HOUSTON – Travis d’Arnaud knew tonight would be different after the first few pitches he caught in the bullpen.
He could tell from the fastball. The court was working for Braves starter Max Fried in a way that it hadn’t done in the bullpen before his last start. Warm-up pitches got into his catcher’s glove with the same upbeat move that had plagued so many opposing hitters this year. This, d’Arnaud knew, was the same Max Fried he had caught during August and September, when the southpaw looked like one of the best pitchers in the game. This was the Max Fried who had been lost on the mound during a loss in Game 2.
This was the Max Fried who was going to help them win the World Series.
“He was drilling every pitch,” d’Arnaud said of the bullpen session. “He had it.”
In six scoreless innings, Fried struck out six and walked free, with only one running back advancing past first base. His performance enabled the Braves to clinch a 7-0 victory over the Astros. In a World Series in which no starter had previously completed more than five innings, prompting much discussion about the role of the starter, Fried’s departure felt like a firm aftershock: There is still plenty of room in modern baseball for a opener is not only the undisputed star of a game but also its director. Fried was the most dazzling player on the field on Tuesday. And more than that, he seemed to have total and unshakable control, not just of himself, but of the night, not so much the center of the action as the source of it.
“After his last outing, I was upset with his performance, and every day, he wanted the ball to show the world what he was capable of and who he really is,” d’Arnaud said in the infield afterward, drenched in champagne. his family by his side. “He came out today and he showed it.”
What made Fried’s night even more amazing was the fact that it briefly seemed like it would be interrupted before it had a chance to actually begin. Astros leadoff hitter Jose Altuve came on board with an infield single. His second hitter of the night, Michael Brantley, hit a soft helicopter thrown by Atlanta first baseman Freddie Freeman. This left Fried to cover the bag. But Freeman’s pitch was awkward, Fried’s angle was awkward, and Brantley stepped directly on the pitcher’s outstretched ankle.
On the bench, Braves manager Brian Snitker addressed pitching coach Rick Kranitz. The two meet for half an hour before each game to analyze all the scenarios that may happen to the pitching staff that night, trying to take into account all the possibilities. But Tuesday’s meeting certainly hadn’t included anything like “What if Fried needs to be removed before recording a single? “
“Oh hell,” Kranitz recalled Snitker saying. “We didn’t have that one.”
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As Snitker ran to the mound with the athletic trainers to see how Fried was doing, he told his pitching coach to think about which reliever he would have to prepare, if his starter was indeed ready. Kranitz, looking sadly, settled on Jesse Chávez. But no one made a call to jail, not even a preliminary one, just in case, to get the veteran going. Fried had left no room for the coaching staff to debate: No one would call the bullpen. “He was not going to be denied,” Kranitz said. Fried stayed in the game.
“It didn’t feel good,” conceded the pitcher in his postgame press conference. But at that point, it’s the World Series. You just have to figure out how to get through. “
Chávez, standing in the outfield after the game in a champagne-soaked jersey and a victory cigar in hand, said he didn’t know he would have been next. At the time, hoping that everything was okay with Fried, he had been trying not to think about it.
“That didn’t cross my mind,” he said. “But everyone was ready, because it’s the World Series and you have to be ready.”
Bullpen preparation was in vain: Atlanta had avoided the worst. But their situation remained tense. Fried had seen only two batters, both were on base, and the heart of the lineup was ready. This meant that the incumbent was not thinking about the persistent pain in his ankle. Instead, he focused on everything that could possibly go wrong, going back to his last start, in Game 2, when he allowed one run in the first inning and four in the second.
“The only thing I was worried about was first and second, no one out,” Fried said, “I didn’t want the entrance to get out of hand.”
I do not let it. Next, Fried got Carlos Correa to strike out with a nasty slider, the hardest the pitcher had thrown since April. Kranitz, watching from the dugout, could only marvel: “That 90 mph speeder,” he mused. “I knew in that moment, when the slider was that kind of depth, this guy was ready to go. He is good.”
Fried then hit a groundout single from Yordan Alvarez. And finally, in one of his most fascinating at-bats of the night, he engineered a three-pitch strikeout from Yuli Gurriel – three flawlessly placed fastballs (the last of which was recorded as the fastest hit of his career at 98.4 mph). , positioned on the southernmost edge of the area, which left the attacker staring.
“When you saw him push and get those outs, you saw him flip a switch,” Chavez said. “It was like, ‘Okay, time to go. ‘
Fried never looked back.
The 27-year-old had been eager to redeem himself after his lackluster start in Game 2. In the opening innings of Game 5 on Sunday, Kranitz said, when the pitcher was on three days off, he kept asking if he could go to the bullpen. in case the team wants me to pitch. Easy, Max, Kranitz had said. But he brought that same energy to Game 6. Fried had said before the game that he was going to use absolutely everything he had, and in a way that surprised even his catcher and pitching coach, he did.
“He had the best sinker he’s had in his career, and the best change he’s had in his career,” said d’Arnaud. “I mean, two pitches that I don’t think anyone thought he had, and was able to execute.”
They’re the two least-used options in his arsenal – the sinker accounted for 11% of Fried’s pitches this season and the change for just 2%. But they were both working on Tuesday, the change in particular, and he took advantage of them.
Fried hadn’t launched more than six changes at any start all year. In Game 6, he pitched 11, all in his last three innings of work. When Kranitz saw the first change, he started “walking like crazy”, nervous for his starter. But the pitch kept working, finally getting three puffs and a strike call, and Fried kept throwing it. After a particularly strong swing-and-miss on the switch, Kranitz turned to the man next to him in the dugout, the Braves caught coach Sal Fasano in awe.
“I can’t believe I’m doing this man,” he said. “I can not believe it”.
Snitker played it a bit conservative, pulling Fried on 74 pitches to hand things over to the “Night Shift,” the closed, unlit bullpen. And when the manager told him it was his night, that he should sit with pride, one of the first people to approach Fried was Freeman. The first baseman had sent the pitcher a long text message that morning, “a huge boost of encouragement, just saying that he believed in me and that he knew I could do this,” Fried said. “Being able to have the support of someone like that made my confidence increase.”
On the bench in the sixth inning, after confidence shone to the world, the two shared a long hug. As they did so, Fried thought about how far Freeman, the face of the franchise, had come in the past decade.
“You know how much has happened,” he said. “From the beginning of rebuilding, to winning the division and then winning it four times, and reaching the playoffs, going through the first round.”
In the breath between clauses, a fraction of a second that vanished, hung the routine of a trip and a life of dreams. Step. The pitcher knew how to finish his sentence.
“… and then finally, World Series champion.”
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.