MILWAUKEE -- This being baseball, sometimes everything we thought we knew turns out wrong. This National League Division Series has gone according to script. The Brewers can really pitch. So can the Braves. The Brewers don’t have a batting order that scares anybody. Since the trade deadline, the Braves kind of do. And here these teams are, tied 1-all after two days of big-time pitching and a few big hits. And here we say …
They can win the series in Cobb County. They can also lose it there, though that appears less likely. The Braves have seen Milwaukee’s two best starters – Corbin Burnes and Brandon Woodruff – and achieved the split required by road teams in October. Not much separates these teams after a weekend in Wisconsin, but only one of them headed south on, as baseball folks say, a happy flight.
The Brewers had a chance to throw a hammerlock on the series Saturday. Max Fried never came close to letting that happen. He worked six scoreless innings. His team won 3-0. This was no shock, given that Fried had the lowest ERA in the sport after the All-Star break, given also that he did stellar work this time a year ago. Still, of the four starting pitchers on display these two days, Fried took the prize for Best in Show.
Saturday’s performance was a mix of Greg Maddux (for precision) and John Smoltz (for pure stuff). Only on Fried’s 76th delivery, on which Willie Adames doubled into the right-field corner, did the Brewers push a runner into scoring position. That came with two out in the sixth and the Braves leading 3-0. The threat, muted as it was, ended when Fried struck out Eduardo Escobar. It was Fried’s ninth strikeout. He walked nobody.
Credit: Curtis Compton / email@example.com
Credit: Curtis Compton / firstname.lastname@example.org
Down 1-0 in a best-of-five series, this was a much bigger game for the Braves than the Brewers, which made Fried the ideal choice to work it. His resting heart rate might be half his uniform number, which is 54. In this pressured game, he was so smooth that the first out of his final inning came when he ranged into foul territory to glove Rowdy Tellez’s foul pop. When last did you write “f-1″ on your scorecard?
Said Braves manager Brian Snitker: “You can just see Max. As the game wears on, he just feeds into it. He was really good. He’s been really good for a long time now. It was a great outing.”
Said Brewers manager Craig Counsell: “Just a ton of strikes. No free pitches for hitters. He doesn’t leave pitches in the middle. He’s a really good pitcher throwing a lot of different pitches. It spells a bad night for the offense.”
Said Fried: “I get butterflies before the game. But you realize it’s the same game you’ve been playing all year.”
The Braves didn’t do a lot of hitting Saturday, but what they did sufficed. They scored twice in the third in rapid fashion. Jorge Soler doubled down the left-field line. Freddie Freeman drove him home with a single to right. Ozzie Albies hoisted a drive that smacked the top of the right-field fence. It wasn’t quite a home run, but it was sufficient to score Freeman from first. In the sixth, Austin Riley clocked a Woodruff change-up over the wall.
Braves 3, Brewers 0 (box score)
A day after Snitker decided the 37-year-old Charlie Morton should work into a seventh inning having thrown 77 pitches, the same manager turned to his bullpen at the same juncture, the 27-year-old Fried having thrown 81 pitches. Said Snitker: “Max went through the meat of their lineup (in the sixth). He left it all out there. Charlie has been through that 100 times. Max is just cutting his teeth.”
Luke Jackson struck out the first two men he faced. After Luis Urias singled, Jackson walked Lorenzo Cain on four pitches. Just as it appeared Snitker was doomed to a darned-if-you-do/darned-if-you-don’t fate, Tyler Matzek entered to strike out Tyrone Taylor twice. Somehow plate umpire Mike Muchlinski failed to deem Matzek’s 0-2 slider a strike, though TBS cameras suggested otherwise.
Catcher Travis d’Arnaud, not exactly a neutral party, rose from his crouch and took two steps toward the dugout. Said Matzek: “I saw him start going, and I thought, ‘OK, cool, strike.’ Then I saw him turn around.”
Undaunted, Matzek threw another slider. Taylor obliged fans of truth and justice by missing it.
Matzek returned for the eighth. (What, you wanted Will Smith for the six-out save?) The first two Brewers reached. The next three made outs, two by whiffing on more sliders. Snitker again: “That’s kind of one of those things – why I don’t have any hair.”
Bottom of the ninth. Enter Mr. Smith. Just to hold everyone’s interest, he walked Christian Yelich and yielded a bloop single to Urias. Then, being Will Smith, he induced Cain to fly out to right. Luke Maile ended it by rapping into a double play. And with that, ladies and gentlemen, we have ourselves a series – a series the Braves should win.
Said Fried: “It’s a best-of-three, and two of the three are at home. I like our chances.”