Braves Take World Series Lead as Ian Anderson and Friends Chase a No-Hitter

Only two pitchers have ever thrown a postseason no-hitter: the Yankees’ Don Larsen with his perfect game in Game 5 of the 1956 World Series, and the Phillies’ Roy Halladay in the 2010 Division Series opener. On some level, the Braves’ Ian Anderson was vying to be the third; in Game 3 of the World Series on Friday night, he held the Astros hitless through five innings. But even from the start, anybody who has watched this postseason — where starters have averaged a hair over four innings per game — and understands the impact of the year-over-year workload increases that these pitchers are shouldering following the pandemic-shortened 2020 season could have told you that he wouldn’t get a chance to finish the job. That was doubly true on a raw and rainy night in Georgia and with a rested bullpen behind him. Backed by just two runs, Anderson and four relievers carried the no-hitter into the eighth and settled for a two-hit shutout, giving the Braves a 2–1 World Series lead.

Houston’s first hit finally came via a chip shot — 39 degrees, 70.7 mph — into left field by pinch-hitter Aledmys Díaz, the first batter faced by reliever Tyler Matzek. It fell in just in front of left fielder Eddie Rosario; according to Statcast, the catch probability for the play was 85%, but with shortstop Dansby Swanson running toward him and the cost of missing the ball being the tying run in scoring position, Rosario chose not to lay out.

It proved to be the right move. In fact, just about every major move the Braves made in Game 3 proved to be the right one, particularly manager Brian Snitker’s decision to trust his bullpen, no-hitter or not.

On paper, this figured to be a must-win game for the Braves; with season-ending injuries to Huascar Ynoa and Charlie Morton, they knew they would have to piece together back-to-back bullpen games on Saturday and Sunday. What they needed as much as anything from Anderson, who had averaged just four innings in his three previous postseason starts, was some length so as to maximize Snitker’s options in Games 4 and 5.

The 23-year-old rookie — yes, he’s still a rookie, despite having walked through the fire last October as well — was up to the task, though it wasn’t pretty. Neither was the weather. Rain fell all day at Truist Park, and the temperature at first pitch was just 49 degrees, making this the coldest World Series contest since Game 2 at Fenway Park in 2018. The only other time it had been that cold at first pitch in the Fall Classic in Atlanta was for the 1999 opener, when it was also 49 degrees.

Anderson, who threw five shutout innings against the Brewers in Game 3 of the NLDS and bent but didn’t break in two shorter starts against the Dodgers in the NLCS, was shaky from the outset. He sandwiched walks of Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman around a double play off the bat of Michael Brantley and allowed a hard-hit but routine fly ball off the bat of Yordan Alvarez. That out started a string of nine straight batters retired, though the young righty went to three balls on four of them before walking Alvarez with two outs and nobody on in the fourth. He then grazed Carlos Correa‘s jersey for a hit by pitch, but came off the mound to make a good play on Kyle Tucker’s swinging bunt (-68 degree launch angle, two feet!), throwing to first in time to get the slugger.

That inning cost Anderson 26 pitches. Though he recovered with a nine-pitch fifth inning and still had the no-hitter intact, as well as a 1–0 lead, he had thrown just 39 out of 76 pitches for strikes, gone to three-ball counts on eight out of 18 hitters, and had gotten just five swings and misses, with a 29% CSW. Rather than send his starter through the top of the lineup a third time, Snitker had a chance to roll out his expanded A-list bullpen, with A.J. Minter, Luke Jackson, Matzek, and Will Smith taking an inning apiece, and hopefully not overtaxed so as to be unavailable for Game 4.

The decision is no doubt one that frustrates both purists and casual fans; who doesn’t want to see a starter chase the glory of a no-hitter in any game, let alone a postseason one? But what’s left out of the equation, beyond the inevitable third-time-through-the-order calculus, is the reality of just how taxed these pitchers are given the fallout from last season. Anderson is one of four Braves pitchers whose regular-season and postseason innings workload is more than 100 above last year’s total, and the gap would be even larger if he hadn’t spent seven weeks on the injured list due to shoulder inflammation:

2020-21 Workload Increases Among LCS Pitchers
Pitcher Team 2020 Reg 2020 Post 2021 Reg 2021 Post Increase
Walker Buehler LAD 36.7 25.0 207.7 18.3 164.3
Nathan Eovaldi BOS 48.3 0.0 182.3 20.7 154.7
Luis Garcia HOU 12.3 2.0 155.3 13.0 154.0
Nick Pivetta BOS 15.7 0.0 155.0 13.7 153.0
Charlie Morton ATL 38.0 20.0 185.7 16.7 144.3
Max Scherzer LAD 67.3 0.0 179.3 16.7 128.7
Julio Urías LAD 55.0 23.0 185.7 15.0 122.7
Ian Anderson ATL 32.3 18.7 143.0* 17.0 109.0
Max Fried ATL 56.0 23.7 165.7 21.7 107.7
Drew Smyly ATL 26.3 0.0 126.7 4.3 104.7
Lance McCullers Jr. HOU 55.0 14.7 162.3 10.7 103.3
Jake Odorizzi HOU 13.7 0.0 104.7 6.3 97.3
Zack Greinke HOU 67.0 14.7 171.0 2.3 91.7
*includes 14.2 minor league innings via rehab assignment.

As much as the intensity of October baseball, the slim margins for error, and the analytical underpinnings for calling upon fresh relievers instead of tiring starters, I believe that so much of what we’ve seen this fall comes down to how hard these pitchers have been worked relative to 2020. I can’t fault Snitker for pulling Anderson — the youngest of the pitchers above, by the way, and one of six who’s reached a career high in innings as well — and I don’t think it represents an existential crisis for baseball so much as a perfect storm of 2021-specific circumstances that make such decisions relatively easy, particularly with the larger goal of a championship in mind.

Keep in mind that we saw plenty of this in the regular season as well. In addition to the seven official complete-game no-hitters (plus Madison Bumgarner’s seven-inning one), 12 pitchers were pulled having thrown at least five innings with a no-hitter still intact, one more than the previous high, set in 2018. In doing so, Anderson became just the third starting pitcher to depart under such circumstances, after the Mariners’ Paul Abbott in 2001 ALCS Game 4 against the Yankees (he walked eight but didn’t allow a run) and the Tigers’ Anibal Sanchez in 2013 ALCS Game 1 against the Red Sox (he walked six, struck out 12, and burned through 116 pitches).

Anderson departed with that 1–0 lead because Garcia, his opposite number, was wobbly. Though the 24-year-old righty had no trouble finding another gear for his four-seam fastball, which averaged 93.3 mph during the regular season but 95.5 on the night, his command suffered. He netted 11 swings and misses in the first two innings but couldn’t throw his breaking pitches for strikes and went to three balls five times in the first two frames, walking Ozzie Albies with two outs in the first and giving up a 99.1-mph rocket off the bat of Travis d’Arnaud with two outs in the second, a double off the right field wall. Astros manager Dusty Baker followed by ordering an intentional walk of Swanson, batting eighth, after which Garcia struck out Anderson, who is just 2-for-37 with 29 strikeouts in his regular-season career.

The run came in the third. Garcia issued a leadoff walk to Rosario and then served up a single to left-center by Freddie Freeman. He got a much-needed strikeout of Albies via a low changeup, a pitch he hadn’t broken out until the start of the inning, but Austin Riley smoked his cutter down the third base line past a diving Bregman at a 104.7 mph, bringing home Rosario.

Coach Ron Washington held Freeman at third, choosing not to challenge Alvarez’s arm, though this Statcast graphic is probably an overstatement:

Alvarez was playing the outfield to keep his bat in the lineup in the NL park; his 41 games and 39 starts in left field actually dwarfed the totals of his shifted teammates, with Brantley playing just eight games in right and Tucker just four in center, all while flanked by Alvarez and Brantley. Even with the grim weather and wet field, their relative inexperience in that configuration wasn’t a factor.

Anyway, Garcia then walked Jorge Soler to load the bases, prompting a visit from pitching coach Brent Strom. He got Adam Duvall to pop out in foul ground, then struck out d’Arnaud on a check-swing cutter — the fourth check-swing the Astros’ starter generated, but the first call on one that went his way. After getting outs with each of his first two pitches in the fourth inning — a pop foul to the catcher and a soft liner to first base — Garcia was done for the night just the same, lifted after 72 pitches and two full trips through the order in favor of lefty Blake Taylor, who gave up a single to Rosario but struck out Freeman.

The Braves got something going in the fifth against Yimi García after the righty had needed just three pitches to get the first two outs against Albies and Riley. Soler walked again, and Duvall hit a hot shot to the left of second base that Altuve was able to backhand, preventing Soler from taking third, but his looping, off-balance throw was off the mark, and Duvall was safe with an infield single. García recovered to get d’Arnaud to ground out to Gurriel at first, keeping the deficit at one run.

For the Braves, Minter and Jackson kept the no-hitter intact, with the former working around a two-out plunking of Bregman’s left ankle. Matzek, the team’s best and most heavily used reliever in the postseason, came on for the eighth to face Martín Maldonado, but Baker opted for the pinch-hitter Díaz instead. After getting ahead 2–1, Díaz dunked his shot into left field, ending what was the longest no-hit bid in a World Series game since 1967:

Pinch-runner Jose Siri did get into scoring position, stealing second with two outs and advancing to third when Swanson couldn’t come up with d’Arnaud’s low throw and the ball squirted into center field. Matzek stranded him there by getting Brantley to pop out.

With that reprieve, the Braves finally expanded their lead with two outs in the eighth, when d’Arnaud launched a 437-foot blast to dead center off off a Kendall Graveman fastball, the catcher’s second homer in as many games.

In the ninth, the Astros collected their second hit via Bregman’s shift-aided single off Smith, bringing the tying run to the plate, but the Braves’ closer retired Alvarez on a first-pitch pop foul, then dispatched Correa and Tucker on four pitches apiece.

The Braves got the leg up that they needed so badly. Snitker may not be able to call upon all four of his relievers for Game 4, as Minter threw 17 pitches, Matzek 15, Smith 14, and Jackson 11, but they helped to put the team in a good position as this series takes its next turn.





Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011, and a Hall of Fame voter since 2021. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe... and BlueSky @jayjaffe.bsky.social.

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howieloader
2 years ago

#ChopOn

Josh
2 years ago
Reply to  howieloader

@howieloader Stop being a racist tool.

TRad
2 years ago
Reply to  Josh

@josh stop being soooo politically correct.