Max Fried dominates as Braves even playoff series with Brewers

Braves relief pitcher Will Smith (51) reacts to a double play to end the game, a 3-0 shutout of the Brewers.  Curtis Compton /

Credit: Curtis Compton /

Credit: Curtis Compton /

Braves relief pitcher Will Smith (51) reacts to a double play to end the game, a 3-0 shutout of the Brewers. Curtis Compton /

MILWAUKEE – Max Fried, as he did throughout the Braves’ dash to October, delivered in his team’s time of need. And his dominance Saturday flipped the National League Division Series to the Braves’ favor.

Behind Fried and their best hitters sparking the offense, the Braves defeated the Brewers 3-0 in Game 2 of the best-of-five NLDS. It evened the series at 1-1 as it shifts to Truist Park for the next two contests Monday and Tuesday, giving the Braves an advantage.

Sensational pitching is the story of the series thus far, as expected. Charlie Morton, Corbin Burnes, Fried and Brandon Woodruff, along with the teams’ bullpens, have resulted in six runs scored across the first two contests. The Braves rebounded after losing the first game 2-1 on Friday.

“It’s two really well-rounded, solid clubs going at it,” manager Brian Snitker said. “Today we got some big hits. It was another really good ballgame.”

Fried was exceptional. The southpaw, whose 1.74 second-half ERA was best in the majors, picked up where he left off in the regular season. He held the Brewers to three hits over six scoreless innings. He outdueled Brewers starter Brandon Woodruff, whose 2.56 ERA was fourth lowest in the NL.

The Brewers stayed within striking distance throughout the afternoon, but Fried’s impeccable command made their two-run deficit feel insurmountable. Fried had a three-ball count three times, with none of those hitters reaching base. He struck out nine and didn’t issue a walk. Two of the three hits he surrendered were on soft contact.

“It’s just a ton of strikes,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said of Fried. “There’s no free pitches for hitters. He doesn’t leave stuff in the middle. The slider is a really good pitch to the right-handed hitters, kind of bears on their hands, and he pairs that with a fastball on their hands. He’s just a really good pitcher, executing a lot of pitches. It spells a tough night for the offense.”

Braves third baseman Austin Riley (27) hits a solo homer in the sixth inning.  Curtis Compton /

Credit: Curtis Compton /

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Credit: Curtis Compton /

Snitker lifted Fried for pinch-hitter Joc Pederson with two out and none out in the seventh. After getting punished for keeping Morton into the seventh in Game 1, Snitker played it conservatively and removed Fried at 81 pitches with a three-run advantage.

“The biggest thing about that, he left it out there in the sixth,” Snitker said. “He went through the meat of their lineup and expended what I felt was a lot of energy right there in a real big moment in playoff baseball. Charlie has been through this 100 times. Max is just cutting his teeth with all this.”

The decision looked shaky for a moment, with the Brewers mounting a two-out rally against reliever Luke Jackson. Snitker turned to lefty Tyler Matzek with two on and two out, and the southpaw struck out Tyrone Taylor on four pitches (the one called ball was still in the strike zone) to end the threat.

Matzek saw the first two Brewers reach in the eighth. He again escaped, retiring the next three in order, capped with a strikeout of Avisail Garcia.

“This guy’s pitched so many big innings for us,” Snitker said. “He’s not a match-up guy either. He’s got really good numbers against right-handed hitters. The slug against him is in the .200s, I think. He’s pitched some really big innings for us over the last couple of years. So that was huge. And those were going through the teeth of their lineup in a very stressful situation.”

Will Smith pitched around two base runners to finish the game, completing the Braves’ bounce-back from a Game 1 defeat.

Morton, who started Game 1, and Fried have met lofty expectations. Both put the Braves in position to defeat the Brewers’ co-aces Burnes and Woodruff. Morton and Fried were a primary reason the Braves felt they could go on an October run. They showed why during the past two days in Wisconsin.

Morton and Fried combined to hold the Brewers to two runs on six hits over 12 innings. They struck out 18 and walked one.

The Braves obtained their first lead of the series in the third inning. Leadoff man Jorge Soler ignited the offense, ripping a 111-mph one-out double down the third-base line.

First baseman Freddie Freeman wouldn’t let his team squander another chance with a runner in scoring position (they were 0-for-6 in such opportunities this series before the inning). He popped a two-strike curveball from Woodruff into right field. Soler, thrown out at home in the first inning of Game 1, was safe this time and gave the Braves a 1-0 lead.

Second baseman Ozzie Albies smashed a ball that bounced off the top of the right-field wall. Albies just missed a homer, but the double brought Freeman home for the team’s second run. The All-Star later did push-ups, saying he needs to get stronger to get that ball over the fence.

“Tomorrow’s an off day - I might work out from 8.00 a.m. until 8:00 p.m.,” Albies said. “That ball has to go out.”

The Braves had one run on four hits in Game 1. They had two runs on three hits in the third inning of Game 2.

While Soler and Freeman were held hitless in the Braves’ 2-1 Game 1 loss, they drew a combined three walks. The duo had two hits, scored two runs and walked once in Saturday’s win, setting the table for the crucial third inning.

Third baseman Austin Riley gave the Braves additional breathing room with a 424-foot homer off Woodruff in the sixth. It was Riley’s second postseason home run following his blast in Game 1 of the 2020 NL Championship Series.

It wasn’t an elimination game, but Saturday was close to a must-win. The Braves split in Milwaukee, creating the possibility of ending the series with two victories at home. They prevented the Brewers from securing consecutive wins with Burnes and Woodruff starting. The Braves will see Burnes again if they return to Milwaukee for a decisive Game 5, but they’ll try to prevent that scenario in the upcoming week.

“You come on the road in the playoffs, you want to split,” Snitker said. “Obviously you’d love to take two, but if you split, that’s a good thing.”

The Braves and Brewers will hold workouts at Truist Park on Sunday before resuming their series with Game 3 on Monday afternoon. Ian Anderson (9-10, 2.56) will start for the Braves. Anderson had a 0.96 ERA over four starts last October.