The sequence summed up Game 6, which was marked with miscues and mental errors for the Braves. They never recovered from the early deficit and botched bases-loaded opportunity, losing 3-1 to the Dodgers on Saturday in Arlington. There will be a winner-take-all Game 7 on Sunday night with a World Series berth on the line.
After squandering the second inning, the Braves had two on with one out in the fourth. Riley lined out to center and Markakis hit a comebacker to Buehler. The next inning, Freeman’s two-out single meant little after Dodgers right fielder Mookie Betts made a preposterous leaping catch at the wall to rob Marcell Ozuna of an extra-base hit.
In the sixth, which was Buehler’s final frame, Ozzie Albies made a mental mistake. He hit a grounder to first baseman Max Muncy, who fielded the ball and threw inaccurately to Buehler at first. Albies, who was in front of Muncy during the play, appeared to think he’d been tagged out. He didn’t touch first base, instead rounding toward the dugout, and was actually tagged out.
“I guarantee you he felt the tag and thought he was tagged out,” Snitker said. “He had no inclination that the ball popped out. He thought he was out.”
Dansby Swanson, who had three hits, followed the gaffe with a single. He stole second and advanced to third on an errant throw, but Riley struck out to complete another wasted inning.
Markakis tripled off Blake Treinen to start the seventh. Ronald Acuna doubled him home to put the Braves on the board. Down 3-1, the Braves had Acuna at second with one out and their two best hitters up.
Freeman struck out. Ozuna flew out to right. The next six Braves were retired in order to end the game. Previously struggling closer Kenley Jansen pitched a perfect ninth, stifling the Braves for the second consecutive game.
“You have to give credit where credit is due,” Snitker said, saying the Braves' offensive woes were a combination of their own mistakes and excellent Dodgers pitching. “They have really good pitchers over there. They bring guys out of the bullpen with 100-mph sinkers. That’s hard to get a hold of. They have experienced guys.
"It’s baseball. It’s just what happens. Sometimes you get on rolls and you get in those situations and guys are getting big hits, and sometimes they aren’t. I don’t think, just because it’s the postseason, that automatically happens. We’re playing a baseball game.”
Braves starter Max Fried allowed only two homers against the 224 batters he faced in the regular season, but his team was in a near-immediate deficit when two of the first three Dodgers homered off Fried to open the game. Seager hit his fifth blast of the series. Justin Turner followed with his own to put Los Angeles ahead by two.
The Dodgers added one more in what was one of the worst innings Fried had delivered this year. The southpaw responded by pitching 5-2/3 scoreless innings and keeping his team within striking distance. Fried threw a career-high 109 pitches and left after recording the first two outs of the seventh. It was a Herculean effort considering how poorly the first frame transpired: The Braves had Jacob Webb warming up as Fried saw five consecutive Dodgers reach during the inning.
“I came out in a game like this and put us behind the 8-ball real quick," Fried said. “To me, that’s unacceptable. I need to be better.”
Fried downplayed his gutsy performance because of the early damage. Had the Braves managed enough offense, perhaps he could’ve sung a different tune.
The Braves' issues Saturday weren’t pitching. MLB’s second-best scoring offense couldn’t find its stroke. Buehler dealt six scoreless innings and turned it over to three relievers. The Braves hit 2-for-11 with runners in scoring position after going 1-for-9 in Game 5. Outside their 10-2 Game 4 victory in which the Braves went 8-for-13 with runners at second and/or third, they’re 7-for-48 (.145) during the series.
One night after Ozuna didn’t tag up, taking a run off the board and creating an inning-ending double play, Albies made another fundamental mistake. The sloppiness the Braves avoided for most of the series has doomed them the past two nights.
And that’s why the Braves and Dodgers, two teams trying to overcome decades of October disappointment, will play a Game 7 with a World Series berth on the line. Ian Anderson, a 21-year-old rookie sensation, will start for the Braves. The Dodgers declined to name their Game 7 starter immediately following Game 6, but they have several options.
“We’re going to go out there and let it fly,” Snitker said. “A Game 7 is another baseball game. It’s not fourth-and-1 and let me get the first down. It’s a baseball game and you have to treat it as such. It’s going to be fun. We like who we have stacked up. We like who’s pitching. I think the guys will be excited and it’ll be a fun time to play in it.”
It will be the Braves' first Game 7 since the 1996 NLCS, which was two years before Anderson was born. It will be Snitker’s first Game 7 experience in his 40-plus years being in the game. The winner Sunday will face the Tampa Bay Rays, who defeated the Astros 4-2 on Saturday night to win the American League pennant.
“It’s definitely going to be tough,” Anderson said. “And they know that facing our lineup as well. Everything goes out the window when that first punch happens. It’s going to be about finding a way, whether that’s offensively or defensively.”