ATLANTA -- The sound of the final school bell was the start of Freddy Peralta’s day. It signaled when he was allowed to rush home and plop himself in front of the family television, catching some of the epic postseason battles between the Yankees and Red Sox that helped form his baseball fandom and his competitive fire. (He also loved the 2011 World Series, but don’t tell him the Cardinals had to beat the Brewers to make it that far.)
Peralta has gotten a front-seat taste of postseason baseball over the past three seasons, appearing out of the bullpen in 2018 and ’20. But today, when he faces the Braves in Game 3 of the National League Division Series at Truist Park, he will make his first postseason appearance as a starter.
His family from the Dominican Republic will be in Atlanta to watch it play out -- the only aspect of the day that could widen the smile he carried with him from the honor on its own. Peralta will be entrusted for the Brewers’ biggest game of the season, with the NLDS tied at 1-1.
“As a player, I always dream about these kinds of moments,” Peralta said. “I grew up watching these kinds of games.”
The starting nod is a reward for Peralta's breakout season (an NL All-Star and a strikeout savant) and for his adeptness at handling a lineup like that of the Braves. Though the Brewers shocked no one by going with Peralta -- the final leg of their “Big Three” to appear this postseason -- it was a decision they kept to themselves until announcing it Sunday afternoon, inciting some speculation that the unorthodox organization had a trick up its sleeve.
Call it a coy approach to unveiling one of baseball’s worst-kept secrets.
“This was the plan,” manager Craig Counsell said, smiling, “from probably July.”
But the plan came with a brief derailment. Peralta pitched to a 2.26 ERA entering Aug. 18 but then left that start in St. Louis after just two innings with right shoulder inflammation. He missed 15 days, then returned for five starts, the first couple of which were purposely abbreviated.
The results? A 4.70 ERA, a .711 opponents' OPS and, most notably, a .315 batting average on balls in play -- a stark departure from the .214 mark he allowed across his first 23 appearances (22 starts).
“I was feeling really good the whole season. But when September came ... my body was getting a little tired,” Peralta said. “Right now, I'm feeling like we are in April again. It's more important for me right now -- I feel healthy and strong for these kinds of moments.”
The results being what they were, the Brewers will take them for what they meant instead -- that Peralta is fully healthy for moments like this.
“He's in a good place,” Counsell said. “Our point going to the end of the season was to make Freddy fresh going into this, anticipating that -- we're hoping he has probably five starts left, something of that nature -- and getting him fresh for hopefully five starts in October.”
Peralta is more than well-equipped for the first of five possible starts. He’s among the best in the Majors at limiting home runs and hard contact, as well as getting swings and misses. The Braves ranked third in home runs (239) and tied for fifth in hard-hit rate (40.8 percent) in the Majors this season on top of having the sixth-highest whiff rate (27.1 percent) in MLB.
What the Brewers will need from Peralta, on top of honing those talents, will be to channel his emotions, as he's tasked to such an assignment at 25 years of age and is known to get amped up early in outings. He got a taste of revitalized 2021 crowds when he warmed up in the bullpen during Game 1 on Friday just after Rowdy Tellez sent American Family Field into a frenzy with his go-ahead homer in the seventh inning of Milwaukee's 2-1 win. Counsell was fully prepared to employ Peralta if the situation arose. At the very least, he got his right-hander into the mindset he’ll need for Monday.
“I was ready to go in there,” Peralta said. “I was wishing.”
Emotions will also run high because of a select few set to be in the stands on Monday. Peralta’s family is one of the few categories that can brighten his already infectious mood. One more aspect could do the same: shoving in Atlanta, following the lead of Corbin Burnes and Brandon Woodruff, in order to get momentum back in Milwaukee’s favor.
“I'm going to give my best, and I will do my best to make [my family] feel proud of me,” Peralta said, “and of the team, too.”