In more need of Fried’s best, Braves get something less in Game 2

In the fourth inning of Wednesday's World Series Game 2, Braves starting pitcher Max Fried gathers himself in the dugout, pondering a difficult outing that would end in a loss. Curtis Compton / curtis.compton@ajc.com
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In the fourth inning of Wednesday's World Series Game 2, Braves starting pitcher Max Fried gathers himself in the dugout, pondering a difficult outing that would end in a loss. Curtis Compton / curtis.compton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton

HOUSTON – Don’t let the high school yearbook most-likely-to-succeed countenance deceive. With the loss of Charlie Morton to the broken leg in Game 1, Max Fried now is the grizzled postseason vet of the Braves staff. That’s even more weight shifting to slender shoulders. And in Fried’s first-ever World Series start Wednesday, he buckled a bit.

On a night the Astros unleashed their offense in a 7-2 Game 2 victory over the Braves, six of those runs went to Fried’s account (five earned). A tough week for Fried ended with him taking a loss that evened the series at a game apiece and the scene shifting to Atlanta on Friday.

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In just the past six days, Fried has set two new career highs for runs allowed in the postseason. First it was five runs yielded to the Dodgers in 4-2/3 innings in his second start of the NLCS (after handily winning his first). And then there was the six-spot of Wednesday, the bulk of the damage done during a four-run second inning that will leave behind flashbacks of ground balls rifling through the infield and a rare instance of sloppy defense.

Houston leadoff pest Jose Altuve announced his attentions of having a meaningful game leading off the Astros’ first with a cracking double (he also homered in the seventh, but that was some other pitcher’s problem). He would later score the Astros’ first run on Alex Bregman’s sacrifice fly.

The second inning, though, was death by a thousand cuts, the Astros stacking up five singles before they were done. Up top, four consecutive one-out singles shot through the infield. Some were more painful than others, like Yuli Gurriel beating the shift on a ground shot that would have been a possible double-play ball against a traditional alignment. And, hey, Siri, can you call up a weak RBI? That would be Jose Siri, chopping a ball off the front of the plate, beating out an infield single and driving in Kyle Tucker for the first run of the inning.

And when left fielder Eddie Rosario threw in a ball in the direction of an unoccupied third base, his error allowing an unearned run, the portrait of a nightmare inning was complete.

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Astros center fielder Jose Siri (26) scores a run ahead of the tag by Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Max Fried (54). Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com

Credit: Hyosub Shin

Astros center fielder Jose Siri (26) scores a run ahead of the tag by Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Max Fried (54). Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com
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Astros center fielder Jose Siri (26) scores a run ahead of the tag by Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Max Fried (54). Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com

Credit: Hyosub Shin

Credit: Hyosub Shin

For Fried, it wasn’t a matter of how the runs were scored so much as how many were scored.

“Obviously, I’m not happy about it,” he said afterward. “Playoffs is a big momentum game. You got to do everything you can to keep the crooked number off the scoreboard. At the end of the day, they put up four runs in that inning. You need to do better next time, just making pitches, getting out of it.”

Surveying the damage of that inning in retrospect, manager Brian Snitker was having trouble grasping the idea of Fried pitching below his standard for a second consecutive postseason start.

“I’m having a hard time convincing myself that he struggled that much,” Snitker said. “The first inning they did some really good hitting. The second inning when they scored it was kind of a weird inning. It wasn’t like he was getting banged around. Balls found holes, check swings, we threw a ball away – it was just a weird inning. His stuff was really good. He ended up throwing a lot of pitches for the five innings he was out there, but, God, it very easily could have been a different outcome for him. Especially during that second inning.”

Caption
Braves starting pitcher Max Fried, center, is removed from the mound by manager Brian Snitker, left, during the sixth inning. Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com

Credit: Hyosub Shin

Braves starting pitcher Max Fried, center, is removed from the mound by manager Brian Snitker, left, during the sixth inning. Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com
Caption
Braves starting pitcher Max Fried, center, is removed from the mound by manager Brian Snitker, left, during the sixth inning. Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com

Credit: Hyosub Shin

Credit: Hyosub Shin

The hardest person to convince of that may be Fried. “I came out, and we were down big (5-2 at the time, soon to be 6-2 when the leadoff man he walked to begin the sixth eventually came around to score),” he said.

“So I’m not happy about it. For me, at the end of the day, if I’m leaving the game and we’re winning, I did my job. Today I didn’t do that.”

The best that can be said of Fried’s outing is that he didn’t fold after the second, putting up a stout three-inning holding action following the four-run eruption. He retired 10 consecutive Astros over that span. By getting to the sixth, he at least spared the Braves’ bullpen a smidge of excess labor, and maybe gave himself something positive to take to a hoped-for next World Series start this year. The Braves after all are facing the potential of back-to-back bullpen games following Friday’s Game 3. The ‘pen figures to put in for a lot of overtime.

“That’s big for him to be able to get into the sixth there, especially after they were able to score the runs they did. It gave our bullpen the rest they needed after the bullpen game,” catcher Travis d’Arnaud said, referring to the unexpected early exit of Morton on Tuesday.

Hard to believe, but Fried’s now eight postseason starts are fifth-most in Atlanta-era franchise history, trailing only the glory-days quartet of Tom Glavine (32), John Smoltz (27), Greg Maddux (27) and Steve Avery (12).

His past two have been largely forgettable, tough for a staff in increasing, urgent need of something memorable from their now-old hand at this postseason thing.

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