The Braves had one of the best offenses in baseball in the regular season, and Reds starting pitcher Trevor Bauer reduced it to rubble for 7 2/3 scoreless innings on Wednesday afternoon in Game 1 of the National League Wild Card Series. But Cincinnati was also one of three teams in MLB history to make the playoffs while ranking last in team batting average.
That combination of ingredients created an instant classic postseason pitching duel. It was the first matchup to remain scoreless through 11 innings, and missed chances cost Cincinnati during a 1-0 loss in 13 innings. Its hitters went 1-for-12 with runners in scoring position and stranded 13 on base.
"We had a lot of opportunities to score some runs early, middle of the game and late, and we just didn’t get the job done -- me definitely being included in that," said second baseman Mike Moustakas, who was 0-for-5 and stranded five men on his own. "On the other side of that, they pitched phenomenally, and we pitched phenomenally."
Manager David Bell had brought right fielder Nick Castellanos in to be a fifth infielder and stationed him at third base. Bell considered walking Freeman to load the bases for potential force plays, but he also knew that another hot hitter in Marcell Ozuna waited on deck.
“It’s a tough spot. Definitely thought through all the scenarios," Bell said. "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."
Plenty of baseball history was made at Truist Park during the game:
• It was just the 10th extra-inning shutout by a team in the postseason, something that was done most recently 23 years ago in Game 6 of the 1997 American League Championship Series -- a 1-0 win by Cleveland over Baltimore in 11 innings.
• Bauer is the first pitcher in Major League postseason history to throw at least seven innings with no runs, two or fewer hits, no walks and 12 strikeouts. The 12 K's were also a new franchise playoff record, as he allowed two hits and one hit batter.
"Obviously, the Braves pitched well also, but Trevor was fantastic. Lucas, Michael, Raisel were tremendous," said first baseman Joey Votto, who went 2-for-5. "Guys were very competitive or in it. I felt like we wanted to play all day. And we did. But we would have played as long as it took. We just didn’t get that hit."
Braves ace Max Fried was equal to task with Bauer, delivering seven scoreless innings on six hits -- all singles -- with no walks and five strikeouts. But the Reds also ran themselves out of innings.
First, Castellanos hustled for a one-out infield single to second base in the sixth inning. Votto followed with a sharp grounder to left field and Castellanos decided to challenge Adam Duvall's elite throwing arm by attempting to go from first to third base. Duvall easily threw him out with a perfect throw to third baseman Austin Riley. Eugenio Suárez was then called out on strikes to keep the game scoreless.
"Man, we’re trying to do everything we can to score runs," Bell said. "If you can get to third base with one out or less than two outs, you have a better opportunity. We’ve always believed in that and taught it. So it was a good, aggressive play. Their outfielder made a good play, made a good throw."
With runners on the corners and one out with pinch-hitter Matt Davidson batting for Curt Casali, Bell ordered a delayed steal by Kyle Farmer at first base on the first pitch to Davidson. Farmer broke late for second and drew a throw from Braves catcher Travis d'Arnaud, who caught him in a rundown. Aristides Aquino had a lead off third but turned around and put his head down. When he then made a late charge for home, he was caught in a rundown of his own and was tagged out by a diving Riley for the third out.
"Again, we’re trying to do everything we can to get a run across, especially the way Trevor was pitching at the time. Maybe a little overaggressive," Bell said. "Strategically, it’s a play that we’ve run before. It wasn’t the right time. That’s on me. That was a mistake there on me trying to score a run, trying to get something on the board.”
Many of the Reds' other missed chances to break through came during extras. They came up empty with the bases loaded and two outs in the 11th inning and had runners on the corners with no outs in the 12th. In the top of the 13th, Votto was on second base and hesitated when Suárez slashed a single to left field, which cost him a chance to score.
"It’s an odd read at second," Votto said. "You don't want to get doubled up and lose an opportunity for the second hitter if there’s a line drive caught. The timing of it, we just so happened to time it in such a way that we didn’t finish the job."
It was a constant back and forth of emotions for the players in the Reds' dugout. As their pitchers racked up zeros and hitters created chances, they could frequently feel the game within their grasp. But just as quickly, it slipped away.
"It was almost five hours of baseball. It was a real joy to be out there," Votto said. "I imagine there’s probably a lot of Reds and Braves fans that may have added a few gray hairs, but we have two more games in this series, and we can’t wait."