ATLANTA — This was a game the Atlanta Braves absolutely had to win.
They had the right guy on the mound.
Kyle Wright, baseball’s only 20-game winner, pitched six brilliant innings to beat Zack Wheeler as the Braves tied their NL Division streak at one game apiece, shutting out the Philadelphia Phillies 3-0 on Wednesday night.
After steady rain delayed the first pitch at nearly three o’clock, Wright allowed just two hits and took the win when the Braves got to Wheeler for three runs in the bottom of the sixth.
The defending World Series champions were in an inescapable situation after losing the series opener best-of-five 7-6.
The Braves turned to the right with a big arm and a slamming curveball who finally took advantage of its enormous potential.
“I’ve worked on a lot of stuff this year,” Wright said. “Really, it just comes down to trust. ”
Wright, the fifth overall pick in the 2017 Entry Draft, struggled to get past Triple-A and entered this season with a 2-8 record in the majors. He turned it around completely, going 21-5 to claim three more wins than any other major league pitcher.
Wright continued through the playoffs. His only major threat came in the second, when Bryce Harper started with a brace, then scored and moved on to third on a deep center flyout from Nick Castellanos.
Harper had to come back to third on Alec Bohm’s sharp ground in first, and Brandon Marsh hit swinging on a four-seam that reached 96 mph.
“While he’s out there and figuring things out, he’s going to continue to develop, grow and gain confidence,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said of Wright. “With this arsenal he has, he can be a force for a long time.”
AJ Minter, Raisel Iglesias and Kenley Jansen closed out the three batters with an inning each.
Jansen earned the stoppage, the 20th of his playoff career, but the first with the Braves after spending the past twelve seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Game 3 is Friday in Philadelphia.
Dansby Swanson put on a dazzling game to end the Phillies’ sixth-place finish.
Sprinting with his back to the infield, the shortstop reached out to catch a pop fly of JT Realmuto while falling on the grass of the outfield. Wright threw both arms in the air when he realized Swanson had landed the hook.
It turned out to be the last pitch of Wright’s 83-pitch gem, in which he struck out six with a walk.
Wright watched from the top step of the dugout as the Braves finally broke the scoreless tie in the bottom half, doing all the damage after Wheeler retired the first two batters.
It started when Wheeler hit Ronald Acuña Jr. near the right elbow on a 96 mph fastball that went up and home on the hitter.
There was a delay of several minutes as Acuña, writhing in pain, was checked by the coaching staff. In the Atlanta dugout, Gil Heredia prepared to enter. Wheeler, meanwhile, threw a few pitches trying to stay loose.
The right-hander who grew up in metro Atlanta wasn’t the same after Acuña finally trotted to the first goal.
Swanson walked and Matt Olson drove in the first inning of the game, ripping a first baseman past Rhys Hoskins, who obediently waved a ball he could have at least knocked down.
“I think if you asked Rhys he would say he should make this game,” Phillies manager Rob Thomson said.
Olson was generously credited with an RBI single, but the Braves weren’t done. austin rileyThe power swing produced a short dribbler on the third base line for a hit that made it 2-0.
Then it was Travis d’Arnaud putting one down in the middle for another hit before Wheeler finally pulled out the third.
Far too late to prevent the Braves from tying the series.
At least the wild-card Phillies are finally going home.
Game 3 will be Philadelphia’s first game at Citizens Bank Park since a regular season loss to the Braves on Sept. 25.
The Phillies have played 14 consecutive road games since then, including four playoff games in their first playoff appearance since 2011.
“Leaving here with a split and coming home to a full house of enthusiasts…I think that will give our guys a little boost,” Thomson said.
Acuña is sure to be in pain after being hit by Wheeler’s throw, but Snitker said there was no structural damage.
“Probably fine, we have the day off,” the manager said. “They can heal him.”
Swanson’s catch wasn’t even the best defensive play of the night for the home team.
Riley made a similar take on the court in foul territory in the eighth, only it was made even more difficult as the third baseman had to navigate the railing and tarp arrayed in front.
He successfully caught the catch, slid down the tarp and managed to hang on while crashing to the ground.
RHP Aaron Nola (11-13, 3.25 ERA) gets the nod in Game 3 for the Phillies. The Braves had yet to announce their starter, who will be either RHP Charlie Morton (9-6, 4.34) or RHP rookie Spencer Strider (11-5, 2.67). Strider hasn’t pitched since Sept. 18 due to an oblique injury.
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