For their biggest game of the season, their biggest game of this century, the Braves will turn to a 22-year-old rookie pitcher with just nine big-league starts behind him.
Ian Anderson will start Game 7 of the National League Championship Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Sunday night.
The winner will go to the World Series. The loser will go home.
“This is what you play for,” Anderson said late Saturday. “You play to help your team advance, and you play to leave everything out there. I know everyone on this team is going to do that (Sunday).”
Less than two months ago, Anderson was pitching in controlled intra-squad games against other prospects at the Braves' alternate training site in Gwinnett County.
It’s a long way from Coolray Field to Game 7 of the NLCS and the cusp of what would be the Braves' first World Series since 1999.
“It’s definitely surprising, a little bit,” Anderson said of how the season has played out for him. “It might not have worked out the way I kind of thought it would, but I’m here. I’m going to take the mound and give it everything I have for the team.”
After the Braves’ Game 6 loss at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas, Anderson was asked how he thought he’d sleep Saturday night.
“I’m not too sure,” he said. “Get back to the hotel, get some food and try to wind down a little bit. And hopefully get some good rest.”
He also was asked the last time he pitched in a win-or-go-home game.
“Let’s think,” he said. “Probably had to have been high school in the state championship (for Shenendehowa High of Clifton Park, N.Y.) We did well. We won. I don’t remember the score, exactly, but it was good. Hopefully, we can do something like that (Sunday).”
Anderson, a right-hander, was promoted to the big leagues for the first time Aug. 25 as the Braves tried to piece together a starting rotation that had been decimated by injuries and ineffectiveness. He started six regular-season games, posting a 3-2 record, 1.95 ERA, .172 opponents' batting average and 41 strikeouts (14 walks) in 32-1/3 innings.
He has been even better in three playoff starts. In fact, he hasn’t allowed a run in 15-2/3 postseason innings. He pitched six scoreless innings against Cincinnati in the wild-card series, 5-2/3 scoreless innings against Miami in the Division Series and four scoreless innings against the Dodgers in Game 2 of the NLCS. The Dodgers got only one hit against him Tuesday, but he walked five.
Now, he carries his postseason ERA of 0.00 into a Game 7.
“Whether you punch them first or they punch you first," he said, “you have to find a way to stay in the fight and compete as hard as you can.”
Based on what they’ve seen from Anderson since late August, the Braves seem confident in their starter, who was the team’s first-round draft pick (No. 3 overall) in 2016.
“We like who’s pitching,” manager Brian Snitker said.
Asked if the rookie can handle the unique pressure of a Game 7, Snitker said: "I’m hoping he can. … I think he will. I think he will handle it great.
“The experience I’ve had with this kid for the last two months, he wouldn’t lead me to believe any other way.”
Said Max Fried, the Braves' No. 1 starter and the losing pitcher in Game 6: "Without a doubt, I have 100% confidence behind Ian Anderson. He’s as prepared as they come. You would never know it’s his rookie year. The way he handles himself and his poise and the way he goes about his business are extremely impressive.
“I know he’s going to be more than ready to go."
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