A.J. Minter made the jog from the right-center-field bullpen in Friday’s sixth inning without realizing his teammate, Ian Anderson, began Game 3 of the World Series with five no-hit innings. Minter only learned that he took part in what might become an exceedingly rare feat after working around a hit by pitch and returning to his dugout.
The same occurred with Luke Jackson, who navigated a 1-2-3 top of the seventh oblivious to his Atlanta Braves residing on the cusp of history. Then came Tyler Matzek, who surrendered the first Houston Astros hit to the first batter he faced in the eighth but retired the next three in order.
Between innings, Matzek was asked if he knew he was responsible for losing a no-hitter in progress.
“Yeah, I did know,” Matzek said. “I paid attention.”
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Matzek was able to laugh at the exchange in the postgame news conference. His Braves had secured a 2-0 victory over the Astros to take a 2-1 series lead, becoming the 31st team to limit the opposition to two hits or fewer in World Series history. Friday marked the first time that a team used at least five pitchers to allow no more than two hits, the last of whom was Braves closer Will Smith, who worked around Alex Bregman’s line-drive single in the ninth.
The other hit, delivered by pinch-hitter Aledmys Diaz in the top of the eighth, came off the bat at 71 mph as a flare into shallow center field. Braves left fielder Eddie Rosario initially charged forward then pulled up as backpedaling shortstop Dansby Swanson drew closer and watched the baseball hit the wet grass about a foot in front of him.
“I yelled, ‘I got it! I got it!'” Rosario recounted in Spanish. “But at the end I hesitated when he didn’t hear me. And so in order to avoid a collision, I stopped.”
Diaz was replaced by the speedy Jose Siri, who stole second base, advanced to third on a throwing error by Braves catcher Travis d’Arnaud and came within 90 feet of tying what at that point was a 1-0 game.
Diaz was ultimately one of only two Astros players to get as far as second base all night.
“My pitching staff is full of studs,” said d’Arnaud, who provided a much-needed insurance run with a solo homer in the bottom of the eighth. “They were just out there executing pitches.”
It began with Anderson, who joined former New York Yankees starter Don Larsen — author of the famous no-hitter in Game 5 of the 1956 World Series against the Brooklyn Dodgers — as the only men to finish a World Series game with at least five innings pitched and zero hits allowed.
Anderson, pitching under a steady drizzle, got the first 15 outs with 76 pitches, only 39 of which were strikes. He issued three walks and hit a batter, and with the Astros’ lineup due up a third time to begin the sixth inning, Braves manager Brian Snitker turned to a group of relievers who recently began calling themselves “the night shift.”
Snitker shook Anderson’s hand after he returned to the dugout and told him he was going with his “gut.”
The Braves were coming out of an off day and Snitker knew that his four high-leverage relievers wouldn’t contribute more than an inning each, setting them up to be available for what will likely be back-to-back bullpen days in Games 4 and 5 this weekend. The top three hitters in the Astros’ lineup — Jose Altuve, Michael Brantley and Bregman — had seen a combined 33 of Anderson’s pitches through two plate appearances each, a potential sign that trouble could be looming.
“It could have backfired, I guess,” Snitker said. “I just thought at that point in time, in a game of this magnitude and all, that he had done his job.”
Anderson, 23, became the third pitcher to be pulled from a postseason start after at least five no-hit innings, the others being Paul Abbott in Game 4 of the 2001 American League Championship Series (five no-hit innings but also eight walks) and Anibal Sanchez in Game 1 of the 2013 ALCS (six no-hit innings on 116 pitches). Anderson turned in the second-longest no-hit bid by a rookie in World Series history, trailing only the 5 1/3 no-hit innings by Jeff Tesreau in 1912, and he became the fourth rookie with a no-hit bid through the first five innings of any postseason game.
Given Anderson’s high pitch count, Snitker believes he had only one more inning in him regardless.
“The way the playoffs have been played and managed, I think you can’t fault Snit for making that move,” Anderson said. “Those guys [in the bullpen] post every time, so you gotta have the utmost trust in them. Ultimately those are the guys that are gonna get this thing done.”
Anderson’s 1.26 postseason ERA stands as the third-lowest in history through a pitcher’s first eight postseason starts, trailing only Orlando Hernandez (1.22) and Cliff Lee (1.26, though lower by a percentage point). But Hernandez (59 innings) and Lee (64 1/3 innings) had a much greater workload through those first eight starts than Anderson (35 2/3 innings), an indication of how much more aggressively teams use their bullpens. A starting pitcher has completed six innings in only 12 of this year’s 68 postseason games, and only three starters — Framber Valdez, Max Scherzer and Logan Webb, the latter on two occasions — have completed seven.
It’s why the Astros didn’t seem surprised by Anderson’s exit.
“You expect anything in the postseason,” Bregman said.
And it’s why the Braves’ relievers didn’t question the move.
“There’s a reason for it,” Matzek said. “The guys, the front office, Snit — everybody’s gone over it a few times for what the game script is for us to win this thing. Obviously the game script is right. We had a great, tough game, and we came out on top. I don’t second-guess that at all.”
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