Atlanta advantage: Braves take World Series lead

Experience isn't a function of age. 

Ian Anderson, all of 23 years old, is still technically a rookie, even though he's started eight career postseason games, already tied for fifth on the Atlanta Braves' all-time list. (Longtime Braves fans can name the top four like naming Beatles: Glavine, Smoltz, Maddux, Avery.) Teammate Luke Jackson on Wednesday night called Anderson “65 years old in a [23]-year-old person’s body,” and Anderson certainly started the Braves’ biggest home game in 22 years like it was a routine June Wednesday afternoon special.

Anderson threw five innings of no-hit ball, scattering four largely ineffective baserunners — three walks and a hit batsman — over that stretch. The Braves only scored two runs, but that was enough. Twenty-six years and one day after Atlanta won its last World Series game in its own ballpark, the Braves knocked off the Astros, 2-0, to claim a 2-1 series lead.

A white tarp had covered the field for most of the afternoon, and an on-and-off drizzle had rendered the warning track and dirt along the dugouts a soggy mess. Neither team got a chance to size up the infield before the game, never an ideal scenario when you’re playing under unfamiliar conditions (Atlanta) or on an unfamiliar field (Houston).

The pregame ceremonies were the usual mélange of heartfelt moments and corporate obligations — no fewer than five different people threw out a “first pitch” — but a touching tribute to the late Hank Aaron set the proper mood for the game. The Astros sent hitting coach Troy Snitker out to home plate to exchange World Series lineup cards with his father, the guy managing the opposing ballclub.

Anderson settled in early, at one point retiring nine consecutive batters over the course of the first four innings. His counterpart, Luis Garcia, slung high-90s heat even as the temperature dipped below 50 degrees. Garcia has a wonky windup — he swings his arms like he’s rocking a baby to sleep, and then he does a three-step motion with his left foot that looks like someone’s dad pivoting while playing pickup basketball. He set down the Braves with little trouble in the first, and a Travis d’Arnaud second-inning double off the brick-lined right field wall did no damage.

The Braves mounted the first serious attack of either team in the bottom of the third, when Eddie Rosario walked and Freddie Freeman flared a fastball out to short left field. Garcia struck out Ozzie Albies on a seven-pitch at-bat, but Austin Riley smoked a liner just inside third base to score Rosario.

Garcia pitched himself into trouble and right back out of it. Jorge Soler walked on a check-swing fourth ball that would have ended the Giants-Dodgers series. With the bases loaded and one out, Adam Duvall popped out, and then d’Arnaud struck out looking, limiting Atlanta’s damage to a single run. That would become a recurring theme, as the Braves stranded seven runners through the first five innings.

Baker pulled Garcia with two outs left in the fourth inning, having thrown 72 pitches while surrendering only that one run. Blake Taylor trotted in from the Arm Barn and immediately served up a single to Rosario before striking out Freeman to shut down the Braves.

Ian Anderson threw a five-inning gem Friday night. (Mary DeCicco/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
Ian Anderson threw a five-inning gem Friday night. (Mary DeCicco/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

The game’s first what-if moment came in the bottom of the fifth, when Snitker offered Anderson a handshake and a hook in the dugout. Anderson no-hit the Astros through five, giving up three walks and one hit batsman, but Snitker decided not to give the Houston lineup a third look at him. Reliever A.J. Minter justified Snitker’s faith by clearing out the Astros in the sixth.

The no-hitter ended in the eighth inning on an Aledmys Diaz blooper that dropped just in front of a charging Rosario. Perhaps he could have attempted to dive for the ball, and perhaps that would have turned a single into a double. Pinch runner Jose Siri stole second and advanced to third when d'Arnaud's throw skipped into center field. But Tyler Matzek was able to induce two pop-outs to close the inning, and the Braves clung to a fragile one-run lead. 

d'Arnaud doubled that in the bottom of the eighth, clubbing an insurance run straight over the center-field fence and up the access tunnel beyond. Bregman started the ninth by beating the Braves' shift, punching an easy single into the wide-open right side of the infield. But Will Smith shut down the last three Astros in order, giving the Braves a 2-1 lead and control of the World Series heading into the weekend. 

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Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @jaybusbee or contact him at jay.busbee@yahoo.com. 

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source https://sports.yahoo.com/braves-ride-masterful-bullpen-pitching-performances-to-top-astros-claim-2-1-series-lead-034006063.html?src=rss

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