For all that didn’t happen in the first 14 innings of this series, the Braves worked many wonders in the final 3-1/2 frames Tuesday. They scored in the sixth off Zack Wheeler, who’d carried a no-hitter for 17 outs. They scored twice in the seventh, when Travis d’Arnaud – once Wheeler’s catcher with the Mets – drove Wheeler’s last pitch over the left-field fence. Truist Park patrons, who’d been waiting for a reason to howl, were finally in full cry.
Wheeler gave way to Jose Alvarado, who finished the seventh. Jeff Hoffman, who’d gotten a key fourth-inning out in Game 1, came on in the eighth. His first pitch thumped into Ronald Acuna’s elbow pad. With two out, Acuna – the tying run – was at third, watching Austin Riley work the count to 3-2.
At that moment, the TBS screen flashed that Riley, an All-Star, held a career playoff batting average of .212 with three home runs. But numbers, as we know, are subject to change.
Hoffman threw a slider. Riley adjusted to the dip and lifted it on high. He watched it sail, in an unhurried arc, toward the visitor’s bullpen in left field. He watched it fly over the bullpen. The Braves, somehow, led 5-4.
A.J. Minter walked Bryce Harper to lead off the ninth. Closer Raisel Iglesias retired J.T. Realmuto on a fly ball. Next was Nick Castellanos, who sent a fastball far into right-center, so far that Braves manager Brian Snitker feared his team’s lead might be gone. “I wasn’t sure if it was going to go,” he said.
It almost went. But Michael Harris II leaped at the wall and brought it down. Then, seeing Harper far beyond second base, Harris flung the ball toward the infield, delivering in such a rush that he missed not one but two cut-off men.
There was, however, a third option. Riley scurried across the infield and grabbed the ball. He threw toward first. The ball hit Matt Olson’s mitt just before Harper’s foot touched the bag – the ol’ 8-5-3 double play. Not since Francisco Cabrera swung and Sid Bream slid has there been such an improbable October walk-off in this city.
Said Snitker, straining to hear reporters’ questions 20 minutes later: “I’ve got ringing in my ears.”
One question he was able to discern: What impact might this game have on the best-of-five series?
“It’s not going to be bad,” he said, laughing. “I know that.”
Moments earlier, Phillies manager Rob Thomson said, perhaps understating: “It’s a little disappointing.”
Then, trying to paint a smiley face on a night that saw his team blow a four-run lead with its best pitcher on the mound: “We have home-field advantage now. Really that’s what we were looking for.”
In truth, both teams have reasons to feel good. The Phillies know they can close out the series at home; the Braves are buoyed to have done so little for so long and be tied 1-1.
Snitker: “It’s kind of nice to score a run. It’d been a while … Fourteen innings without a lot going on – I’m glad we got back into the groove.”
For all we’ll remember about this careening night, we shouldn’t lose track of a guy who wasn’t involved in the finish but helped make such a finish possible. Max Fried, starting his first game after time out to tend to a blister, struggled from the start. Three batters in, the Phillies led. He didn’t work a clean inning. He needed 96 pitches to get through four. But …
It was only 3-0. If the Phillies lose the series, they’ll rue their missed chances against a substandard Fried – all told, they left 11 on base – for many a winter. They’ll congratulate themselves on halving two games, but deep down they’ll wonder if the giants of the regular season have awakened.
“It’s an unbelievable team,” Riley said, meaning his. “But there’s still a lot of work to do.”
There is, but the job is less arduous than it might have been. Win once in Philly and the Braves guarantee themselves a Game 5 back here. The Braves are pretty good here. As they just reminded us, they’re pretty good anywhere. After a long weekend of deepening doubt, the Braves are most definitely alive.