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HOUSTON – On a night they could have been taking control of this World Series, the Atlanta Braves were conducting auditions.
In a series in which they once could lean on trusted and beloved veteran Charlie Morton for the crucial Games 1 and 5, the Braves instead are pondering how to best deploy an emergency arm who spent Game 1 in a suburban Atlanta hotel room, noshing on a Cheesecake Factory salad.
And less than 24 hours after seizing control of this standoff with the Houston Astros, the Braves find themselves technically all square, yet realistically climbing uphill after squandering Game 2 by a 7-2 score Wednesday night at Minute Maid Park.
The clubs will jet to Atlanta on Thursday and reload for Games 3, 4 and 5 over the weekend at raucous Truist Park. Astros manager Dusty Baker can revel in some good fortune, knowing Game 3 starter Luis Garcia is coming off the best playoff start of his career and a relatively untaxed bullpen will be ready to back up veteran Zack Greinke in Game 4.
His Atlanta counterpart, Brian Snitker, will have more worrisome issues front of mind.
Game 3 starter Ian Anderson lasted just three and four innings in his National League Championship Series starts against the Los Angeles Dodgers, and will face an Astros lineup that suddenly found a ground game to go along with its typically prodigious postseason power shows.
And Anderson best go deep: After Morton exited with a broken fibula in the third inning of Game 1, Atlanta’s bullpen had to absorb 9 ⅔ innings of these first two games, with the biggest ask ahead: 18 innings to cover Games 4 and 5, with no off day to break it up.
“We lost a huge starter,” says Snitker, “so we're going to have two games that we're going to pitch 18 innings out of that bullpen. It’s kind of like the whole roster is going to have to be used just because of the situation we're in.
“It happens. So, we'll just try and piece it together the best we can.”
That’s essentially what passed for Tony Robbins-level optimism in a relatively funereal postgame where it seemed Morton’s loss truly settled in. The club was pleased lefty Dylan Lee, who made his major league debut just three weeks ago, got his feet wet in a World Series game, as did Kyle Wright, who struck out the side in his first 2021 playoff appearance. Staff ace Max Fried was hen-pecked for five runs in the first two innings – none on home runs – but managed to pitch into the sixth, nominally preserving the bullpen.
So, now what?
When asked if he might be available to pitch on three days’ rest in what would have been Morton’s Game 5, Fried delivered a response that fell a bit shy of Scherzerian.
“We'll see how I feel over the next couple days,” he said. “But not against it.”
Instead, the world may get to know Tucker Davidson, a 25-year-old rookie left-hander who gave Atlanta three above-average starts in June before suffering a left forearm strain that knocked him out for the remainder of the regular season. But Davidson avoided surgery, made one rehab start at the Braves’ Class AAA complex in Gwinnett, Georgia and has been stretching his arm out there since.
He was watching Game 1 at his hotel there, enjoying his mid-range chain dinner alongside a pair of Braves coaches when he saw Morton crumple to the ground after striking out Jose Altuve.
Shortly after midnight, Davidson got the call that he was headed to Houston. And now, a guy that hasn’t pitched since April may be summoned to get a significant number of outs – perhaps even start – in Game 4 or 5.
“You told me June 15th when I got hurt that I'd be a consideration for the World Series,” Davidson said before Game 2, “I would probably say you're lying. It's been a whirlwind of emotions.”
As it has for the Braves, still trying to move past the loss of their rotation rock. But the World Series waits for no one, and the Braves can’t afford to fall behind, even if it kind of feels like that already.
It will be up to a most unlikely crew to eradicate that feeling.
“Those guys,” Snitker said of his unheralded relievers, “are going to have to play a big part in this.”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: World Series: What will it take for Braves to survive the Astros?