HOUSTON (AP) — Max Fried found his footing on the mound for the Atlanta Braves after getting stepped on early in Game 6 of the World Series.
The young left-hander looked like an ace again, and the Braves clinched their first championship since 1995, which came only a few months before Fried’s second birthday.
Fried got 18 outs against the 19 batters he faced after his right ankle got stomped on by Michael Brantley’s rubber cleat and became the first pitcher in this World Series to complete six innings. The pitcher was trying to cover first base after Houston’s second batter of the game Tuesday night hit a slow grounder fielded by first baseman Freddie Freeman.
“It didn’t feel good, but at that point, it’s the World Series. You just got to figure out how to get through,” Fried said. “It was more of it got tight, but it was never any shooting pain or anything too severe or uncomfortable.”
When umpire Chris Conroy signaled safe, Fried immediately pointed at his right foot, and not because he was hurting. He was indicating that Brantley had stepped on his foot, which was bent somewhat awkwardly but not in contact with the base.
The Braves didn’t argue the call, instead moving quickly to check that Fried was OK.
Six days after losing Game 2 in Houston, he was just fine. Fried struck out six without a walk and limited the Astros to four singles in a 7-0 win.
Braves manager Brian Snitker described Fried getting stepped on as “very scary,” and said it brought back a quick flashback to Game 1 starter Charlie Morton taking a comebacker off his right leg that resulted in a fractured fibula.
“I was just glad when he got up and threw that everything was good,” Snitker said. “Then he had a really stressful inning after that. I was just kind of wondering what that was going to take, that whole incident would take out of him, and he rebounded and did a great job obviously.”
Tyler Matzek pitched two scoreless innings with four strikeouts before Will Smith, the closer and third lefty in a row to pitch for the Braves, worked the ninth to wrap up the first shutout in a World Series clincher since the Chicago White Sox won 1-0 in the same stadium in 2005 to finish a four-game sweep of the Astros.
Jose Altuve led off with an infield single before Brantley reached on what was ruled an error on Fried. But they were both left stranded when Carlos Correa struck out, cleanup hitter Yordan Alvarez grounded out and AL batting champion Yuli Gurriel took three strikes in a row.
After getting stepped on, Fried said his only worry was having runners on first and second with nobody out.
“I didn’t want the inning to get out of hand,” he said. “For me, I didn’t want to have a repeat of Game 2 where four runs come across and you look up and you’re down by a lot. So I just knew that I had to really just bear down.”
Houston had leadoff singles in both the third and fourth innings before double plays. That included a comebacker by Brantley in the third, when Fried turned and fired to shortstop Dansby Swanson for the relay to first.
When Altuve got to the plate for the third time with one out in the sixth, Fried threw a pair of offspeed pitches for strikes before a routine infield popup. Brantley singled on a slow roller that Swanson fielded in shallow center field before Correa struck out for the second time to end the inning on Fried’s 74th and final pitch.
“That was Max Fried. He had a little chip on his shoulder, I think, after the last couple starts. But what you guys saw tonight was what we saw for months during the season,” said Freeman, the longtime Braves first baseman who homered and had an RBI double. “An incredible performance when we needed it most.”
In Game 2 last Wednesday, Fried retired 10 batters in a row in his first-ever World Series start. But that came after a four-run second inning that put the Astros ahead to stay in a 7-2 win, only the second time all year he lost consecutive starts.
Six days before that, the California native gave up five runs and eight hits over 4 2/3 innings against the Dodgers in an 11-2 loss when the Braves had a chance to wrap up the NL Championship Series in Game 5 in Los Angeles. That had been the first time since June 1 that he didn’t make it past the fifth inning.
Fried became the first starting pitcher with at least six strikeouts without walking a batter in a potential World Series clincher. The last pitcher without a walk in at least six scoreless innings in a clincher was Bret Saberhagen for Kansas City in Game 7 in 1985.
It as the ninth career postseason start for the 27-year-old Fried. The only Braves with more are Tom Glavine (32), John Smoltz (27), Greg Maddux (27) — all three of them Hall of Fame pitchers — and Steve Avery 12.
Fried put on quite a show for Braves fans, and two of his high school teammates who were there to watch: Chicago White Sox pitcher Lucas Giolito and St. Louis pitcher Jack Flaherty.
All three of those former prep teammates were opening day MLB starters this season. Only Fried made it to the final game.
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