The Braves looked as if they were dead to rights. Coming off Game 1 in which they were shut out at Truist Park for the first time since August of 2022, Game 2 somehow started off even more discouraging.
The long layoff due to a blister issue on his throwing hand clearly had a negative effect on Max Fried. He never looked comfortable on the mound, and the Phillies took advantage early, scratching across three runs in the first four innings before Brian Snitker turned to the bullpen.
Typically, three runs for this Braves offense is far from insurmountable, but given who was on the mound for the Phillies and the way he was marching through Atlanta’s order, it felt like not only Game 2 was over, but so was the series.
By the time Fried exited, Zack Wheeler still had yet to allow a hit. He had eight strikeouts through the first four innings, and the only baserunner to reach was Matt Olson on an error by Trea Turner. Wheeler was pitching as well as he had pitched all season, and the Phillies were able to add another run off of Kirby Yates in the fifth inning.
It wasn’t until the sixth that the Braves finally showed some life. Ronald Acuna Jr. reached on a two-out walk, which was followed by a hard-hit ball to right field off the bat of Ozzie Albies. Acuna was able to go from first to third, but another bobble by Trea Turner allowed Acuna to scoot home, putting the Braves on the board and lighting up Truist Park for the first time in the entire series.
Those lapses in execution really turned out to be the difference in the ball game. This one, in particular, gave a dead team life, and the Braves were able to really make things interesting on this two-run shot off the bat of Travis d’Arnaud, which cut the lead to one.
We've got a ballgame!
— MLB (@MLB) October 10, 2023
That would be the end of the night for Wheeler, who probably stayed in just one inning too long. Rob Thomson would then turn to Jose Alvarado, who finished the inning and came back out for the 8th to retire Michael Harris II.
The Braves had just five more outs to get at least one more run, but they would only need two. Jeff Hoffman relieved Alvarado and hit Ronald Acuna Jr. with the first pitch he threw, putting the tying run on first. Ozzie Albies was able to get him over with a weakly hit grounder to first, setting the stage for Austin Riley to come through with the biggest hit of the entire postseason thus far.
Take a listen.
— Atlanta Braves (@Braves) October 10, 2023
With just one hand on the bat, the Braves third baseman mashed the ball 376 feet into the left field bleachers, sending Truist Park into a frenzy. But what’s even crazier is that might not even be the play of the game.
The Braves turned to Raisel Iglesias with a runner on first in the 9th after A.J. Minter walked Bryce Harper to start the inning. Iglesias was able to force J.T. Realmuto to pop out before Nick Castellanos hit a shot into the right-center field gap that looked like it, at the very least, would tie the game, but Michael Harris II had other ideas.
Michael Harris II is unreal pic.twitter.com/wZV335i1ce
— Justin Toscano (@JustinCToscano) October 10, 2023
The catch followed by the awareness of Austin Riley to back up the throw and throw Bryce Harper out at first was really a microcosm of the entire game. The Braves had no business winning, but they executed at every turn, both offensively and defensively. The Phillies had numerous opportunities at the plate to bury Atlanta and head home with a 2-0 series lead but were unable to. Now, the Braves have life as this series flips to Philadelphia, and that kind of momentum may just be exactly what this team needed to turn this thing around and advance to the NLCS.
Photo: John Adams/Icon Sportswire