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Braves' Big Blunder Puts Game 2 Out of Reach

Houston evened up the World Series on Wednesday with some help from a rare, costly error by Atlanta's infield defense.

HOUSTON — Ron Washington barely remembered how to have the conversation. When shortstop Dansby Swanson jogged over to him, head down, after a catastrophic second inning that lost Atlanta Game 2 of the World Series, 7–2, it had been nearly a month since an Atlanta infielder had screwed up a play that mattered.

Swanson had muffed a grounder in Game 1, but Atlanta was already up 5–0 at the time. The circumstances were more dire Wednesday. Lefty Max Fried, the team’s remaining bulwark arm after Charlie Morton broke his right fibula during Game 1, had allowed a run in the first but was beginning to settle down. With the game tied at 1, Fried struck out the Astros’ Carlos Correa to open the second.

Then things started to unravel. Kyle Tucker lined a single up the middle. Atlanta shifted Yuli Gurriel to pull, and he chopped a fastball the other way for a single. Jose Siri beat out a swinging bunt. One run scored. Martín Maldonado hit a weak ground ball that found its way between Swanson and third baseman Austin Riley. Gurriel dashed home. Siri sprinted for third.

Left fielder Eddie Rosario fired to third base to nab Siri—only to discover there was no one there. Swanson was in short left field. Riley was serving as the cutoff man between third base and the pitcher's mound, where Fried stood. The ball skipped to the backstop. Siri scored, screamed and beat his chest. Maldonado took second. The Astros never looked back.

Rosario should have eaten the ball. Riley should have realized the only play to make was at his base and retreated there. Fried should have backed up third base. But most of the responsibility lay with Swanson, who dawdled in left field after the grounder got through. He was too close to Rosario to cut off the throw home and too far from third to make a play there.

Swanson knew immediately. “I should’ve cut it,” he told Washington, the infield coach, after the inning ended, with the Astros up 5–1.

“Cut it or go to third!” said Washington brightly.

There was no point in lecturing the infielders. “It’s been a while since we haven’t played great defense,” Washington said after the game. Indeed, his charges are among the best defenders in the league. They have dazzled all postseason, between their positioning and their athleticism. They will win this team more games than they lose. But Wednesday, they helped lose one.

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Houston Astros center fielder Jose Siri (26) celebrates as Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Max Fried (54) walks away during the second inning during game two of the 2021 World Series at Minute Maid Park.

Astros center fielder Jose Siri celebrates after scoring on a calamitous play in the second inning of Game 2, while Braves pitcher Max Fried walks away.

Fried had allowed five runs in 4 ⅔ innings in an NLCS Game 5 loss to the Dodgers last week, and Houston offered a challenging matchup. Fried likes to pitch to his glove side—inside to righties, outside to lefties. Only three other starters used that third of the plate more than he did this year, and none had nearly the success with it that he did. Unfortunately for Atlanta, the Astros are the fifth-best team in baseball at hitting those pitches. There was not much margin for error, and with Morton done for the series, Fried knew he had to give the bullpen a break.

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He might have done it if not for that second inning. He seemed to relax once he returned for the third; he retired the next nine men in order. But by the time he allowed a single in the sixth with his 86th pitch, manager Brian Snitker had seen enough. Still, afterward, Snitker praised the outing.

“I'm having a hard time convincing myself that he struggled,” said Snitker. “The first inning, they did some really good hitting. The second inning, when they scored, it was kind of a weird inning, you know what I mean? It wasn't like he was getting banged around. Balls that found holes, checked swings, we threw a ball away. It was just a weird inning. But I thought his stuff was really good. He ended up throwing a lot of pitches for the five innings he was out there, but God, it could have been very easily a different outcome for him, I think, especially that second inning.”

Fried disagreed. “At the end of the day, they put up four runs in that inning,” he said. “You need to do better next time, just making pitches, getting out of it.”

He will probably get another opportunity. Morton would have been lined up to start Game 5 on normal rest; Fried said he was open to making that start on short rest. He will have to beat the Astros to his glove side. He will have to rely on his infielders. And he will have to back up third base.

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