They’re almost there, these amazin' Braves. The team that was embarrassed in Game 3; the team that appeared to have run out of starting pitchers; the team that wasn’t supposed to stand a chance against the Dodgers to begin with ... THAT team has seized a 3-1 lead in the National League Championship Series on a night in Texas that will live long in Atlanta memory.
The Braves won 10-2, scoring six times in the sixth inning to turn a white-knuckle contest into a knee-slapper. This rollicking victory brought the Braves within a game of the World Series, which last they graced in 1999, 22 months after Bryse Wilson was born.
The Dodgers scored 11 runs in Game 3′s first inning. They scored one over six innings in Game 4. Wilson, who’d started seven big-league games, worked with an alacrity even the sunniest of Braves' observers couldn’t have imagined. Baseball’s highest-scoring team faced a pitcher it had never seen and mightn’t have heard of. It managed one hit, one walk.
The hit was a home run by Edwin Rios in the third inning. Dodger damage began and ended there. A 22-year-old who – let’s face it – wouldn’t have drawn a postseason turn had the Braves not run out of options was doing the unthinkable. He was outpitching Clayton Kershaw.
Wilson struck out Justin Turner on a 96-mph fastball to end the first. That big wind blowing across Globe Life Field was matched by sigh of relief emanating from the 404 area code. From 11 down after a half-inning to a snappy 1-2-3 start on nine pitches: Saw that coming, did you?
Before the game, Braves manager Brian Snitker said of his starting pitcher, “We’ll take whatever he can give us.” Wilson gave the Braves immediate hope. He needed just nine more pitches to sail through the second. Of all the stunning moments this team has produced this postseason, this topped the lot. Wilson’s career ERA entering the game was 5.91, and yet here he was, making like John Smoltz beneath the bright lights of October.
Marcell Ozuna demolished a Kershaw slider to tie matters in the fourth, the blast carrying 422 feet and smacking off the façade of the second deck in left-center. Duly buoyed, Wilson did this in the fifth: struck out Cody Bellinger looking (fastball); struck out Rios looking (sinker), and struck out Enrique Hernandez swinging (fastball).
Came the sixth inning, Wilson was, beggaring belief, still at it. He worked his fourth clean inning in six, retiring Corey Seager on a meek pop to end it. Wilson had needed only 74 pitches to get this far. Of the 20 hitters he faced, he threw 16 first-pitch strikes. This wasn’t just a no-name pitcher rising to a mega-moment; this was one of the finest playoff pitching performances this pitching-rich franchise has ever seen.
Oh, and just for the record: The no-name’s name is Bryse Everett Wilson. He’s from Orange High in Hillsborough, N.C. The Braves took him in Round 4 of the 2016 draft, 106 picks after they chose Ian Anderson.
Social distancing be hanged, Snitker hugged Wilson in the dugout after the top of the sixth. The pitcher’s job was done, exquisitely so. Afterward, Snitker was asked how many innings he, in his heart of hearts, had hoped to get from his accidental starter. “I’d have taken four,” he said. “I was hoping anything over four. Six was an unbelievable plus.”
Of those six innings, Snitker said: “‘Wow’ is about all I can say. That kid stepped up. ... Just a great, great performance. ... Just a great performance with where we were with our bullpen.”
Six improbable innings put the Braves in position to steal a game they didn’t figure to win. On cue, they struck. Ronald Acuna reached on a single that bounced over Kershaw and moved to second base when Hernandez flung the ball into the dugout. Freddie Freeman, face of the franchise, fell behind 0-2 but drove a 1-2 fastball into right field to put his franchise ahead. Ozuna smashed a signature Kershaw curve into the gap in left-center to make the score 3-1.
That was it for the Dodgers' Hall-of-Famer-to-be. Kershaw exited with his team two runs behind. He exited having yielded six more hits than Wilson, and the onslaught had only begun. Ozzie Albies flipped a single into right field. Dansby Swanson ripped a double down the left-field line to score two more. Austin Riley singled up the middle. Another run. Johan Camargo walked. Cristian Pache singled up the middle. Yet another.
Was it possible that, one night after yielding 11 runs in an inning, the Braves might score 11 in this one? Not quite. But six proved more than enough. The Dodgers managed one in the seventh against relievers Will Smith and Chris Martin, leaving the bases loaded.
Ozuna walloped yet another home run to center, this off Dylan Floro and traversing 434 feet, to rebuild the six-run bulge. Freeman drove in another run in the eighth. Then Ozuna struck again, singling to make it 10-2. Scads of selfies this night: Ozuna had four hits, three for extra bases, and four RBIs.
And then it was done, Shane Greene working the ninth, Freeman recording the 27th out. The Braves are one game away, holding triple match point against what was baseball’s best team over the 60-game season. They’re one game away because Bryse Wilson trumped Clayton Kershaw. Saw that coming, did you?