As I commented, the last playoff game I recapped was over in the top of the 1st. This one wasn’t. The fact that the first two batters hit singles against Max Fried made me think that maybe it’s my fault. But after those two hits, Max coaxed two weak grounders sandwiching a weak liner to survive. I feel like I’m 10 runs up. I won’t feel that way for very long.
Trevor Bauer’s first two times through the Braves lineup was uneventful, unless you regard offensive ineptness as an event. In the 2nd, Ozzie Albies reached on an error, survived a replay on a steal, and was stranded by strikeouts of Adam Duvall and Dansby Swanson. That was followed by three more strikeouts in the 3rd. Only Freddie Freeman hit the ball hard, but Nicholas Castellanos made a nice running catch. In the bottom of the 4th, a pseudo-rally consisting of a hit batsman and infield hit was thwarted on another Duvall strikeout.
Meanwhile, Max was through 5 1/3 having not given up any hits to people not named Nicholas. And other than a scary Eugenio Suarez warning track out, we got more nonevents, unless you call weak contact an event. Then in the 6th, a great throw from Duvall to Riley knocked off Castellanos trying to get from first to third on a single from Joey Votto. That was an event.
Then: another event. On the third time through the lineup in the 6th, Ronald Acuna Jr. led off with a double, advanced to 3rd on a Freeman groundout, and led to the first example of the thing the Braves did worst all season: man on 3rd and less than 2 outs. Our bête noire continued with an Ozuna foul out and a d’Arnaud strikeout.
Fried’s 7th saw a one out bloop single from Aristides Aquino followed by hit batsman. At that point the Braves just missed turning an inning-ending double play. Then: event! The Reds tried the old double-delayed-steal-get-in-a-rundown play. Aquino broke to the plate and was run down by Riley just before reaching the plate. Just your standard 2-4-3-2-5 caught stealing of home. I don’t have my Retrosheet database up and running for postseason play, but a 24325 caught stealing is pretty damned unusual. The only other time it happened in the regular season was 9/21/98 in this game with Wade Boggs the victim.
Fried’s 7 innings pitched was great, the defense behind him was great, and the only fly in the ointment was that Bauer pitched better. (Has anyone ever seen a fly in ointment? Is it really a bad thing?) Chris Martin pitched a clean 8th. Then Bauer finally left in the bottom of the 8th and the bullpen battle began.
Melançon pitched a clean 9th… for once. In the bottom of the 9th, Freeman walked, Ozuna struck out, as did d’Arnaud, as did Albies. So much for a walk being a rally, Chip.
At this point my mind wanders to Game 7 of the 1991 World Series. Great pitching performances by the two starters, and a win in the bottom of the 10th by the home team. But first, Will Smith in the top of the 10th. A gopher ball pitcher facing a gopher ball team. I’m not happy. But another clean inning.
The 10th starts with another Caray-rally: a walk to Duvall from Lucas Sims. Much commentary ensued when Dansby Swanson was not asked to bunt. I’m on Snit’s side here. The bunt is the obviously correct play if you have players who know how to execute a bunt. I suspect they just don’t trust Swanson to execute a bunt. I suspect there have been no bunts in the batting cage all season. Instead, he hit into a force play, Markakis grounded out, and Riley struck out.
Smith struck out the first batter in the 11th, followed by Darren O’Day. He started with a strikeout, but Castellanos got the 4th hit by a Nicholas on the day. An intentional walk to Votto and an unintentional walk to Suarez meant that it Matzek against Moustakas with the bases loaded and two outs. The three pitch strikeout was about as awesome as anything I’ve seen this year.
Bottom of the 11th. Top of the order. Gotta be, right? Nope. Acuna popped up a 3-0 pitch. Freddie struck out, as did Ozuna.
Then the 12th. Aquino and Winker start off with singles. 1st and 3rd, mirroring the first inning. Matzek fanned Farmer, Barnhart and Galvis. Look: I know everybody is frantic that the Braves can’t seem to hit in the postseason, but you can’t feel much better if you’re the Reds.
Now to the bottom. D’Arnaud leads off with a single, Culberson in to pinch run.Another bunt situation… another bunt eschewed. Albies hits into a fielder’s choice, advances to second on a wild pitch, and stares helplessly as Duvall and Swanson strike out.
Lucky 13th. Shane Greene takes over. After a one out single by Votto and a wild pitch, we once again get 1st and 3rd with one out. Exit Greene. Enter Minter, walking Moutakas (on a really good at bat by Moustakas, to be honest) to load the bases. Aquino strikes out and somebody named Garcia grounded out to end the inning.
Archie Bradley in. Now Markakis leads off with a single. (There were only 17 hits in this game, and 6 of them were by guys named Nick.) Pache comes in to pinch run. Bunt? With Riley? If Albies and Swanson aren’t bunting, there’s no way Riley is. And he singles. RAJ shatters his bat on a fielder’s choice at 2nd. Bête noire time. Archie Bradley out, Amir Garrett in. MVFree for the single and the win. Had it all the way.
So the basic story coming in was that the Braves needed to bludgeon good starting pitcher and depend on their stellar bullpen. Some of that was right. Fried hung in, matching Bauer, and the bullpen was stellar. Now we just need the bludgeons. A walk may not be a rally, but a strikeout sure as hell isn’t.
I’m exhausted. We have at least one more of these. Somebody else recap that one.