d’Arnaud's 2-run dinger sours former teammate Wheeler's big night

October 11th, 2023

ATLANTA -- For the better part of Monday night, Phillies ace orchestrated one of the best pitching performances in club history.

That is until longtime batterymate knocked a two-run homer during the seventh inning of the Braves’ eventual 5-4 comeback victory in Game 2 of the National League Division Series at Truist Park.

“He's such a good pitcher,” d’Arnaud said. “Truthfully, I think I just got lucky. And that at-bat, I was just trying to hit the ball on the barrel. My first at-bat, I chased -- that was over my head -- and my second at-bat, I flew one out. So I was just trying to get good contact, and I got rewarded with an extra-base hit. So that's how I'm looking at it.”

Up to that point, the most prolific lineup in MLB history had been limited to just six hits -- all singles -- in the NLDS. The lone blemish on Wheeler’s line was an unearned run in the sixth, when Ronald Acuña Jr. scored from first after shortstop Trea Turner's error on Ozzie Albies’ two-out single to right, which also broke up Wheeler's no-hitter.

As the sixth inning continued to unfold, Phillies manager Rob Thomson had southpaw José Alvarado warming in the bullpen, and he would’ve entered the game had left-handed-hitting slugger Matt Olson come to the plate as the tying run. He didn’t, as Wheeler struck out Austin Riley to end the frame.

In between frames, Thomson asked Wheeler if he was good to start the seventh. He replied yes, with a request: Just have somebody ready. With Alvarado and Jeff Hoffman throwing in the bullpen, Olson led off the seventh with a single before Wheeler struck out Marcell Ozuna for his 10th K of the evening to match a Phillies postseason record.

d’Arnaud then stepped to the plate and ambushed a first-pitch hanging sweeper -- the 92nd and final pitch of Wheeler’s start -- and sent it over the left-field wall. The Truist Park crowd erupted as a 4-1 deficit was cut to 4-3.

“I thought his stuff was still pretty good,” Thomson said. “He gave up a base hit to Olson, and then he punched out Ozuna. He just had a breaking ball to d'Arnaud, one of the few bad pitches he made all tonight. He was fantastic all night. Everything was working. Velocity was good. I thought his stuff was still good at the end.”

Added Wheeler: “I felt pretty good. I was locating most of my pitches. The stuff was good tonight. But I just hung that sweeper to d’Arnaud and kind of let them get the momentum going. That’s kind of a dagger.”

d’Arnaud is no stranger to big knocks. With his two-run shot, d’Arnaud became one of five players in MLB history with at least 10 career postseason home runs as a catcher, joining Jorge Posada (11), Jason Varitek (11), Hall of Famer Johnny Bench (10) and former Brave Javy Lopez (10 -- all with Atlanta).

Though Braves manager Brian Snitker said d’Arnaud was mainly in the lineup to catch ace Max Fried, who had built a rapport with the veteran backstop, he also couldn’t deny d’Arnaud’s success and familiarity with Wheeler.

d’Arnaud caught Wheeler 41 times -- second most among all his backstops -- during their time with the Mets from 2013-19. In head-to-head matchups, d’Arnaud entered Monday 7-for-18 (.389) with one double, one homer, three RBIs, two walks and two strikeouts.

“Travis is one of those guys that never panics in an at-bat,” Snitker said. “He grinds through at-bats. He's got a slow heartbeat, and he got a pitch and didn't miss it.”