Freeman's walk-off ends Game 1 duel in 13th

October 1st, 2020

ATLANTA -- Not long after delivering the walk-off single that gave the Braves a 1-0, 13-inning win over the Reds in Game 1 of the National League Wild Card Series on Wednesday afternoon, Freddie Freeman explained the wave emotions felt in this historical nail-biter.

“It was a very stressful 4 1/2 hours,” Freeman said. “Whatever emotions you feel, you just try to ride that wave. When it gets to the sixth, seventh and eighth innings with it still 0-0, I think everybody is on pins and needles. That’s just how it is, especially in a playoff game.”

Being on pins and needles became quite a familiar feeling for the Braves and Reds, who were the first teams to remain scoreless through the first 11 innings of a postseason game in Major League history. The two teams played for four hours and 39 minutes before Freeman’s single off Cincinnati lefty Amir Garrett scored top prospect Cristian Pache with the game’s only run.

Before entering as a pinch-runner in the 13th, Pache had spent the day watching Max Fried and top NL Cy Young Award candidate Trevor Bauer put up an impressive duel. They became just the eighth starting duo in postseason history -- and the first since Madison Bumgarner and Noah Syndergaard in the 2016 NL Wild Card Game -- to complete seven-plus scoreless innings, but they’re the first combo to do so without issuing a walk.

“It was some kind of job by that bullpen and Max,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “I don’t care who you are playing. If you throw up 13 innings of zeroes, it’s pretty special.”

This marked just the fourth time since 1960 the Braves have thrown 13-plus scoreless innings in a game. This impressive effort gave Atlanta its first Game 1 win in a postseason series since it won the opener of its 2001 NL Division Series against the Astros. That playoff series against Houston stands as the most recent won by the Braves, who are attempting to avoid becoming the first MLB team to lose 11 consecutive playoff series.

The walk-off win also gave the Braves their first postseason walk-off RBI since Game 2 of the 2004 NL Division Series against the Astros, a contest won on a Rafael Furcal homer. Before Wednesday, the most recent postseason walk-off win by any club against the Reds was in 1975, when Carlton Fisk hit a legendary home run to lift the Red Sox in Game 6 of the World Series.

“I think some of these guys are too young to understand the history of the Braves in the postseason,” Freeman said. “I’m not one of those. I know what is going on. Getting Game 1 is huge.”

Here’s a look at how the Braves moved a win away from taking this best-of-three NL Wild Card Series:

Freeman’s winner
Nick Markakis singled to begin the bottom of the 13th against Archie Bradley and was replaced by Pache, who had been a pleasant surprise addition to the Wild Card Series roster on Wednesday morning. Pache advanced to second base on an Austin Riley single, then moved to third on Ronald Acuña Jr.’s fielder’s choice.

With runners at the corners and one out, Reds manager David Bell signaled for Garrett, who allowed one hit in 23 at-bats against left-handed hitters during the regular season. Bell liked this lefty-lefty matchup better than issuing an intentional walk to Freeman to bring the equally dangerous Marcell Ozuna up with the bases loaded.

“It’s a tough spot,” Bell said. “Definitely thought through all the scenarios. We had Amir ready. Left on left, Amir is one of the best. Obviously, he is facing one of the best -- no question. If we were able to get the strikeout there, get a big out, that was certainly an option. Nothing against either one of the next two hitters. That would have been a possibility: To walk Ozuna and face another good hitter with the bases loaded. Certainly, that was on the table.”

Freeman became a top NL MVP Award candidate this year in large part because he feasted on right-handers and hit .245 with a .713 OPS against lefties. His game-winner came against a 1-2 slider that stayed up long enough for the Braves first baseman to serve it into center field.

A true postseason duel
Bauer allowed two hits and recorded 12 strikeouts over 7 2/3 scoreless innings. He became the first pitcher to produce 12 strikeouts and not allow a walk or an earned run in a postseason game.

As Bauer walked off the mound, he was seen moving his right arm in a chopping motion, mocking the longtime ritual of Braves fans.

“That's fine,” Freeman said. “He had a great performance. He can do whatever he wants when he strikes out 12 over 7 2/3. It doesn't bother us. I'm just glad we got the win."

The Braves got the win largely thanks to Fried, who set the tone by scattering six hits over seven innings. He pitched around consecutive singles to begin the game and showed no signs of rust as he completed his first career postseason start. A lower back ailment and a turned left ankle had limited him to just six innings over the past three weeks.

“It was a fun one,” Fried said. “You go out there and get that adrenaline going. It’s all about competing. I can’t say enough about the whole team.”

Strikeout record
The Braves and Reds combined to strike out a postseason record 37 times. Bauer and the Reds were responsible for a majority of them, but some of the biggest strikeouts were recorded by Tyler Matzek, the Braves lefty reliever who returned to the Majors this year for the first time since he developed the yips in 2015.

Matzek entered in the top of the 11th with two outs and the bases loaded, and he struck out Mike Moustakas. The southpaw also recorded three straight strikeouts after allowing consecutive singles to begin the 12th.

“You forget where Matzek has been and what he has overcome and how big he has been for us all year,” Snitker said. “That’s a really good story, too.”

Thanks to Matzek, Fried, Freeman and many other contributors, this Braves postseason story might have a better ending than many of the others authored over the past two decades.