Excruciatingly, the Reds Fall to the Braves in 13-Inning Game 1on September 30, 2020 at 10:40 pm

Excruciatingly, the Reds Fall to the Braves in 13-Inning Game 1

Our preview of the Braves-Reds series, which ran yesterday, closed with the following words:

“This one looks fun, and it should ultimately come down to which team pitches best.”

This afternoon’s Game 1 neither proved nor disproved that prediction. In a matchup of two National League Cy Young contenders, both pitching staffs flat out shoved. Trevor Bauer and Max Fried combined to go 14 2/3 scoreless — with 17 strikeouts and no walks, no less — and the relievers that followed them to the mound were every bit as good. In the end, Atlanta prevailed 1-0 on a walk-off single by Freddie Freeman off Amir Garrett in the 13th inning.

Both teams came out swinging. Three pitches into the game, the Reds had runners on the corners, courtesy of base knocks by Nick Senzel and Nick Castellanos. The aggression-fueled early scoring opportunity went for naught. Fried proceeded to record three outs on six pitches, with an Eugenio Suarez liner to short sandwiched between a pair of harmless ground balls.

That particular script remained unflipped for four more frames. Fried held the Reds scoreless on just 50 pitches through the first five, and when he departed after seven he’d put up a goose egg on 78 pitches. It was no small feat. While Cincinnati’s offense has been prone to scuffle, it’s rarely been because of a lack of patience. Along with the Braves, they led all NL teams in drawing free passes during the regular season.

Then it was Fried’s counterpart’s turn. In the bottom half of the first, Bauer set down three Braves batters on a mere seven pitches. One of the outs came on a Freeman howitzer to deep right that Castellanos — a player who has received more than his fair share of brickbats for his defensive play — snared with aplomb.

Defense goes hand-in-hand with pitching, and the NL Central club had a few foibles as well. Thanks to their ace, they got away with them.

A Joey Votto error in the second inning proved harmless — a pair of Bauer punch-outs stranding a runner in scoring position — as did a bit of poor positioning in a fourth-inning defensive shift. With a runner on, the Reds allowed Ozzie Albies to reach on a groundball hit directly at an infielder who was playing too deep to throw out a runner with above-average wheels. For the second time, Bauer bailed out his defense with a strikeout. He would finish with an even dozen.

Atlanta’s defense — an aspect of his team that manager Brian Snitker considers underrated — was rock solid at the right times. With one out in the top of the sixth, Adam Duvall threw out Castellanos trying to go from first to third on a Votto single. With two outs in the top of the seventh, they smoothly executed a rundown, tagging out a late-breaking Aristides Aquino at the plate. In a game that didn’t feature a lot of scoring chances — not until the later frames, anyway — it was a lost chance on a perplexing play. What was supposed to be a double steal went awry due largely to Aquino’s seeming uncertainty. Following the game, Bell chose to not blame Aquino, instead saying that it was “a little over-aggressive” strategical decision made by the manager.

Befitting their season-long difficulty scoring without the long ball, the Reds proceeded to squander a multitude of golden opportunities in extra innings. In the 11th, Mike Moustakas struck out with the bases loaded to end the threat. In the 12th, three consecutive Cincinnati batters fanned with a runner on third. In the 13th, another bases-loaded opportunity ended with a groundball preceded by a strikeout.

Strikeouts were a dime a dozen on both sides. Prior to the aforementioned groundball by pinch-hitter Jose Garcia, every player with a plate appearance — 21 in all — had fanned at least once. When all was said and done, 14 pitchers combined to strikeout 37.

One would be remiss not to issue a hat-tip to the Braves bullpen, which bent but refused to break. Despite the uncomfortable number of baserunners down the stretch, the relief corps went six innings without a runner crossing the plate. The last of the outs were recorded by left-hander A.J. Minter.

Atlanta has now won 11 of the 12 starts Fried has made this season. He wasn’t around at the end, but he enjoyed — lump-in-the-throat moments aside — every minute of it. Freeman likely did as well, although he did admit after it was over that it “was a stressful four hours.” The MVP candidate added that the shadows had begun to come in, and they could “still be playing right now if we didn’t score a run right there.”

Fried’s postgame thoughts?

“It was a fun one,” said the southpaw “That was as fun a game as I’ve played in for a long time.

In the aftermath an epic extra-innings affair, it’s safe to say that it was more fun for the Braves than it was for the Reds. For traditionalists, it was a breath of fresh air to not see extra innings start with a runner on second base. In an old-school pitcher’s duel, such a gimmick would have ruined a great game.

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