ATLANTA — For five and a half innings, the Atlanta Braves appeared to be dead in the water. Zack Wheeler was spinning a no-hitter and the Braves’ hitters were doing well just to get a fly ball out of the infield. Baseball can be cruel sometimes, especially in the postseason. It is also true that things can turn on a dime and the Braves’ 5-4 win in Game 2 is a shining example.
There were so many big moments. Ronald Acuña Jr’s two-out walk in the sixth turned into Atlanta’s first run. Ozzie Albies broke up the no-hitter with a single to right. Acuña went first to third and then scampered home as the throw in kicked away from Phillies shortstop Trea Turner.
“First thing we’d done to really give ourselves life,” Brian Snitker said after the game. “It was kind of nice to score a run. It’d been a while. But that was good heads-up play by Ronald.”
“He didn’t put his head down. He stayed aware, watched the ball and got a great jump when they bobbled a little bit. But you know what, things like that have a way of kind of all of a sudden, the dugout is like, okay, it’s okay, and then they kind of started energizing themselves a little bit.”
The deficit was still 4-1, but it snapped a scoreless stretch of 14 2/3 innings dating back to Game 1.
“Ronnie got the crowd back in it. I think that was the biggest thing,” Travis d’Arnaud said. “Got the crowd back in it and got momentum back on our side.”
A record crowd of 43,898 at Truist Park sat on their hands for most of the game just searching for something to cheer about. They got another opportunity in the seventh as the Braves crept closer. Wheeler stayed in and allowed a leadoff single to Matt Olson. Marcell Ozuna went down swinging for the first out, but Travis d’Arnaud delivered a two-run home run to left that cut the lead to 4-3.
d’Arnaud came into the game with good numbers in his career against Wheeler, but Snitker said that the primary reason he started was because he and Max Fried had worked well together down the stretch.
“I’ve been matching he and Max up more than anything,” Snitker said. “When Max came back, they kind of started clicking. So I had kind of started pairing them off together as much as anything. Travis had had a little success off Zack also. So all things included, I guess you’d say.”
“He’s such a good pitcher. Truthfully I think I just get lucky,” d’Arnaud said. That at-bat, I was just trying to hit the ball on the barrel. My first at-bat I chased one that was over my head, and my second at-bat, I flew out. So I was just trying to get good contact and I got rewarded with an extra base hit. That’s how I’m looking at it.”
The Braves bullpen again did a good job in relief of Fried, who exited after just four innings. Kirby Yates allowed an unearned run in the fifth. Joe Jimenez and Pierce Johnson both kept the Phillies off the board in the sixth and seventh. A.J. Minter worked a scoreless eighth.
“They did a great job. They did a great job handing the ball off,” Snitker said of the bullpen. “We kind of just had the mindset that we wanted to use the guys to try and keep the game there and give our offense a chance to come back.”
Come back they did in the home half of the eighth. Jose Alvarado replaced Wheeler after d’Arnaud’s homer in the seventh and struck out Kevin Pillar and Orlando Arcia. He stayed in to start the eighth and got Michael Harris to fly out to center. Rob Thomson then replaced him with right-hander Jeff Hoffman, who hit Acuña with his first pitch. Acuña moved to second on a ground out by Ozzie Albies which set the stage for Austin Riley.
Riley worked the count full and then sent Truist Park into a frenzy with a homer to left to give Atlanta their first lead of the series.
“That was obviously a really big at-bat, and he just fought the heck out of it,” Snitker said. “I wasn’t sure when he hit it initially if it was going to go. Them big strong guys get that ball up in the air, man, they just keep carrying. That was a big time.”
“Only thing I was thinking of is I know there’s a short fence down there. Hopefully it gets over it,” Riley said of the homer. “Luckily it did, and just like I said, you just try to take those moments in, because the postseason is special.”
That set the stage for a crazy ninth inning and once again, baseball can be a cruel game. Minter stayed in to start the inning and walked Harper. While some might question the decision not to go to closer Raisel Iglesias for a clean start, know that Harper is 6-for-9 with four home runs against Iglesias in his career. Iglesias entered with Harper at first and got J.T. Realmuto to fly out harmlessly to Harris in center.
Iglesias got ahead of Nick Castellanos 1-2, but he sent his 2-2 pitch to deep right center that Harris ran down and speared with a leaping catch on the wall. Harris alertly fired the ball in as Harper had already rounded second base. Riley cut it off and fired to first in time to double up Harper for a game-ending double play.
“There’s so much that went through my mind,” Snitker said. “I didn’t know if he was going to run out of room. After he caught it, you go hoarse yelling. Great play by Austin. Great play by Michael, number one, but then the wherewithal to continue to watch the play and make the big out.”
“I was just screaming one, one, one, as loud as I could and just trying to read — see where the ball was going,” Riley said of the play. “I think it was just one of those things where right place, right time.”
“Every playoff win is exciting,” d’Arnaud added. “I think the way it ended was one of the most exciting ending to a game I’ve ever seen as far as a defensive standpoint.”
The Braves came into Monday’s game with zero momentum. They wasted a good performance by Spencer Strider in Game 1 and then faced the difficult task of having to go through Wheeler and Aaron Nola in Games 2 & 3. The team showed resolve all year, but things looked bleak as they fell behind 4-0 with Wheeler locked in on the mound.
This kind of comeback can be big in a five-game series. A play like Harris’ in the ninth can turn a whole series.
“It’s not going to be bad. I know that,” Snitker said. “We got another day off tomorrow, and we travel and all that. But that’s good, because we had, I don’t know, 13 innings or 14 innings of not a lot going on. I think they finally amassed a few at-bats after the layoff and kind of got back in their groove a little bit.”