Ho hum. Another postseason game, another Braves postseason victory. Up two-zip in the NLCS, and they have won all 7 of their postseason games.
But the Fox announcers after the game were talking about how the Dodgers have the momentum in this series. That’s one point of view; I’d prefer to think the team that is up 2-0 is in a better position. A-Rod even said that the 7th to 9th innings tonight could be considered the first three innings of tomorrow’s game. Thankfully, those seven runs won’t count in tomorrow’s game. I know there have been a lot of strange new rules in this 2020 season, but as far as I know each game starts with a score of 0-0.
Yeah, it’s easy for me to be snarky and confident now. But the bottom of ninth inning was just about the least pleasant one I’ve ever experienced in a Braves playoff win. If Riley hadn’t come up with that shot by Pollack…well, I hate to imagine what state I’d be in.
But let’s begin at the beginning. The first pitch of game was way up and in to RAJ. My wife is very upset—they shouldn’t be able to do that! She feels very protective of Ronald, and she’s aware of what the Marlins have tried to do to him. Fortunately it hit his bat on the knob, and not his hand or his head. Tough strike one!
Speaking of my wife, she doesn’t appreciate even a little bit how these announcers kept singing the praises of the Dodgers, without showing equivalent love for our Braves. As is almost always the case, I’m inclined to agree with her. Here’s an example: they went on and on about how great rookie pitcher Tony Gonsolin is, and what a terrific job the Dodgers do in pitcher development. It seemed to us that weren’t sufficiently appreciative of Ian Anderson.
Turns out, Gonsolin was pretty terrific though three innings: nine up, nine down. Anderson also held his opponent scoreless though three innings, but he was skating on thin ice. He issued four walks and a hit in those first three innings, and had thrown a gazillion pitches, but he kept his cool and kept the Dodgers off the board. A terrific snare by Riley and incredible stretch by Freeman saved him from deep trouble in the first. In the third, he threw three terrific curveballs to the Dodgers’ Fresh Prince to get out of a bases loaded jam.
In the top of the 4th Acuña led off with a walk, and MVFreeman followed with a no doubt homer to right, his second in two nights. Two to nothing Braves. Anderson held them scoreless again in the bottom of the frame, but having thrown 85 pitches and issued five bases on balls, Snit pulled the plug on Aqualung after four innings, with the Braves leading 2-0. In the top of the 5th, the Braves erupted for four runs, on a run scoring double by Pache, a run scoring single by Freddie, a bases loaded walk to TDA, and a long sac fly by Ozzie. All of a sudden it’s 6-0 and the game is well in hand (remember that thought). Let’s say a little more about Pache. His patience and selectivity at the plate have been very impressive. His rbi double came on a 3-2 pitch. The script on the TV screen said this was his first playoff rbi. Well, yeah—it was his first major league rbi. Indeed, it was only his second big league hit.
Matzek relieved Ian and pitched two scoreless innings. Man, what a revelation he’s been! Meanwhile, in the top of the 7th the Braves added another run on a ground rule double by Swanson to go up 7-0.
So we’re all ready to coast on through to the finish line of this game and put that two games to none lead into the books. For those of us that were around in 1996, a fuzzy image of Jim Leyritz was just underneath our conscious thoughts. Even so, I was feeling pretty celebratory.
In the bottom of the 7th, the Dodgers finally got on the board on a 3 run shot by Seager. Welp! But Chris Martin pitched a scoreless 8th, and then Ozzie homered in the 9th to make it 8-3. The coolest thing was that for the second night in a row, Melancon caught Ozzie’s homer on the fly in the bullpen. It was all great fun, and at that point we figured Melancon wouldn’t be needed to pitch in the ninth.
Instead, Snit called on Josh Tomlin to close out the game. Some on this board were critical of the move, but I figured it made sense. At least Tomlin never walks anyone, and with a five run lead that’s important. And he didn’t walk anyone. On the other hand, he did give up a single, a double, and a homer. Now it’s 8-6. Melancon was brought in with 2 outs and the bases empty—but with Bellinger in the on deck circle representing the tying run. Fortunately, he induced a grounder to second by Smith, but the usually sure-handed Albies booted it. (Shades of Jose Lind in 1992! When you’ve watched enough baseball as I have over the years, the past isn’t dead; it’s not even past). Bellinger then tripled, scoring Smith, putting the tying run 90 feet away, and placing all Braves fans’ hearts in their throats. Pollack then hit the aforementioned screamer to Riley, but he fielded it cleanly and made a strong accurate throw to Freeman to end it. Braves win!
Turns out that homer Albies hit in the 9th was the difference, although you could also say that booting the grounder in the bottom of the inning is what made the home run so crucial.
Perhaps Snitker made the wrong call in turning to Tomlin in the 9th. Obviously it didn’t work out. But from what I know about him, his steady presence in the dugout is just what this team needs. You certainly don’t want to get complacent, but you also don’t want to let the ninth inning tonight spook you. I trust him to have them on an even keel.
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Let us now praise famous pitchers:
October 13 is the 106th anniversary of the Braves first World Series championship. You’ve heard how they were in last place on July 4th, but then turned it on to win the NL by 10.5 games. The Miracle Braves then swept the mighty Philadelphia A’s in 4 games. Two Braves pitchers went 2-0 each. Dick Rudolph tossed two complete games, giving up only one run in those 18 innings. Bill James (before he invented sabermetrics, presumably) pitched one 9 inning shutout and won a second game with two scoreless innings in relief. Together they combined for 29 innings surrendering only one run.
In 1957 the Braves won their second World Series. (By the way, October 13 is the birthday of Eddie Mathews.) Warren Spahn was the Hall of Famer and all time great, and he won one game with a 10 inning complete game. But Lew Burdette was responsible for the other three Braves victories with three complete games. Burdette won game five 1-0, and came back on two days rest to pitch another shutout in game 7 (Spahn was sick with the flu). For the Series he went 27 innings with an ERA of 0.67.
Many of you remember 1995. Do you recall what an incredible lineup that Indians team fielded? Belle, Manny, Thome, Murray, Lofton, Baerga—it was as fearsome and deep as any offense I remember. Maddux opened the series by tossing nine innings, yielding only two hits, no walks, and no earned runs. Glavine finished the series by going 8 shutout innings allowing only 1 hit.
There have been other phenomenal postseason pitching performances by the Braves over the years. Remember Steve Avery against the Pirates in 1991? And although I’m not happy with John Smoltz the announcer, he was pretty terrific in October for the Braves for many years.
But move over, history, and make room for Ian Anderson. He’s now started three postseason games. He has yet to give up a run and has only surrendered six hits in 15 2/3 innings. The only other pitcher in major league history to give up no runs in his first three postseason starts was Christy Mathewson in 1905.
Anderson reminds me of history in another sense. He’s the Platonic ideal of what a top line starter was supposed to be when I was a kid. He has a straight over the top delivery, which is what my little league coach insisted on. His three pitches are the three classics: fastball, curve, and changeup. (The One, the Two, and the Three). He doesn’t mess with this modern stuff like two seamers and four seamers, or cutters and splitters. He doesn’t even appear to throw a slider.
One of the most impressive things about Anderson is his poise. Unlike certain other pitchers with good stuff we’ve seen the last couple of years (I’m not naming names, but you might think of them as Nolty and Fewk), he stays cool and continues to make his pitches, even when he’s a little off. In that sense, he’s got a lot of Tom Glavine in him.
(I had also written up some stuff about how dominant our bullpen has been in this postseason. Given the seven runs surrendered by the pen tonight, that section went into the trash bin. But did you realize the Braves staff had surrendered only 6 runs in the first 64 innings of the postseason? They’ve now surrendered 7 runs in the last 3 innings. )
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Maybe it’s just a coincidence that I brought up 1914, 1957, and 1995. So far our team has always gone at least 30 years between World Series wins, but I’m really liking this team and their chances to shorten the span since the last one. The Braves have a chance to go up 3 games to none on Wednesday behind Kyle Wright. You know, he’s another rookie starter who has yet to surrender a run in the postseason. The Braves will be the “home” team on Wednesday. After tonight, I’m glad they will have the last at bat.