Braves lose pitching duel to Brewers in NLDS Game 1

Braves second baseman Ozzie Albies (1)  strikes out in the ninth.  Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com
Caption
Braves second baseman Ozzie Albies (1) strikes out in the ninth. Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton / curtis.compton@ajc.com

MILWAUKEE – The expected Game 1 pitching duel between the Braves and Brewers lived up to the hype.

Charlie Morton and Corbin Burnes matched one another pitch-for-pitch, trading zeroes for six innings. Burnes exited with a stalemate as Morton continued onward – until two hitters into the seventh.

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Avisail Garcia was hit by a pitch to open the frame. Four pitches later, Rowdy Tellez became a Brewers postseason hero with a monstrous two-run shot off a middle-placed fastball from Morton to snap a scoreless tie and end Morton’s outing.

The Braves lost Game 1 of the National League Division Series 2-1. They haven’t won a postseason series after losing the first game since 1999; they’ll have to buck that trend to advance to their second consecutive NL Championship Series.

“We knew this ballgame was going to be rough,” manager Brian Snitker said. “The runs would be at a premium. And they were. It was exactly what I thought was, going in, that this game would be, somebody got a big hit. And a lot of times most of the big hits in the postseason, they’re homers. They hit one, and we didn’t. But it was a good ballgame.”

Live projections from FanGraphs and Baseball Savant floated around 50-50 for who would win the game entering the bottom of the seventh.

The contest played out in the way many expected, a low-scoring affair in which the winner came up with a single timely hit.

Tellez’s smash spoiled one of the great outings in Morton’s illustrious postseason career. A renowned big-game pitcher, Morton came out firing, striking out five of the first six Brewers. He allowed one hit – Lorenzo Cain’s one-out single in the third – over his first four frames.

Morton threw 50 pitches in that time, recording eight of 12 outs via strikeout. He allowed three Brewers base runners over six innings before his final sequence. He erased a leadoff walk in the sixth by retiring the top of the Brewers’ lineup 1-2-3, which gave Snitker the confidence to keep Morton on the mound for the seventh.

“He was outstanding,” Snitker said of Morton. “It was about as good as you can get. Threw one pitch that he probably would take back. But other than that, shoot, it was awesome.”

On his decision to keep Morton in the game entering the seventh: “I talked to him. He said he felt good. If he’d have had 10 or 15 more pitches, I probably wouldn’t have. But I thought he was in a zone, in an area where all year long we’ve let him go back. It was one pitch in the thing. I wouldn’t second guess because you have to take your hat off to the hitter (Tellez). He didn’t miss it, didn’t foul it off.”

Morton had both seventh-inning hitters with two strikes before the hit by pitch and homer.

“I hit Avi with the heater; I just yanked that four-seamer to Rowdy,” Morton said. “I felt like I threw the ball well. I worked into the seventh inning, felt like we were in a really good spot. And then I hit Avi in a two-strike count, and I grooved one to Rowdy with a two-strike count.

The Braves couldn’t muster Morton any run support because of Burnes. A missed opportunity in the first inning loomed over the Braves’ defeat.

Burnes, a Cy Young front-runner, started his outing by walking Braves sluggers Jorge Soler and Freddie Freeman. Burnes’ 16th pitch – the fourth ball to Freeman – bounced to the backstop and allowed Soler to advance to third.

Yet Burnes required only six more pitches to escape unscathed. Second baseman Ozzie Albies swung at a low-and-inside cutter that was grounded to first. Brewers first baseman Tellez then fired home to nab Soler, who ran on contact, resulting in a double play. Freeman advanced to third on a wild pitch, but third baseman Austin Riley struck out.

“That’s a tough one when you’re at third base,” Snitker, a former third-base coach, said of Soler running. “I don’t put it on him. Probably 95% of the guys would go on that. Because you can’t react quick enough and think quick enough on that play right there. If that ball is tapped out in front of the plate, then you can shut it down. It’s hard to shut down that ball right there. He had to make a good throw too. He made a decent throw. The catcher made a nice play. It’s bang, bang, and so I’m not - he’s fine right there.”

So the Braves, despite having two on with none out and twice having a base runner at third, couldn’t take the immediate lead. The squandered scoring chance loomed over the game as Morton and Burnes traded zeroes.

Brewers 2, Braves 1 (box score)

Burnes was off his A-game, missing the strike zone often while laboring through the first two frames. While he didn’t allow a hit, he issued three walks and had a wild pitch (possibly two, though one was called a passed ball). He needed 40 pitches to record six outs but kept the Braves off the board.

The Braves’ first hit was outfielder Eddie Rosario’s bloop single to open the fifth. Catcher Travis d’Arnaud grounded into a double play, which meant shortstop Dansby Swanson’s ensuing single merely allowed the Braves to clear Morton in the order.

Milwaukee lifted Burnes at 91 pitches for pinch-hitter Daniel Vogelbach, who led off the sixth. If the series goes to a decisive Game 5, the Braves should see the Brewers’ ace again.

Caption
Braves left fielder Joc Pederson (22) hits a solo home run in the eighth inning. Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton / curtis.compton@ajc.com

Braves left fielder Joc Pederson (22) hits a solo home run in the eighth inning.  Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com
Caption
Braves left fielder Joc Pederson (22) hits a solo home run in the eighth inning. Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton / curtis.compton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton / curtis.compton@ajc.com

Joc Pederson, pinch-hitting for reliever Luke Jackson, smacked a solo shot off righty Adrian Houser in the eighth to trim the Braves’ deficit to one. It was Pederson’s 10th career postseason homer. Brewers closer Josh Hader allowed two base runners, walking Freeman and surrendering a single to Riley, but closed it by coaxing former teammate Orlando Arcia into a game-ending grounder.

“In the playoffs, runs are pretty hard to come by,” Pederson said. “There are a lot of good pitchers. I think as a team we need to do better and take advantage of every opportunity we can because the pitchers are good. So I think we’ll be in a great spot (Saturday) to put up some runs.”

Braves southpaw Max Fried, whose 1.74 ERA in the second half was best in the majors, starts Game 2 against Brewers righty Brandon Woodruff (9-10, 2.56) on Saturday.

“I feel good going into Game 2,” Snitker said. “I have Max Fried pitching. I feel good every time he takes the mound for us.”

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