'Kid stepped up,' puts ATL 1 win from pennant

October 16th, 2020

To fully appreciate the stellar start righty gave the Braves in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series, it must be remembered that he may not have made any big league starts this year had not been shut down during the regular season’s final week.

Wilson might have become a somewhat forgotten figure as he spent most of this season at the team’s alternate training site. But his name will be remembered for a long time by those who saw him help the Braves move a win away from the World Series with a 10-2 victory over the Dodgers on Thursday night at Globe Life Field.

“Wow, that’s about all I can say,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “Are you kidding me? That kid stepped up. How he would handle the situation, I guess he answered that.”

hit a pair of homers and drove in four runs, including an RBI double that chased Clayton Kershaw during the decisive six-run sixth. But the story of the night was Wilson, who cruised through what was just his eighth start as a big leaguer and helped the Braves take a 3-1 lead in this best-of-seven series.

“It’s a great honor to get to pitch against Kershaw,” Wilson said. “I was super happy to get the team the win and one step closer to the World Series.”

Wilson allowed just one run and one hit over six innings. Edwin Ríos’ third-inning homer accounted for the only damage incurred by the right-hander, whose effort supported the theory of momentum being the next day’s starting pitcher.

After Game 3 starter recorded just two outs on Wednesday, the Braves needed some length from Wilson. Adding to the importance was the reality that Game 5 was likely going to be a bullpen game, regardless of Thursday’s outcome.

Being a realist, Snitker would have been thrilled just to get four solid innings. Instead, he received an effort that allows him to enter Friday’s potential clincher with all of his key relievers available.

“He did a heck of a job,” Braves reliever said. “He went out there and competed. He wasn’t fazed with the situation. I honestly don’t think he was too fazed he was facing Kershaw. He did an awesome job. It was a lot of fun to watch.”

This was an impressive postseason debut for Wilson, who made the first of his two starts this year on Sept. 22, when shoulder weakness prevented Hamels from making his scheduled start. The young right-hander tossed three innings during the Sept. 27 regular-season finale and then kept himself fresh by pitching in a couple of simulated games over the past few weeks.

Those two outings boosted the confidence Wilson gained this summer while working on his two-seamer and changeup. But still, it would have been hard to predict he would retire 18 of the 20 hitters he faced on this big stage.

“I think, for me, it just re-establishes that I need to trust my stuff and my stuff is good,” Wilson said. “I need to continue to trust that and stop being afraid of what is going to happen after I throw the pitch.”

Now Wilson has added to the wonder the Braves have created with a rotation that didn’t seem fit to make a strong postseason push. The seven career starts he had made entering the playoffs actually trumped the total of (6). Wright had tallied 12 starts before this month and was the seasoned veteran with 50 starts.

None of these four guys had previously made a start in the postseason.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the 75 combined career regular-season starts by these Braves stand as the fewest combined career starts for the Nos. 1-4 starters by a team in a postseason series. The prior record was 147 by the 2015 Mets (Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz) in each of their three series that postseason.

“They’ve pitched really well,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said of the Braves’ young starters. “You’ve got to give those guys credit. [Wilson] made pitches when he needed to. When we did hit balls hard, we just didn’t find any luck, but that’s baseball. It’s a crossfire and he did a nice job working the inside and outside part of the plate to both hitters, and we just couldn’t square him up consistently enough.”