Wright looked nothing like the guy who couldn’t record three outs in his previous postseason start, versus the Dodgers in the 2020 NL Championship Series. The Braves were hopelessly behind when Wright pitched cleanup in Game 3 of the 2021 World Series. They led the series 2-1 over the Astros when Wright pitched next.
There was a lot more pressure on Wright to perform well Wednesday. The Braves tied the best-of-five series because he came through.
Said Wright: “I’ve worked on a lot of things this year, (but) really just goes back to confidence. I feel I had the confidence to pitch at this stage. They’re a really good lineup, and I knew that. But I knew if I executed, then I was going to give myself a chance. And I really believe that.”
Philadelphia roughed up Wright during one start in 2019 and another in 2020. This season Wright held the Phillies to six runs over 19 innings over three starts. He did even better when the Braves needed it most.
The Phillies hit Wright’s pitches hard a few times. Slugger Bryce Harper led off the second inning with a double. Rhys Hoskins and Nick Castellanos hit fly balls to the warning track in the fourth, the latter with a runner on base. Wright kept the ball in the park, recorded six strikeouts, induced four ground-ball outs and got the Phillies to pop out twice.
The performance was the latest sign that Wright is fulfilling the potential the Braves saw in him when they selected him No. 5 overall in the 2017 draft out of Vanderbilt.
“The maturation that I’ve seen over the last seven years is pretty remarkable,” said Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson, Wright’s college teammate. “He’s always had a good head on his shoulders and always had the ability. It’s so amazing to see a guy go through obstacles and struggles and come out on top.”
Wright finished his outing with a flourish. He struck out Kyle Schwarber and Hoskins and got J.T. Realmuto to pop up in the sixth inning. Then the Braves made Wheeler pay for his first big mistakes.
With two outs in the sixth, Wheeler threw a pitch to Ronald Acuna that was too far inside. The ball hit Acuna in the right elbow. Braves manager Brian Snitker said Acuna lost feeling in his arm, but he stayed in the game. Up next: Swanson, who’d struck out in five of seven plate appearances in the series. This time Swanson walked on five pitches.
The Braves had produced only one base runner through 5-2/3 innings, but now they were in business. Philadelphia’s defense, usually shaky, had held up so far. It failed at a pivotal moment.
Braves slugger Matt Olson hit a sharp ground ball to first baseman Hoskins, who tried to backhand it with his glove. The ball glanced off his glove and trickled into the outfield as Acuna scored. Austin Riley followed with a slow-rolling ground ball to the right of the mound for a hit that brought home Swanson.
Travis d’Arnaud added to the damage with a single that scored Olson. The Braves had a 3-0 lead, and the Phillies had only nine outs left. Snitker credited Wright for keeping the team’s confidence high when they could do little against Wheeler.
“He’s going to keep getting better, too,” Snitker said. “As he figures things out and continues to develop and grow and gain confidence, and with that (pitch) arsenal he’s got, he can be a force for a long time.”
That progression seemed unlikely for three-plus years of Wright’s career. From 2018-21, Wright compiled a 6.56 ERA for the Braves in 21 games (14 starts). He made two ineffective spot starts in the big leagues last year. He produced good results at Triple-A Gwinnett before allowing one run over 5-2/3 relief innings in the World Series.
That was good. What Wright did this season was even better. He faced more pressure Wednesday and was great.
“It’s crazy what confidence can do for you,” Wright said.