Fried's walk-off fulfills dream: 'I love hitting'

Left-hander pinch-hits in 10th and delivers game-ending RBI single

July 5th, 2021

ATLANTA -- It’s a good thing the Braves didn’t have make an early trip to Pittsburgh to get some extra rest before his Monday night start against the Pirates. His multidimensional talents, or specifically his bat, were needed in Atlanta to complete what stands as the Braves’ wildest win of the season.

Having depleted their bench during a four-run ninth-inning rally, the Braves turned to Fried and saw him provide one of the wildest victories of the season. The left-handed pitcher’s two-out pinch-hit single concluded a wacky 8-7 win in 10 innings over the Marlins at Truist Park on Sunday afternoon.

“It's kind of like we emptied the tank in the ninth inning trying to tie this thing, and it's nice to have a bullet like that on the bench still, you know, a guy like Max,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said.

You know, a guy like Fried, who finished fifth in last year’s National League Cy Young Award balloting and entered Sunday hitting .189 with a .500 OPS in 90 at-bats in his four-year career. Maybe those numbers were deceiving, considering he was hitting .263 (5-for-19) with a .649 OPS through 29 plate appearances that year.

Those numbers were at least better than those of backup catcher Kevan Smith, who has hit .191 with a .509 OPS. But that didn’t stop Marlins manager Don Mattingly from intentionally walking Smith to get to Fried with two outs and the bases loaded in the 10th.

“I was really surprised he swung the bat there, but he’s actually a pretty good hitter,” Mattingly said.

Fried is now 2-for-5 as a pinch-hitter. His first pinch-hit came when he batted for Jerry Blevins during a 14-4 loss to the Nationals on May 29, 2019. This second hit, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, makes him the first Braves pitcher to record a pinch-hit walk-off RBI since RBIs became a statistic in 1920.

“I love hitting,” Fried said. “I've played outfield growing up and first base. It's something that you always dream about happening. But once I figured that I was going to be a pitcher, I never thought that there was going to be a reality. So to have something like this happen and get put in a spot like that, I just tried to make the most of it.”

It didn’t look Fried was going to get this opportunity to conclude a 4-2 homestand in celebratory fashion. The Marlins tallied a pair of ninth-inning homers against Shane Greene to gain a four-run advantage. It looked like the Braves would lose for the seventh time in 10 games against last-place Miami.

But the Braves erased that deficit with the help of Abraham Almonte’s pinch-hit two-run double and Ronald Acuña Jr.’s game-tying sacrifice fly. They then managed to revive their 10th-inning charge after a replay reversed the initial ruling that Austin Riley had scored what would've been the walk-off run on a wild pitch.

During the ninth-inning rally, pinch-hitter Pablo Sandoval drew a walk and was then replaced by pinch-runner Ender Inciarte. The Braves had to burn two bench pieces, and Mattingly knew this when he opted to intentionally walk Dansby Swanson after Anthony Bass fell behind 2-0 to begin the bottom of the 10th, which started with Riley as the automatic runner on second base.

Orlando Arcia contributed an RBI single in the ninth inning of his Braves debut, and then drew another intentional walk when Mattingly opted to pitch to Smith with the bases loaded and one out in the 10th.

Smith was then intentionally walked after the replay reversal. This set the stage for Fried, who lined his game-winner to center field and didn’t even reach first base before Guillermo Heredia and others were sprinting onto the field to enjoy a walk-off celebration that would stand.

“That was probably as good as I’ve felt on a field,” Fried said. “Finishing a game like that was just awesome.”

Adam Duvall’s fifth home run against his former team tarnished the latest of Charlie Morton’s strong starts. But the Braves, who had scored three runs or fewer in 12 of their past 15 games, constructed a four-run ninth and won consecutive series for the first time since May 8.

A homestand that began with a series win over the first-place Mets ended with one of those wins that could strengthen the Braves’ bid for a fourth consecutive National League East title.

“It was just a huge win,” Morton said. “It was a huge ending there to just come from behind and tie it. You get in that position, and then for Max to come through and have a big moment, that was pretty unbelievable.”