2021 World Series: The Last Postseason Matchup Between the Braves and Astros Featured a Historic Finish and a Roger Clemens Rarity
The 2021 World Series between the Atlanta Braves and Houston Astros features a number of great storylines. Of course, there’s the Astros organization, a franchise many will likely never let off the hook for the 2017 cheating scandal that rocked Major League Baseball to its very core. But at least they’ve got a little sentimentality going for them in the form of Dusty Baker, the 72-year-old skipper who’s done everything as a manager outside of winning the World Series. Baker, of course, took over in Houston when A.J. Hinch was fired in the wake of the scandal.
Then there are the Atlanta Braves (with whom Baker made his MLB debut back in 1968), who are back in the World Series for the first time since 1999. And there’s undoubtedly some sentimentality going on with their manager as well, as Brian Snitker first joined the Braves as a player in 1977 but never made it to the bigs. After his release in 1980, he bounced around the organization for decades, managing in the minors while also serving three stints with the big club as a coach.
The Decatur, Illinois, native was named the interim manager when Fredi Gonzalez was fired in 2016 and was finally named the full-time skipper at the end of the season. In 2018, he was named NL Manager of the Year and led Atlanta to the first of four consecutive appearances in the postseason, the fourth obviously being these World Series against the Astros, who just happen to employ his 32-year-old son, Troy, as a coach. So there’s that fun story as well.
We’ve also got the fact that this isn’t even close to being the first meeting between the Braves and Astros in the postseason as they were familiar foes in the National League playoffs in the late 1990s into the 2000s. So while there is plenty of history being made this year with Baker and the Snitker family affair and such, there’s also already plenty of playoff history between these two franchises. In fact, the last playoff game between the Braves and Astros before the 2021 World Series made MLB history and featured a Roger Clemens rarity.
Game 4 of the 2005 NLDS between the Braves and Astros went 18 innings, breaking the record for the longest playoff game in MLB history
The last time the Braves and Astros matched up in the postseason before these 2021 World Series was the 2005 NLDS. Atlanta had won the NL East with a record of 90-72 and was the second seed, while Houston finished second in the NL Central behind the St. Louis Cardinals, earning the wild card spot (there was only one then) with a mark of 89-73.
The Astros took a 1-0 lead in the best-of-five series by doubling up the Braves in Game 1, 10-5. Atlanta fought back and took Game 2 as they surprisingly roughed up Clemens, who had a league-leading 1.87 ERA in the regular season but gave up five runs and six hits in five innings in the 7-1 loss. But the Astros bounced back nicely with a 7-3 win in Game 3, giving themselves a chance to clinch at home in Game 4.
And that Game 4 turned out to be one of the wildest games in MLB history. In the fourth, the Braves took a 4-0 lead on a grand slam from Adam LaRoche and led 6-1 going into the last half of the eighth. But the Astros got a grand slam of their own off the bat of Lance Berkman to cut the lead to one heading into the final inning.
After Atlanta failed to score, Houston was down to its final out when Brad Ausmus connected for a game-tying home run off Kyle Farnsworth to send the game into extra innings. And we’re talking a lot of extra innings…nine more, to be exact.
At the time, the longest MLB postseason game in history was the epic 16-inning affair in Game 6 of the 1986 NLCS between the Astros and New York Mets, which the Mets obviously won. But Game 4 of the 2005 NLDS between the Braves and Astros went 18 innings. And this time, Houston came out on top as rookie Chris Burke, who’d hit five home runs in 108 regular-season games and had only had two other plate appearances in the series, belted a game-winning homer off Joey Devine with one out in the bottom of the 18th to give the Astros the 7-6 victory.
And the winning pitcher that night?
Roger Clemens pitched three innings in relief to pick up the victory for the Astros
When games go more than just an extra inning or two, managers obviously have to make some choices they’re not used to making. And seeing as how Game 4 of the 2005 NLDS between the Braves and Astros kept going and going like it was an Energizer bunny, Bobby Cox and Phil Garner had some tough decisions to make.
Normally, Roger Clemens obviously would never be anyone’s first choice to be a pinch-hitter. But that’s exactly what he was in the bottom of the 15th that night at Minute Maid Park, executing a sacrifice bunt. And as the Astros had already run through seven pitchers, “Rocket” stayed in the game and took the mound in the top of the 16th. It was just the second time in Clemens’ career that he’d come out of the bullpen and the first time since his rookie season with the Boston Red Sox in 1984. He came on in relief for the third and final time in 2007 as a member of the New York Yankees.
As for that marathon in 2005, Clemens pitched the 16th, 17th, and 18th, giving up just one hit while striking out four to pick up the win.
The Astros defeated the Cardinals in the NLCS but were then swept in the World Series by the Chicago White Sox.
There have been two MLB postseason games since then to reach the 18th inning
Since the Astros defeated the Braves in Game 4 of the 2005 NLDS, two MLB postseason games have reached the 18th inning.
In 2014, Game 2 of the NLDS between the San Francisco Giants and Washington Nationals went the full 18 innings. In the top of the 18th at Nationals Park, Giants first baseman Brandon Belt homered off Tanner Roark to break a 1-1 tie, and San Francisco held on for a 2-1 victory to take a 2-0 lead in the series. Oddly enough, Tim Hudson, who started Game 4 of the 2005 NLDS for the Braves, started this game for the Giants.
In 2018, Game 3 of the World Series between the LA Dodgers and Boston Red Sox reached the 18th inning as well. Overall, 46 players, including 18 pitchers, were used in this game, which was tied 1-1 after nine. Boston scored in the top half of the 13th, but LA came right back with a run of their own in the bottom half.
Max Muncy gave the Dodgers a 3-2 victory with a walk-off home run in the bottom of the 18th off Nathan Eovaldi, who was in his seventh inning of relief. It was LA’s only win of the series.
Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference