In his first postseason appearance since that marvelous World Series-clinching start last year, Max Fried lost his mojo.
Fried labored in ways he hadn’t this entire seven-month trek. He gave up lots of scorching contact. He couldn’t finish hitters with two strikes. A Gold Glove winner, Fried even committed an error, giving him as many miscues in 3-1/3 innings Tuesday as he had across 185-1/3 frames this season.
The Braves lost to the Phillies 7-6 in Game 1 of the National League Division Series at Truist Park, an upset that rewarded the Phillies with home-field advantage.
Fried’s surprising flop sits at the forefront of the disappointing afternoon. He was charged with six runs (four earned) on eight hits across 3-1/3 innings. He struck out only two and issued one walk. It was, statistically and per the eye test, Fried’s worst outing of the season.
It’s worth noting that this was Fried’s first start in 11 days. His last outing, Sept. 30 against the Mets, he pitched with the flu. Fried threw up in the dugout following five strong innings. Asked if the aftermath of his illness affected his performance Tuesday, Fried paused before answering.
“I mean, I’m not going to make any excuses,” Fried said. “I took the ball today and put us in a big hole right away. They came out swinging and had a really good approach. Frankly, I didn’t do my job today. The guys were counting on me to go out there and have a good start, keep it a close game, and I let it get away too quick.”
On the rarity of his struggles: Only four times this season did the southpaw surrender eight or more hits in a game; he covered at least 5-2/3 frames in each of those outings anyway. Fried allowed four or more runs in only three of his 30 starts; he also covered at least 5-2/3 innings in those.
Fried’s fastball averaged 94 mph in the regular season. It dipped to 92.7 mph Tuesday. The Phillies teed off on his fastball as well, earning five of their eight hits against the pitch. Fried drew only six whiffs on 61 pitches. That includes only two whiffs on 17 swings against his fastball. The Phillies averaged 94.1 mph exit velocity against the pitch, which drew an 86.3 exit velocity in the regular season.
Fried had fared well against Philadelphia this season, posting a 3.13 ERA in four starts (eight earned runs in 23 innings). But the Phillies, healthy and hot, look far more menacing than even the last time Fried faced them – just under three weeks ago, when he held them to one run over five frames.
The evidence suggests that Fried wasn’t in peak physical form. Naturally, reporters pitched him several variations of flu questions during his postgame press conference. He admitted the bug lasted “longer than we expected,” but with each inquiry, he responded the same way.
“It’s just been one of those things you have to kind of battle, but I felt good enough to go today, and I don’t want to make excuses for that,” he said.
Catcher Travis d’Arnaud, also posed a question about how lingering effects could’ve influenced Fried’s afternoon, added: “It’s possible. In reality, (the Phillies) did a great job with their game plan and executing their game plan. They didn’t overswing. They just tried to make some good contact, and they did it at the right time when runners were on.”
Tuesday started with false promise. Fried retired the first two Phillies on three pitches. But four consecutive hits later, the Phillies were up 2-0.
Catcher J.T. Realmuto reached on a single that bounced off second baseman Orlando Arcia’s diving glove. Bryce Harper, moments after being greeted with boos, singled. Nick Castellanos singled to right on a ball that dropped just in front of Ronald Acuna, who seemed to pull up just before the ball hit the grass. Realmuto scored. Alec Bohm singled home Harper.
Fried surrendered a double in the second frame but nothing more, giving hope he had settled down. His third inning, however, began with his throwing error on a Realmuto grounder. A Fried error is rarer than ammolite. He’s committed seven over 632-1/3 innings over his six seasons.
After the blunder, Harper orchestrated a sacrifice bunt and Castellanos doubled (his second hit off Fried; he’s 5-for-8 against the lefty in his career). Bohm’s sacrifice fly made the score 3-1. Jean Segura’s single up the middle scored another.
Fried couldn’t survive the fourth. He walked Edmundo Sosa and struck out Kyle Schwarber, but after Rhys Hoskins doubled, manager Brian Snitker saw enough. He pulled Fried for Jesse Chavez. Both Fried’s base runners scored on Castellanos’ single.
“I asked him after the fourth (about his physical condition) when he came off,” Snitker said. “He went down and he was mad and everything. I just wanted to make sure he was OK physically. And he just wasn’t firing today, pretty much.
“I just wanted to make sure he was OK, that it wasn’t anything with his arm or anything like that. I just don’t know if there was in the tinderbox in there firing a little bit. It was probably time off, the sickness, whatever.”
During their two-game sweep of the Cardinals in their wild-card series, the Phillies’ top-five hitters combined for three hits in 18 innings. The quintet had five hits off Fried on Tuesday. In fact, the entire Phillies’ team had nine hits over those two contests, one less hit than it collected against Fried.
Suddenly, the Braves find themselves in a precarious position entering Wednesday. They can’t afford to be down 0-2 heading to what’s sure to be a raucous environment at Citizens Bank Park on Friday. Kyle Wright, a 21-game winner, will try to provide steady starting pitching in Game 2 against Phillies ace Zack Wheeler.
“You don’t just stumble your way into 21 wins,” Fried said. “He’s been a guy we’ve relied on throughout the whole year, and I’m confident he’s going to go out there and get us a win.”
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Credit: Ben Hendren for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution