at volumes loud enough to rearrange internal organs.
Correa and the rest of the Astros returned to their dugout. Twenty-four outs remained in the game and, possibly, their season, and for Correa, there was only one option: “Keep fighting,” he said. “I'm a huge MMA fan, and I've seen lots of guys almost knocked out, and they battle back to win the fight.”
The Braves knocked the Astros to the canvas, hard. But they did it early rather than late, and thus what could have been a knockout blow ended up just rattling Houston’s cage.
“If it's going to happen, let it happen early,” Astros manager Dusty Baker conceded. “You don't want it to happen in the middle of the game or toward the end of the game.”
“I'd rather score that [home] run in the seventh inning when you don't have so much time to cover,” Braves manager Brian Snitker agreed, sounding less frustrated than realistic. “We knew we had a long, long way to go in that game and anything could happen.”
Give these Astros a bat and a shred of hope, and they’ll find a way to climb out of any hole. Houston torched the ball in the regular season, leading the majors in hits, runs, RBIs, and batting average. They’d played so far below their own standards in the first four games of the series that they were due for positive regression — or, more colloquially, the hits finally started dropping.
With the Truist Park crowd still reveling in the joy of a sudden four-run lead, the Astros went right back to work. The second and third batters of the inning reached base, and then Alex Bregman doubled into center field to score one run. Martín Maldonado followed up by sacrificing home another run, and just like that, the Braves’ formidable lead was cut in half.
“Everybody talks about the shutdown inning,” Baker said, referring to closing down an opponent after putting runs on the board. “That was a shutdown inning for them, but we answered back with two, and that made it [the equivalent of] a 2-0 game versus a 4-0 game.”
“That was the key of us winning the game right there, bouncing back right away, those two runs,” Correa said. “From the moment we scored those two runs, we said, all right, it's time to go. Let's go. Let's put great at-bats together. Let's fight. Let's battle.”
From there, the Astros overwhelmed the Braves’ patchwork bullpen pitching staff, coming at them from every possible angle and evening the score just five outs after Duvall's grand slam. Maldonado alone put runs across the plate three different ways — via single, sacrifice fly and a walk drawn with the bases loaded.
“Whatever way you bring a run, especially in the playoffs, is huge,” Maldonado said. “You get good at-bats, whatever the situation dictates.”
Houston would end up scoring in five of nine innings. After that grand slam, the Astros outscored the Braves 9-1, which gives a more accurate idea of which team was on the offensive and which couldn’t keep up.
“The pressure's still on us because they've got the lead,” Baker said. “They've got to win one, and we've got to win two. But the fact is, we are going home. We didn't want to end here, with the celebration here.”
Houston has staved off elimination for another day, and the goal now is just to stay alive as long as possible. Fortunately for the team, there’s precedent for exactly that scenario. Just last year, the Astros were down 3-0 in the ALCS and managed to force a Game 7 against Tampa Bay. The Rays would end up winning, but the Astros took them the distance. The pressure on the Braves increases with every Astros victory, and the Houston home crowd will only magnify the Astros’ psychological advantage.
“We were down 3-1. Now we're still down 3-2,” Correa said. “I truly believe, if there's one team that can accomplish [a comeback] in this league, it's us. We're going to stay confident, go out there and battle every single inning and try to win every pitch.”
Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @jaybusbee or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.