Cristian Pache factoring into Braves' starting outfield earlier than expected

Oct. 13, 2020 - Arlington - Atlanta Braves center fielder Cristian Pache hits an RBI double scoring left fielder Nick Markakis (not pictured) against the Los Angeles Dodgers during the fifth inning in Game 2 Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2020, for the best-of-seven National League Championship Series at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / curtis.compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / curtis.compton@

ARLINGTON, Texas - Braves rookie outfielder Cristian Pache had four plate appearances in the regular season. He’s stepped up to the plate eight times in the National League Championship Series, where the Braves hold a 2-0 lead over the Dodgers.

Pache recorded his first career RBI in Game 2, when he roped a double down the left-field line that scored Nick Markakis and extended the Braves' lead to 3-0. It was the first of four runs the Braves scored in the fifth inning. As it turned out, the Braves needed every single run in an 8-7 victory.

It was the second time Pache has been involved in an important sequence this postseason. He scored the winning run in the 13th inning of the Braves' Game 1 win over the Reds in the wild-card round.

“It’s a dream come true,” Pache said via team interpreter Franco Garcia. “Every baseball player dreams of reaching the playoffs and the postseason and ultimately winning a World Series. I can’t ask for much more. I’ve always dreamed of being in these situations, so I feel very grateful for this opportunity I’ve been given.”

Pache wasn’t supposed to be this important so soon. Slugger Adam Duvall strained his left oblique during his first at-bat of the series, ending his season. Pache assumed the at-bat, down 1-2, and drew a walk off Dodgers ace Walker Buehler. He’s been handling center-field duties in the vast Globe Life Field outfield since, showing the athletic ability and defensive IQ that made him baseball’s top defensive prospect.

The question for Pache always was his offense, which has steadily improved over the past three seasons. He came through for the Braves on Tuesday, earning his first career postseason hit and RBI off Dodgers starter Tony Gonsolin. It was his second career hit overall.

At 21 years and 329 days, Pache became the youngest Brave with an RBI in the NLCS since his mentor, Andruw Jones, in 1998. Pache commonly is compared with Jones, who won 10 consecutive Gold Gloves while patrolling the Braves' outfield.

“He’s my mentor,” Pache said. “He was at the game yesterday watching me. I feel extremely grateful that he’s taken the time to help me along. I feel extremely grateful to be compared to him. In my eyes, he’s a legend. Anytime I get compared to him, I feel really grateful for that.”

Pache is one of eight center fielders his age or younger to have an RBI in the postseason. His company, per Elias Sports Bureau: Amos Strunk, Joe DiMaggio, Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Jones, Bryce Harper and Ronald Acuna.

“He’s developed really physically,” manager Brian Snitker said. “This kid has filled out. He’s a man now. A big, strong kid who has great skills. The offensive part, even in his first full year in Rome, wasn’t great. But as he’s gotten bigger and stronger and played, you see power, a lot of offensive skill. He’s matured. He was a kid when he first started coming to camp and now he’s grown into a man.

"It’s been fun to watch. When you remember seeing this skinny kid running around, and now he’s a big strong guy. It’s been a neat progression watching him develop, grow, learn, mature, the whole thing since he started with us.”

Notes from Wednesday:

- Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman was hit in the right elbow by a pitch from former teammate Alex Wood late in Game 2. Freeman’s elbow felt numb afterward, Snitker said, but he’s OK and was in the Game 3 lineup as expected.

- The Braves adjusted their lineup for Game 3. Johan Camargo, who was added to the roster for Duvall, is playing third while Austin Riley has shifted to left field. Nick Markakis will be on the bench against Dodgers lefty Julio Urias.

- Braves third-base coach Ron Washington spoke with reporters Wednesday morning. The NLCS in Arlington is a homecoming for Washington, who managed the Rangers from 2007-14, leading them to two World Series appearances. He’s been a huge part of the Braves' defensive success, lauded for his instruction and enthusiasm.

Washington was a finalist for the Padres manager job last winter. If the right opportunity comes, he’d like to manage again.

“There’s nothing more joyous than being a leader of a group of guys and watching them grow, become consistent and, hopefully, champions," Washington said. "I had that opportunity here in Texas, thought I had another opportunity that didn’t work out, but of course, I’m always waiting for that GM to interview me and convince the owner that I’m the guy they want to lead their organization to a championship, because in the major leagues, it’s championship or bust.”

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