ATLANTA — Though Max Fried has many fond memories of the 2020 season, he’ll never forget the frustration he felt when a couple early mistakes proved too significant to overcome during a loss to the Dodgers in Game 6 of last year’s National League Championship Series.
When given a chance to oppose his favorite childhood team yet again on Sunday afternoon at Truist Park, Fried showed why he has become one of the game’s top pitchers. His strong effort, combined with a couple timely hits against Trevor Bauer, allowed the Braves to claim a potentially season-altering 4-2 win over the Dodgers.
“This was a really good series,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “It should show those guys we’re as good as anybody out there when we play the way we’re capable of playing.”
How can one game or even one series be season-altering? Well, it remains to be seen what the Braves do after claiming the final two games of this three-game set. But there’s no doubt the team showed great resolve after being deflated while allowing nine runs on just four hits in Friday night’s series-opening loss to the defending World Series champs.
If nothing else, the Braves proved that they have distanced themselves from the misery felt in October, when they squandered a 3-1 series lead against the Dodgers in the NLCS.
“This team is always fighting,” Ender Inciarte, who drove in two runs, said. “So there’s good chemistry on the team and everybody is pulling for the same goal, which is winning a World Series. So, whoever is in the lineup, they’re just trying to do the best they can to help this team win ballgames.”
This was the first time Fried matched up against reigning National League Cy Young Award winner Trevor Bauer since the Braves claimed a 1-0, 13-inning win over the Reds in Game 1 of last year’s Wild Card Series. In that matchup, Bauer allowed two hits over 7 2/3 scoreless innings against what was one of the game’s most formidable offenses.
The Braves’ lineup this year isn’t nearly as lauded, as it is currently filled with a few guys who weren’t necessarily targeted for the Majors this year. One of those players is Abraham Almonte, who created an early lead with his RBI double in the second. Inciarte has accepted his backup role and attempted to take advantage of opportunities like the one he gained on Sunday, when he had an RBI single in the sixth and a sacrifice fly in the eighth.
“This is obviously the type of baseball that we know that we can play, and it’s just about building off of that,” Fried said.
Fried limited the Dodgers to one run on six hits over six-plus innings. After he allowed two straight singles to begin the seventh, he was replaced by A.J. Minter, who escaped the threat unscathed by retiring each of the three batters he faced. Minter had also started the stretch of four scoreless innings Atlanta’s relief corps produced in Saturday’s win.
With Shane Greene now a part of this group of relievers, the Braves’ bullpen was bidding for a second straight scoreless performance before Albert Pujols homered off Will Smith to begin the ninth. But Smith retired the next three batters and showed the enthusiasm you’d expect from the closer of a team that may finally be showing its potential.
“Hopefully, it’s something you look back on in two or three weeks and maybe point to this,” said Snitker. “Other than the one inning [an eight-run outpouring on Friday], we played a really good series against obviously the World Series champions. We did a lot of really good things. The bullpen was unbelievable.”
Fried’s line was similar to the one he produced while helping the Braves beat the Dodgers in Game 1 of last year’s NLCS. His performance was also void of the mistakes he made while allowing Corey Seager and Justin Turner to hit back-to-back homers in the three-run first Los Angeles tallied in Game 6.
One difference in this outing came from the early lead Fried was given courtesy of the RBI doubles Almonte and Ozzie Albies tallied within the first three innings. Albies has now recorded an extra-base hit in each of the past six games, and his 19 doubles stand as MLB’s second-highest total.
Fried retired the first 10 batters he faced and limited the Dodgers to the RBI single Pujols produced in the fourth. The Braves’ lefty has now allowed exactly one run while completing at least five innings in five of the six starts he’s made since returning from the injured list on May 5.
After providing this effort, Fried wasn’t interested in talking about retribution. Last year was great for him and his teammates, but to have a chance to truly make up for what was squandered in October, they must spend the next few months playing like they did the past couple days.
“Obviously, last year was last year, and this year is a whole different year,” Fried said. “So I’m trying to make the most of this. At the end of the day, it’s about winning games.”