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Astros recover from Atlanta Braves’ first-inning grand slam, send World Series back to Houston for Game 6

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ATLANTA — It’s almost a cliché to say that a team which falls behind 3-1 in a best-of-seven playoff series has been pushed to the brink. If that’s the case, the Houston Astros went to the brink and a little beyond and survived to tell about it.

The Astros bounced back from a first-inning grand slam clubbed by Atlanta’s Adam Duvall, beating the Braves 9-5 on Sunday and sending the World Series back to Houston for Game 6 on Tuesday. Atlanta still maintains a 3-2 series lead.

To hear Houston manager Dusty Baker tell it, the Astros’ motivation was pretty simple.

“We didn’t want to end here with the celebration here,” Baker said.

Duvall’s slam put a charge into the standing-room-only throng at Truist Park, eager to see the Braves clinch their first title since 1995 and the first since the club moved into its five-year-old park in suburban Cobb County.

At that point, history was not on Houston’s side. The Braves became the first team to score four runs in a potential World Series clincher since the 1961 Yankees, who went on to cruise to a 13-5 win over the Reds to win the title 60 years ago.

On top of that, teams were 45-3 all-time when holding a lead of four or more runs at any point of a potential clincher, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Make it 45-4. And Baker, whose 2002 Giants were the last team to blow a lead that big in a World Series clinching scenario, felt like if it had to happen and it’s good that it happened with plenty of game left.

“I always say, ‘if it’s going to happen, let it happen early,'” Baker said. “You don’t want it to happen in the middle of the game or toward the end of the game. The guys came through. That’s what counts.”

In a vacuum, if there is any team that should feel at ease in trying to overcome a four-run deficit with the end of the season staring them down, it’s the Astros. Besides Houston’s extensive postseason experience — five straight trips to the ALCS and three pennants in five seasons — this was baseball’s most prolific offense during the regular season and an attack that managed to become even more productive once the playoffs began.

That is until the World Series began and the Astros struggled to a .206 team batting average during the first four games against Atlanta. Houston was shut out on two hits during Friday’s Game 3 loss and managed just two runs in a 3-2 Game 4 loss on Saturday.

Add up the 3-1 series hole, the early 4-0 deficit in Game 5, the struggles of the offense and it made for a grim scenario to everyone, it seems, except the Astros.

“I say keep fighting,” Astros shortstop Carlos Correa 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 Astros weren’t knocked out by their early deficit and the seeds for that turnaround might have been planted before the game. After two straight days of chill, drizzle and mist meant the infield at Truist Park remained under a tarp before the games, and wiped out batting practice, Sunday’s game was played in cool but dry conditions.

Thus both clubs were able to get on the field before the game and go through their normal pregame drills. This was a particular boon for the Astros, who struggled to acclimate to a park in which they had only played two games prior to this series, and none since 2017.

“Today really felt like the World Series because they got to go on the field and see all the people and see all the media,” Baker said. “It felt like the World Series, where the other [games] felt like we were coming out of the dungeon and just going to play. So that was big, the fact that we got to get on the field.”

Whether or not that was the key, the Astros outscored the Braves 9-1 after their early hole, an outburst keyed by the bottom of the order.

Baker shuffled his lineup after the offense’s struggles during the first two games in Atlanta, dropping All-Star third baseman Alex Bregman to seventh in the batting order. Bregman was one of the beneficiaries of the dry conditions, which he took advantage of with extra work in the batting cage before the game.

After managing just one hit over the first four games of the Series, Bregman drove in Houston’s first run with a ringing double in the top of the second, minutes after Duvall’s grand slam.

“I think that was the key of us winning the game right there, bouncing back right away,” Correa said. “Those two runs, Bregman getting the huge double. Getting the confidence all the way up.”

Bregman’s double was just the tip of the iceberg for the bottom of the Houston lineup. Batting eighth, light-hitting catcher Martin Maldonado drove in three runs. And batting as a pinch-hitter in the nine-hole, Marwin Gonzalez stroked a key two-run single.

“Whatever way you bring a run, especially in the playoff, is huge,” Maldonado said. “You get good at-bats, whatever the situation dictates. You try to work through it.”

The Astros worked through their dance with the brink of elimination and suddenly are headed back to the heart of Texas, still down, but very much alive. The Braves could have been the first champion since the 2013 Boston Red Sox to celebrate a title on their home field. Now, only the Astros can snap that drought.

“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.”

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Kenneth Moffett, federal mediator of 1981 baseball strike and former MLBPA executive, dies at 90

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ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Kenneth Moffett, the federal mediator during the 1981 baseball strike who briefly succeeded Marvin Miller as the second head of the players’ association, has died. He was 90.

Moffett died Nov. 19 at his home in Alexandria, Virginia, said his wife, the former Mary Taddeo. He had been ill with dementia for about six months and the death certificate cited natural causes, she said Monday.

His death was first reported by The New York Times.

Moffett was part of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service in 1980, when baseball players and owners reached an agreement that put off a work stoppage until the following year. As deputy director of the FMCS during the 50-day strike that interrupted the 1981 season, he shuttled between the parties, set up bargaining sessions and suggested frameworks for settlement.

He also worked at the FMCS during the August 1981 strike by the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization against the Federal Aviation Administration. President Ronald Reagan ordered the firing of workers who did not return to their jobs.

Moffett said in 1994 that baseball negotiations were different from all other types of collective bargaining.

“It is done in a fishbowl,” Moffett told The Associated Press. “Every statement, every press release — anything — is for public consumption. In most negotiations, you don’t hear a peep until there’s a settlement.”

As the union’s 1994 strike deadline approached, Moffett said: “My gut reaction is it seems like nothing’s changed. … The issues are still the same.”

Moffett was hired in December 1982 as the second executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association and took over on Jan. 1, 1983, when Miller retired ahead of his 66th birthday. Moffett was given a three-year contract but lasted just 10 1/2 months and was fired that Nov. 22 by the union’s executive board.

Donald Fehr, then the union’s general counsel, took over as acting executive director on Dec. 8, became executive director on a full-time basis in January 1986 and held the top spot until retiring in December 2009.

Moffett became assistant to the president of the National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians in 1985. That union merged with the Communications Workers of America in 1994. He retired in 2003 as the CWA’s human resources director.

Moffett is survived by his fourth wife, whom he married in 1999; and three children from his first wife, Barbara: son Kenneth Jr., director of negotiations at the National Treasury Employees Union; son John; and daughter Laura Tornell. Moffett’s three previous marriages ended in divorce.

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The Mets spent, the Yankees didn’t and more

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When MLB free agency began, as I was comparing notes with agents and executives, a popular discussion was how many players would sign big deals before the collective bargaining agreement expired on Dec. 1. The common opinion was that only a couple of guys would sign for $75 million or more — and some legitimately thought zero would. They also expected slower-than-usual overall volume.

All of that turned out to be … wildly wrong!

Now we’re in the midst of a lockout that will likely freeze the market for months, but before Dec. 1, we had tons of action to a degree that no one expected. Over the course of about three weeks, teams handed out 51 MLB deals with guaranteed money totaling $1.974 billion. If you include extensions occurring in the 2021 calendar year, another $1.655 billion was spent, and nearly $1.1 billion of that went to five players: Byron Buxton, Wander Franco, Jose Berrios, Francisco Lindor and Fernando Tatis Jr. Let’s go on a journey of the lessons learned from this incredibly entertaining and active first part of the offseason.

The Mets went hard.
The 2021 season didn’t go that well for the New York Mets, who ended the season in third place in the National League East with 77 wins and watched the Atlanta Braves win the World Series. But since the clock turned to November, things have turned around. Robinson Cano‘s season-long suspension ended, Jacob deGrom should be healthy by the time the season starts, and they added Max Scherzer ($130 million guaranteed), Starling Marte ($78 million), Mark Canha ($26.5 million) and Eduardo Escobar ($20 million) in free agency. With these additions, FanGraphs’ depth charts now have the Mets in a dead heat with the best teams in baseball. The Mets, a team that posted 34.6 WAR in 2021, are projected to post 48.0 in 2022 — behind (and just slightly) only the Dodgers and Yankees.

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Buck O’Neil joins Gil Hodges, Minnie Minoso, others in being elected to baseball’s Hall of Fame

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Buck O’Neil, a champion of Black ballplayers during a monumental, eight-decade career on and off the field, joined Gil Hodges, Minnie Minoso and three others in being elected to the baseball Hall of Fame on Sunday.

Former Minnesota Twins teammates Tony Oliva and Jim Kaat, a longtime television analyst after his playing days, also were chosen along with Bud Fowler by a pair of veterans committees.

Oliva and Kaat are the only living new members. Dick Allen, who died last December, fell one vote shy of election.

Kaat pitched 25 seasons with a host of teams, including the Phillies, Yankees and Cardinals, winning 283 games. He served as an analyst for the Yankees before moving on to the MLB Network.

The 16-member Early Days and Golden Days committees met separately in Orlando, Florida. The election announcement was originally scheduled to coincide with the big league winter meetings, which were nixed because of the MLB lockout.

The six newcomers will be enshrined in Cooperstown, New York, on July 24, 2022, along with any new members elected by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. First-time candidates David Ortiz and Alex Rodriguez join Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling on the ballot, with voting results on Jan. 25.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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