In Game 3, Brian Snitker would emerge either a mastermind or a scapegoat. The outcome, unfortunately for him, was the latter on Wednesday evening.
The crux of the decision coming into the game revolved around the starting pitcher. With Bryce Elder and the youthful 20-year-old AJ Smith-Shawver as the primary options, the Braves leaned towards Elder, banking on his relative experience. A defensible decision on the surface, but as the game unfolded, its fault lines began to appear.
Elder showcased poise in the first two innings, effortlessly handling the top-six of the Phillies lineup. But it was perhaps fool’s gold.
The third inning promised so much for the Braves. A Ronald Acuña Jr. double and an Ozzie Albies single gave them the lead. Yet, it was fleeting, and disaster soon struck.
Nick Castellanos, who had two prior homers off of Elder in just five at-bats, unleashed a towering shot over the left field wall, leveling the score. Alarm bells should’ve been ringing in the Braves’ dugout, especially after Brandon Marsh‘s ensuing single.
Despite a fly out and a ground out, danger still loomed. Trea Turner would reach on an infield single, setting the stage for Bryce Harper. Keeping Elder — a 25-year-old with no postseason experience — on the mound shouldn’t have even been an option. But Brian Snitker stuck to his guns, and he paid the price, as Harper dispatched a ball into the second deck, sending Citizens Bank Ballpark into a frenzy.
The situation only worsened following Harper’s homer when Brian Snitker continued to allow Elder to pitch. Only after two more Phillies got on base did Snitker introduce Michael Tonkin, who gave up a two-run double to J.T. Realmuto before recording the final out of the inning.
There wasn’t a butt in a seat at the Bank, and the nightmare continued in the fifth when Bryce Harper blasted his second home run of the game. If the Braves haven’t figured out not to mess with that guy after what he’s done to him over their last seven postseason games, I’m not sure they’ll ever learn their lesson.
To add salt to the wound, when AJ Smith-Shawver finally took the mound in relief, he delivered admirably. Had he been introduced earlier, who knows how the rest of the game would have unfolded.
Now, with memories of a prior Game 3 debacle at Citizens Bank Park haunting them, the Braves find themselves in a familiar situation, facing elimination on the road against the Philadelphia Phillies. Their solace? Spencer Strider, who dominated the Phillies during the regular season and was impressive in Game 1, will take the mound tomorrow. The Braves can still salvage this series, but they need to wash the memories of Wednesday night from their minds, and fast.
Photographer: David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire