Max Fried surrendered two homers in a three-run first inning and the Braves squandered too many opportunities as they suffered a 3-1 loss to the Dodgers in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series on Saturday at Globe Life Field.
Though Fried lost this battle, his ability to complete 6 2/3 innings could prove valuable when it's time for the Braves to dip into their bullpen in Game 7 on Sunday night. Atlanta is bidding for its first trip to the World Series since 1999, while Los Angeles is vying for its third NL pennant within the past four seasons.
"Game 7 is another baseball game," Braves manager Brian Snitker said. "It's not 4th and 1, and let me get the first down. It's a baseball game and you have to treat it as such. It's Game 7, it's going to be fun. We like how we're stacked up. We like who's pitching. I think the guys will be excited. It's going to be a fun time to play in it."
Yeah, the Braves have blown their 3-1 series lead and put themselves in this win-or-go-home situation. But as they prepare for their first Game 7 since the 1996 NLCS, they have all the confidence in the world in starter Ian Anderson, a poised rookie who has not allowed a run through his first 15 2/3 career postseason innings, four of which were completed in Atlanta's Game 2 win on Tuesday.
Anderson will be looking to end a trend. Of the 17 teams that have forced a Game 7 after falling behind 3-1, 13 of them won Game 7. The most recent team to do so was the 2016 Cubs against the Indians in the World Series.
"This is what you play for," Anderson said. "You play to help your team advance and you play to leave everything out there. I know everybody is going to do that tomorrow."
Fried's ability to push past the ugly first inning saved the Braves' bullpen, but he understood what might have been lost by not locating a few pitches in that opening frame.
Corey Seager and Justin Turner hit back-to-back homers in the first against Fried, who allowed just two home runs over 56 regular-season innings (back-to-back shots vs. the Marlins on Sept. 23 in his final regular-season start). The early advantage provided some comfort for Walker Buehler, who scattered seven hits over six scoreless innings.
Seager has hit five homers in this series. That stands as the highest total an opponent has tallied against the Braves in any round. Hank Bauer (1958 World Series) and Carlos Beltrán (2004 NL Division Series) are the only other players with as many as four.
"When you throw a letter-high curveball to Seager, he's going to do what he did to it," Fried said. "A fastball right down the middle to Turner, he did the same. I felt like I was searching for it, instead of going after guys and hitting spots."
Tallying just one run in the seventh extended a frustrating trend for the Braves, who stranded eight runners and went 2-for-11 with runners in scoring position. They squandered their first opportunity after Travis d'Arnaud, Ozzie Albies and Dansby Swanson recorded three consecutive singles to begin the second.
"It's baseball," Snitker said. "It's what happens. Sometimes you get on rolls, and you get in those situations and guys are finding holes or getting big hits, and sometimes they aren't. I don't think just because it's the postseason that automatically it happens."
Mookie Betts added to the Braves' frustrations in the fifth, when he made a sensational leaping grab of an Ozuna fly ball that was going to at least hit off the top of the right-field wall. Freeman was running on the play and may have scored from first base had the catch not been made.
Albies prevented the potential development of another opportunity in the sixth inning when he did not touch first base after believing he had been tagged out by first baseman Max Muncy about 15 feet in front of the first-base bag. After grabbing a weak chopper, Muncy tagged Albies but dropped the ball. Buehler picked up the ball and applied the tag again when Albies rounded the bag and started to go back to the dugout thinking he had already been tagged out.
Still, while this might have been a maddening contest, all was not lost, primarily because of Fried, who scattered four singles while keeping the Dodgers scoreless after the first inning. The only relievers the Braves ended up using were Darren O'Day, who totaled five pitches, and Chris Martin, who threw 30 pitches but should be available to make a back-to-back appearance on Sunday.
"We're in a good spot," Snitker said. "I like the guy that we're going to pitch. The bullpen, everybody can pitch. Everybody's available tomorrow. We'll see what we do."