In an October to remember, the Braves have a night to forget

Braves starting pitcher Max Fried reacts in the dugout after being removed from the mound during the sixth inning against the Houston Astros in game 2 of the World Series at Minute Maid Park, Wednesday October 27, 2021, in Houston, Tx. Curtis Compton /

Credit: Curtis Compton

Credit: Curtis Compton

Braves starting pitcher Max Fried reacts in the dugout after being removed from the mound during the sixth inning against the Houston Astros in game 2 of the World Series at Minute Maid Park, Wednesday October 27, 2021, in Houston, Tx. Curtis Compton /

HOUSTON -- This didn’t go as planned. The Braves didn’t consolidate the gains made in Game 1 of the World Series. Max Fried got outpitched by Jose Urquidy. Eddie Rosario made an error. Ozzie Albies did, too. The Braves lost 7-2. It felt worse than that.

But that’s the thing: As much of a thumping as this was, it counts as one loss. The Series is tied. Games 3, 4 and 5 will be played at Truist Park. Provided Ian Anderson lasts longer in Game 3 than Charlie Morton did Tuesday and pitches better than Max Fried did Wednesday, the Braves should be fine. If Anderson doesn’t ... well, they’ll be much less fine.

We needn’t spend too much time stewing over Game 2. It was settled in the second inning, which began with Carlos Correa striking out. It would be a while before the Astros made another out. Kyle Tucker sent a Fried fastball up the middle for a single. Yuli Gurriel hit a grounder. Had the Braves been playing a standard defensive set, it might’ve been a double play. But they’d shifted, as every team does, and Gurriel beat the shift. Per Statcast, the expected batting average on this hit was .310.

Two on, one out, scored tied, though not for long. Jose Siri topped a slider. Statcast measured the distance of this batted ball at three feet. Fried might have had a chance to grab it – he’s an ace fielder – but the ball wrong-footed him, not to mention the entire Braves infield. Siri reached on a single. Tucker scored to make the score 2-1. The expected batting average on this hit was .290.

Said Fried: “That’s baseball. Sometimes the ball gets hit, and it goes right to a guy, and sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes you’ve just got to tip your hat.”

At the moment, Fried wasn’t in hat-tipping mode. He was miffed. He’d wanted a shutdown inning after Travis d’Arnaud’s homer had tied the score. Instead Fried was getting Wee Willie Keeler’ed – Wee Willie’s motto: “Hit ‘em where they ain’t” – to death. And it was about to get worse.

Catcher Martin Maldonado was next. He hit .172 over the regular season. He sent a grounder – another one! – through the hole into left field. Distance on this clout: 44 feet. Expected batting average: .230. No matter. Gurriel scored and, after left fielder Eddie Rosario threw the ball to a third base that no Brave was covering, Siri did, too. Maldonado moved to third. He scored on Michael Brantley’s single to right.

It was 5-1. The Astros hadn’t knocked down the outfield walls – none of those five hits traveled far – but they’d put the ball in play. They kept the line moving, as managers are wont to say. They pitched and putted, which isn’t a staple of 21st century baseball, what with launch angles and exit velocities. Sometimes, though, the old-school stuff works. It worked so well Wednesday that this World Series is tied.

Said Fried: “Obviously I’m not happy about it. Playoffs is a big momentum game, and you’ve got to do better about keeping a crooked number off the scoreboard.”

Then: “They’re a good team. They’re ready for the fastball. I probably could have put in a better spot.”

Freddie Freeman drove in d’Arnaud in the fifth to make the score 5-2. The Astros got that run back in the sixth, which began with Fried – still in the game – walking Alex Bregman and yielding a single Yordan Alvarez. A run scored when Ozzie Albies dropped Dansby Swanson’s throw at second base. It probably wouldn’t have been a double play. As it was, it wasn’t even an out.

Fried’s numbers: five innings, seven hits (six singles), six runs, five earned. An October that began with him working six scoreless innings in Milwaukee has deteriorated. The man who compiled the lowest ERA in the majors after the All-Star break has a playoff ERA of 4.98. This isn’t great under any circumstances. With Morton lost to a fractured fibula, it’s the worst thing these Braves could hope to see, and they’ve witnessed more than their share of bad stuff along their pockmarked road to the Fall Classic.

Asked about Fried, Braves manager Brian Snitker offered an impassioned defense: “I’m having a hard time convincing myself that he struggled. They did some pretty good hitting. The second inning was a weird inning. I thought his stuff was really good. It could have been very easily a different outcome for him.”

Some perspective: This was a far bigger game for the Astros. Losing Game 1 at home rendered Game 2 almost a must-win. To their credit, they won it. Now the series heads for Cobb County, where record crowds and a former U.S. President plan to be in attendance. “Braves Country is a real thing,” Snitker said after the Braves eliminated the Dodgers. “It’s a powerful, powerful element to our game.”

The Braves can become champs without returning to Texas. But the Astros, who’ve made the World Series three times over the past four seasons, reminded us Wednesday that they can play, too. As Dusty Baker said after his team was outhit 12-8 in Game 1, “The ball’s going to bounce our way tomorrow,” and darned if he wasn’t right. He also noted that Albies had two infield hits Tuesday, and there’d be another in Game 2. We can’t say the Braves have been devoid of luck.

“Our team doesn’t worry,” Baker said. “Our team is very confident.”

The Braves should feel good about themselves. They beat the 95-win Brewers and the 106-win Dodgers. They’re tied with the 95-win Astros. One lousy night doesn’t override all/any of that. Still, it must be said that the Braves entered the World Series believing they had an edge in starting pitching. In the space of 27 hours, they’ve lost Morton – he was headed for Green Bay, Wis., on Wednesday to see a doctor – and there’s reason to wonder where the Fried of the second half has gone.

Afterward, the Braves sought to make much of the eighth inning worked by Kyle Wright, a surprise inclusion on the Series roster. Wright worked two big-league games this season, spending the rest of his year at Gwinnett. In Game 2 of the World Series, he struck out the side – Siri, Maldonado and Jose Altuve. Wright could be tapped to start Game 4 or 5. Tucker Davidson, activated Wednesday to take Morton’s spot, could start the game Wright doesn’t.

Said Snitker: “We’re probably going to have two games in a row where we pitch 18 innings with (relievers and fill-ins). The whole roster’s going to have to be used.”

This might not fill Braves’ fans with confidence, but it’s reality. After a night when old-school baseball reared its gray-haired noggin, we’re about to be jerked back into the 21st century. We’'re about to see “openers” as opposed to starters, bullpen games as opposed to handing the ball to an ace and letting him work the first six innings. Be advised, though, that these Braves are 1-0 in bullpen games this month. They’re a resourceful bunch. That’s why they’re still playing.