2022 MLB Playoffs: Braves win Game 2 pitching battle to even NLDS

With Deesha Thosar
FOX Sports MLB Writer

There’s just something about the playoffs and a good, old-fashioned pitchers’ duel. Hits are rare, hits are many, and every rookie tries not to be the guy to blink first.

Braves right-hander Kyle Wright and Phillies right-hander Zack Wheeler were locked and traded early Wednesday despite a three-hour rain delay for the start of Game 2 in Atlanta. If anything, the waiting around seemed to further fuel the hype for each of their second outings in the 2022 MLB playoffs.

Wheeler pitched an eight-pitch first inning, while Wright threw 10 pitches in the opening frame. Through the first nine outs of Game 2, Wheeler had the slight advantage as the Braves went up nine and down nine. But that didn’t matter much, as both pitchers laid goose eggs through the first five innings.

There wasn’t much traffic on the basepaths all night — that is, until Atlanta’s game-changing offensive effort in the sixth inning. The Braves took the lead and never looked back, making the NLDS one win with their 3-0 win over the Phillies on Wednesday at Truist Park.

‘We’ve got to keep fighting’ — Matt Olson after Braves win

Matt Olson spoke with Ken Rosenthal after the Atlanta Braves’ 3-0 win to tie the NLDS with the Philadelphia Phillies at 1-1.

What went right for the Braves

The homer-happy Braves took a break from their usual plan of offense and instead rallied for three runs by keeping it simple: They put the ball in play. Then it was their defense that sealed the win.

Atlanta broke up the pitching duel by sending eight men to the plate against Wheeler in the sixth. With two outs, Ronald Acuña Jr. was hit on the right arm/elbow by a 97 mph sinker, which made him just the second baseman of the night for Atlanta. Dansby Swanson followed with a walk — Wheeler’s only free pass of the game — before Matt Olson delivered the first hit. Olson laced an RBI single past first baseman Rhys Hoskins and the Braves finally broke through.

After Olson, Austin Riley played a dribbler that Wheeler smothered two feet in front of the goal. But when he got there, it was too late. Swanson scored and Riley reached first safely. Travis d’Arnaud then joined the hit brigade with an RBI single up the middle to cap Atlanta’s three-run rally.

The Braves score three runs in the sixth inning

The Braves score three runs in the sixth inning

The Atlanta Braves scored three runs in the sixth on two-out hits by Matt Olson, Austin Riley and Travis d’Arnaud to go up 3-0 on the Philadelphia Phillies.

The Braves’ defense came into play just as much as their offensive outburst. Swanson and Riley showed their skin in the sixth and eighth innings, respectively. Swanson’s basket, which covered nearly 80 feet with his back to home plate, ended six scoreless innings for Wright.

Dansby Swanson makes a diving catch against the Phillies

Dansby Swanson makes a diving catch against the Phillies

Dansby Swanson of the Atlanta Braves made an unbelievable catch against the Phillies in the top of the sixth inning.

In the eighth, Riley took a risk by charging down the third-base side for a spectacular catch on a pop-up in foul territory. The play helped ground Jean Segura to first base and stifled any Philly momentum.

Austin Riley makes an unbelievable grab in foul territory

Austin Riley makes an unbelievable grab in foul territory

Austin Riley of the Atlanta Braves made an incredible catch to preserve a 3-0 lead against the Phillies.

What went wrong for the Phillies

Wheeler entered Wednesday in his first career postseason start: a 6⅓-inch, scoreless gem against the St. Louis Cardinals on Friday at Busch Stadium. At Truist Park, the Smyrna, Ga., native was back in his hometown and leading the way with a Game 2 plan for quick outs.

Wheeler has faced the Braves 24 times in his eight-year career, his second-most starts against any team behind the Nationals (28). His major league debut was against the Braves at old Turner Field, and the Georgia high school from which he was drafted is about a 30-minute drive from Truist Park. Wheeler grew up watching the Braves with his dad, who had the game every night. To say Wheeler is familiar with the Atlanta Braves is an understatement.

On Wednesday, that familiarity hurt him. He needed just 50 pitches to get through five scoreless innings, but just when it looked like he would finish his outing unscathed, the Braves got to him in that tumultuous sixth. Wheeler was facing the Braves order for the third time when things went downhill.

The Braves made it loud and clear: If the starting pitcher sticks around long enough to face them a third time, they will make him pay. It was a disappointing way for Wheeler to end his start, especially after going five strong scoreless innings. He ended his outing at 79 pitches.

Key moment of the game

Acuña was in a lot of pain when Wheeler’s 97 mph sinker nailed him near his right forearm and elbow in the sixth inning. The Braves starter was on the ground for several moments as a trainer checked on him. After a while, he took first base and stayed in the game, but his right arm was pulled tight to his body and he looked limp while running the bases.

He remained in right field for the rest of the game. But in his first at-bat after being hit by the pitch, Acuña quickly struck out five pitches in an uncompetitive performance.

Acuña getting drilled and injured is the last thing the Braves need after tying the NLDS. How he comes out of this tough time will be something to watch going forward.

What happens next?

On Friday, postseason baseball will return to Citizens Bank Park for the first time since the 2011 ALDS. The atmosphere is expected to be raucous with fans who have waited over a decade for the Phillies to bring the playoffs home. Additionally, the Phillies could wrap up the series at home if they win the next two games.

Phillies right-hander Aaron Nola will face a to-be-announced Atlanta starter in Game 3, though it’s possible the Braves will go with right-hander Charlie Morton. First pitch is scheduled for 4:37 p.m. on FS1.

Deesha Thosar is an MLB writer for FOX Sports. He previously covered the Mets for the New York Daily News. Follow her on Twitter at @Deesha Thosar.


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