Braves nearly unhittable, seize 2-1 WS lead
ATLANTA -- The ball flared off Astros pinch-hitter Aledmys Díaz's bat, into the cool and misty autumn air, before landing just in front of the outstretched glove of left fielder Eddie Rosario. The Truist Park crowd, gathered here for the Braves’ first World Series home game since 1999, groaned as Díaz reached safely on a soft leadoff single that could have been caught, abruptly ending Atlanta’s no-hit bid -- which had begun with five hitless innings from rookie starter Ian Anderson -- in the top of the eighth.
But while the Braves fell six outs shy of history, they did not fall to the Astros, and that’s all that matters in this closely contested Fall Classic. The Braves’ 2-0 victory in Game 3 has them up 2-1 in the best-of-seven Series after a Friday night rife with all the tension, suspense and second-guessing we love about October baseball.
“The goal of every game is to get a win,” said Braves catcher Travis d'Arnaud, whose Statcast-projected 437-foot solo homer in the eighth inning was one of the rare bits of offense in this one. “I think a no-hitter would have been a bonus, but when they got that hit, that wasn't our goal when the game started. It was just to go out there, execute pitches, get outs and end with a win. That's ultimately what we did.”
With Anderson and relievers A.J. Minter and Luke Jackson holding Houston hitless through seven innings, the Braves had the longest World Series no-hit bid since Jim Lonborg’s 7 2/3 no-hit innings for the Red Sox in Game 2 of the 1967 Fall Classic against the Cardinals. Anderson became the only World Series pitcher other than the Yankees’ Don Larsen (whose Game 5 perfecto against the Dodgers in 1956 of course stands as the only no-no in Series history) to complete an outing with five or more hitless innings, and his removal by Braves manager Brian Snitker after the fifth was -- and will likely continue to be -- a matter of great discussion.
But Anderson, who lowered his career postseason ERA to 1.26 through eight starts, did not protest getting pulled.
“Obviously, you want the chance to compete,” he said, “especially on the biggest stage like this is. Yeah, I knew [Snitker] wasn't going to budge. It's hard to. You've got guys like [Tyler] Matzek and Minter and Luke and Will [Smith] at the back end coming in, you can't blame him for going to those guys. Those guys, time in and time out, get it done, and they did it again tonight.”
Díaz’s hit was one of only two by an Astros team that was colder than the 49-degree first-pitch temperature. An Austin Riley RBI double in the third inning and d’Arnaud's homer in the eighth were enough to snap Atlanta’s World Series home losing streak at five -- their last win was the 1995 title clincher at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium -- and earn back the Series edge over Houston.
The win bodes well for Atlanta’s title chances, too. The previous 60 times a World Series was tied 1-1, the team winning Game 3 has gone on to win the title on 39 occasions (65%). That has been the case in six of the past nine World Series and 13 of the last 17 instances in the Fall Classic.
To buck that trend, the Astros will need to get their bats back.
“Invariably, when you shut us down, usually our guys come back the next day and score a bunch,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “So I hope history repeats itself.”
The Braves had stranded three runners in the game’s first two innings against Astros starter Luis Garcia before breaking through -- slightly -- in the third. Rosario walked and Freddie Freeman punched a perfect single to left-center field to put two aboard with none out. Though he managed to strike out Ozzie Albies for the inning’s first out, Garcia looked less comfortable in the stretch than in his usual rock-a-baby windup, and Riley took advantage with a double down the left-field line to score Rosario and make it 1-0.
Garcia then walked Jorge Soler to load the bases. After a visit from pitching coach Brent Strom, Garcia went back to the windup -- a potentially dangerous tactic with runners aboard, given the complexity of his delivery -- and it worked. Garcia got Adam Duvall to pop out and he struck out d’Arnaud to escape the jam with seemingly minor damage.
In the context of what the game would become, though, that run was large for both ballclubs. While the Astros struggled to generate any traffic, Atlanta stranded three more runners in the fourth and fifth innings.
Baker was proactive in going to his bullpen in the fourth with Garcia already at 72 pitches. But the pitching move that would draw the most debate was the one made by Snitker after the fifth, when he yanked Anderson with the no-hitter intact.
In terms of runs and hits allowed, Anderson was dealing. But he was also dealing balls -- 37 of them, compared to 39 strikes.
“He was effectively wild,” Baker said of Anderson. “I mean, he had [almost] a 1-to-1 ratio, balls to strikes, and our guys never could zero in on the strikes.”
Added Anderson: “I think that effectively wild's a pretty good term. I was definitely a little amped up there at the beginning. I think that's kind of what happens when you try to make quality pitches every pitch, not just give in or lay the ball in there.”
The Astros’ top of the order was due up a third time in the sixth inning. Coming into this game, Anderson had a .756 opponents’ OPS the third time through the lineup this year (regular season and postseason), compared to a .535 OPS the second time through.
So leaving Anderson in might have been risky. But taking him out presented a risk of a different sort. With three games on the docket in three days here in Atlanta and the Braves already planning bullpen games for Games 4 and 5, a scoreless, hitless pitching performance from a starting pitcher still well south of that magical 100-pitch mark is a big boon. Rather than press his luck, Snitker opted to thank Anderson for a job well done and let the bullpen chips fall where they may.
“The me of old, probably a couple years ago, would be [thinking], ‘How the hell am I doing this?’ quite honestly,” Snitker said. “But the pitch count was such that he wasn't going nine innings. So it wasn't about that.”
Snitker also put his mindset more succinctly.
“I need to win a baseball game,” he said.
What happens the rest of the weekend remains to be seen. But here in Game 3, Snitker’s move satisfied. The entertainment value of an Anderson no-hit bid was lost, but the game was not.
Minter pitched a 1-2-3 sixth, and Jackson likewise in the seventh. Díaz’s leadoff single in the eighth mattered little, as Matzek was able to retire the next three batters he faced. And though Smith allowed a leadoff single to Alex Bregman in the ninth, he was able to lock down the save.
“They pitched their tail off,” Bregman said.
So now the Braves will turn the next two games over to their bullpen, as they try to seal their first World Series championship since 1995 without letting this thing get back to Houston.