By Alan Blinder
It had the signatures of a trick question, of being a surefire pathway to buying someone else’s drink. When did Atlanta — the franchise of Glavine and Maddux and Smoltz, those guys who surely played only yesterday, or maybe they really were a long time ago — last have a 20-game winner?
Until this September, the answer was 2003 (and the man behind the number was Russ Ortiz). Then Kyle Wright, who spent much of last year at Class AAA, won 21 regular-season games. But Wright gave Atlanta a masterwork, not a simple dose of seasonal trivia, on Wednesday night, when he crafted a two-hit, six-inning outing that positioned the Braves to even their National League Division Series against the Philadelphia Phillies.
And once Zack Wheeler, the Philadelphia star born not far from Truist Park, found his sinker and slider had been figured out in the sixth inning, Atlanta’s offense added its own special effects to a 3-0 victory. Game 3 in the best-of-five series will be in Philadelphia on Friday (4:37 p.m. ET, FS1).
Until Wednesday’s sixth inning, though, host Atlanta and Philadelphia were stubbornly scoreless just a day after an offensive scramble that ended with the scoreboard reading 7-6, Philadelphia.
There were possibilities Wednesday.
Matt Olson, the Atlanta first baseman, glared Bryce Harper back to third when a grounder came his way in the second. Philadelphia’s Rhys Hoskins slammed a ball to the warning track in the fourth. Olson soon slugged a long foul to left.
The sixth began sharply enough for Wheeler, who recorded a strikeout and got a flyout to center. Then a sinker darted into the elbow of Ronald Acuña Jr., who walked to first after being swarmed by Atlanta’s trainers. Dansby Swanson walked on a full count before Olson turned a slider into a single. Acuña, his legs and speedometer unbothered by the wayward sinker, scored unchallenged from second. (Atlanta manager Brian Snitker said after the game that Acuña had “no structural damage or anything.”)
Austin Riley tapped out an infield single that gave Swanson enough space to score. Another single off a slider, this one by catcher Travis d’Arnaud, brought home Olson, too.
“He had everything going,” Phillies manager Rob Thomson said of Wheeler. “I don’t know whether the hit batsman threw him off a little bit or not.” But, Thomson said, Wheeler ultimately “just kind of unraveled.”
Atlanta’s defense added a handful of dazzling catches Wednesday that helped Wright, whose pitching style is more prone to allowing balls in play, stump the Phillies.
“I don’t have a truly good swing-and-miss, four-seam fastball,” Wright said. Referring to the Atlanta defense, he added, “I try to rely on these guys a lot. They’ve been a huge piece of my success.”
Wright threw the game’s first pitch at 7:30 p.m., after a rain delay that lasted nearly three hours. With Game 3 planned for Friday afternoon, both teams were keen to play sometime Wednesday, but only if the game could be finished.
“We’re not looking for delays,” Thomson said before the game. “I don’t think anybody is — the Braves, us, Major League Baseball. If there’s a window there, we’ll go.”
The window yielded a sobering result for Philadelphia: After Atlanta lost the first Division Series game by a run, it won, 3-0. The Braves took the same route last season against the Milwaukee Brewers — and then won the World Series.
Left-handed reliever Tyler Matzek, who last year set an Atlanta franchise record for postseason appearances, had Tommy John surgery Wednesday. Matzek spent part of this season on the injured list, but made 42 appearances for Atlanta, amassing a 4-2 record, one save and an ERA of 3.50. He is arbitration-eligible this offseason.