HOUSTON -- Max Fried stood tall at Minute Maid Park.
Shiny blue and silver confetti was strewn across his shoulders. He grinned from ear to ear.
There were no signs of a limp or any pain. In the moments after Fried's Braves topped the Astros, 7-0, in Game 6 of the World Series to win the franchise's first championship since 1995, joy overshadowed any pain he may have been experiencing.
Astros outfielder Michael Brantley accidentally stepped on Fried in a gruesome play in the first inning, but Fried responded by stomping out Houston’s championship dreams the rest of the way.
“[The collision] kind of refocused me,” Fried said. “I knew it was a big point of the game, and I wanted to make sure I left everything out there and shut it down instead of giving up two, three or four runs and then be behind the eight ball.”
Fried struck out six and allowed only four hits in six scoreless innings to keep Houston's potent offense in check all night. It’s the first scoreless start of six-plus innings in a potential World Series-clinching game since the seven scoreless innings tossed by White Sox starter Freddy Garcia against the Astros in Game 4 of the 2005 Fall Classic.
The last time Atlanta won the World Series, in '95, Hall of Fame left-hander Tom Glavine closed out the Series against Cleveland with eight scoreless innings in Game 6.
“I think a lot of people counted us out at a lot of different points in the year, but not one person in that locker room ever doubted us,” Fried said. “We knew that as long as we stepped between the lines that we had a really good chance to win that day. We had the pieces to do it, and everyone in our locker room believed.”
In the eventful first, Brantley stepped on Fried’s right ankle on a close play at first base. Brantley was ruled safe, Fried was charged with an error and every Braves fan held their collective breath.
“I saw how bad it was, and that’s why I called the doctors and trainers right away,” Atlanta second baseman Ozzie Albies said. “I was asking him how he was feeling, and he didn’t respond to me. I thought he had to be in so much pain.”
If Fried was injured, he didn’t show it. The resilient lefty walked gingerly back to the mound, took a few warmup pitches under the watchful eyes of the Braves' training staff and went back to work on the game of his life.
“I thought I was going to have to go to the hospital at that point,” Atlanta pitching coach Rick Kranitz half-joked during the postgame festivities. “We were both going to sit side by side in bed. If he was going out, I was going with him, I’ll tell you that right now.”
Following the collision, Fried sat down the next six batters before giving up a single to Martín Maldonado to start the third. He retired the next hitter, Jose Altuve, and Brantley hit into a double play to end the frame.
Fried cruised through the fourth, thanks to another double play, and he struck out two of the three batters he faced in a stellar fifth, bringing his pitch total to 52. By comparison, he threw 43 pitches in the second inning of the Braves' 7-2 loss in Game 2.
“It was very scary, really, because I couldn't tell,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said of Fried's ankle. “I was just glad when he got up and threw that everything was good. I was just kind of wondering what that whole incident would take out of him, and he rebounded.”
Fried capped off his dominant performance with two more strikeouts in the sixth, and he was immediately met in the dugout by Snitker and a hug from first baseman Freddie Freeman. The lefty had just unleashed the most memorable 74 pitches of his career to put the Braves in a position to make history.
“I just told him that he left that all out there on the mound,” Freeman said. “That was Max Fried. He had a little chip on his shoulder after the last couple starts. But what you guys saw tonight was what we saw for months during the season: An incredible performance when we needed it most.”
This is how Fried did it.
After his fastball usage declined to 42 percent in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series against the Dodgers and 35 percent in Game 2 of this World Series, Fried was determined to establish high velocity. He went with either his four-seam fastball or sinker on 42 of his 74 pitches (57 percent) in the clincher, getting strikes on 30 of those 42 heaters (71.4 percent) while holding Houston to three singles in 12 at-bats ending with a fastball.
Fried stayed out of the middle of the zone and clustered his pitches:
And once again, Fried induced lots of weak contact. Only four of his 15 batted balls allowed were hard-hit (95-plus mph), for a 26.7 percent hard-hit rate. His regular-season average was 34.3 percent.
“He was almost unhittable,” Altuve said.
There’s no doubt Fried’s ankle will be sore in the days to come. In the end, it was all worth it.
“I just told myself that I was going to go out there and be 100 percent me, just try to pitch and try to win a ballgame,” Fried said. “I knew I could empty the tank. I knew it was the last outing of the year. I was definitely running on fumes at the end of the playoffs, but I knew I had to be ready for one more.”