Whose double made it 2-0 on Oct. 9, 2021? Ozzie Albies’. Whose home run was the clincher? Austin Riley’s. Who worked six shutout innings against the Brewers’ Brandon Woodruff? Max Fried, who’s set to start another Game 2.
On Saturday night, the wild card Phillies made baseball’s best team look ordinary. Spencer Strider went seven mostly strong innings but gifted the visitors their first run with a wild pick-off throw. The bashing Braves never managed a first run. Seven – seven! – Philly pitchers shut out the team that led the majors in runs, hits, batting average and OPS. It was the first time this year the home side failed to score at Truist Park.
The Braves couldn’t get Bryce Harper – 2-for-2 with a homer and two walks – out. Manager Brian Snitker changed his lineup – Riley batted second for the second time this season – in the attempt to stack right-handed hitters against Philly’s mostly left-handed bullpen. The stack came unstuck. The Braves’ righty hitters managed three singles.
In the eighth, Albies – batting cleanup for the 12th time in 2023 – struck a grounder that should have scored a run and could have left the Braves down 3-1 with two on and one out. A diving Trea Turner conjured up a double play. As they say, sometimes you tip your cap.
Strider had words with pitching coach Rick Kranitz, demanding to stay in the game. With Strider out, relievers A.J. Minter and Pierce Johnson yielded an add-on run, albeit unearned. It came when Sean Murphy’s mitt grazed J.T. Realmuto’s bat. Inconclusive replays triggered a round of debris-tossing by disgruntled patrons, but the Braves made no complaint afterward.
Yes, it was an awful night. Yes, things can happen fast in a best-of-five series – but not so fast that the Braves can’t have their say. Fact: The Braves are 29-22 versus Philly over the past three regular seasons. Fact: The Braves won five of six this year at Citizens Bank Park, the division clincher included. Fact: Of this club’s six consecutive division titles, half were clinched against Philadelphia.
The Phillies are good. They were good last year, too. The Braves’ body of work is rather better – 205 regular-season victories against 177. Maybe this will be one of those postseasons when form takes a hike, but we can’t know that yet. All we know: The Braves need to win Game 2.
For the record, the Braves beat Wheeler in Game 2 last October. They beat Philly in two of Game 3 starter Aaron Nola’s three turns this season. Said Snitker: “It’s not an easy task, but you know what? We’ve been through this before.”
You know what? They have. Not so long ago, they won a World Series they weren’t supposed to win. We shouldn’t be surprised when they rebound from a thudding loss to claim the championship they’re supposed to claim – and yes, I said “when,” not “if.” Don’t know about you, but this guy still believes.