We had One of Those Games on Monday night in Atlanta. One of those October classics that make these Postseason Weird and Wild columns worth writing.
It’s possible nobody in Philadelphia will want to read one word of this. But that’s OK. I’m related to lots of people who feel their pain. So let’s begin this National League Division Series Game 2 edition of Weird and Wild by telling you all about …
1. The Braves’ new world
They mashed 307 home runs this year. Were any of them bigger than this one? How?
How could any of those long balls possibly have been bigger or better or wilder or more call-your-cardiologist-immediately-ish than this miraculous blast … than Austin Riley battling for survival, battling to save his team’s season, and then …
On a 3-2 pitch … with two outs in the eighth … unfurling this wave of the bat?
One-handed homer for Austin Riley 👀
One of the biggest home runs in Truist Park history.
— The Athletic MLB (@TheAthleticMLB) October 10, 2023
There are a million ways to win a baseball game. But October plot lines don’t get any more incredible than this, than Braves 5, Phillies 4, on a stunning turn of events in Atlanta. As I type this, I’ve been digging into the ending of this game for nearly two hours. I think it’s safe to say this now:
No team has ever won a postseason game quite like this.
• After looking as if it might get no-hit … as late as two outs into the sixth inning.
• After sending 53 batters to the plate in this series before it even scored a run.
• After finding itself trailing by four runs, with nobody on and just 10 outs to go.
• And then, even after Riley’s epic, lead-flipping, two-run homer, still needing to make this astonishing play to finish an all-time amazing game:
— MLB (@MLB) October 10, 2023
Michael Harris II! That’s a walk-off leatherworking classic unlike any that has ever ended any postseason game in history. But before we explain exactly why and how, we need to walk through all of this, because this game was An October Baseball Game to Remember*.
(*Philadelphia portion of the universe not included.)
No runs, no hits, no win — Let’s start here. Phillies ace Zack Wheeler was a fire-spitting monster in this game. (More on him to come.) Seventeen outs into this game, he held a four-run lead and hadn’t allowed a hit — against one of the great lineups of this or any era.
So how likely was it for any team to kick off a postseason game that way and somehow wind up winning it? C’mon. Do I even have to explain those odds? You can sum them up in three words: pretty much impossible.
My friends from STATS Perform looked into this — and guess what? You know how many other teams have ever been no-hit into the sixth inning of a postseason game … and trailed by four runs or more … and still found a way to win that game? Yep, that answer is nada!
Austin found — It may not have been the prettiest swing of Austin Riley’s career. But it might turn out to be the most memorable. When he looks back on it 20 years from now, 50 years from now, he won’t remember his top hand losing its grip on the bat. He’ll remember that he hit a baseball that will keep floating through the sky for the rest of his life.
It was the 13th lead-flipping home run, with two outs in the eighth inning or later, in postseason history. And what a list. The other 12 homers on the list include, not surprisingly, some of the legendary October home runs in history: Kirk Gibson off Dennis Eckersley … Dave Henderson off Donnie Moore … Jack Clark off Tom Niedenfuer. So just because it’s amazing to rip through these names, check out the five others from the past 30 years.
Joe Carter (Blue Jays): Game 6, 1993 World Series, off the Phillies’ Mitch Williams, two outs in the ninth. (Sorry to dredge that one back up, Philadelphia!)
Marquis Grissom (Cleveland): Game 2, 1997 ALCS, off the Orioles’ Armando Benitez, two outs in the eighth.
Albert Pujols (Cardinals): Game 5, 2005 NLCS, the signature Pujols October rocket, off the Astros’ Brad Lidge, with Houston one out from its first-ever trip to the World Series.
Juan Uribe (Dodgers): Game 4, 2013 NLDS, off the Braves’ David Carpenter, two outs in the eighth (nearly 10 years ago to the day).
Yordan Alvarez (Astros): Game 1, 2022 ALDS, off Mariners reliever Robbie Ray, two outs in the ninth.
And now Austin Riley, off Jeff Hoffman. Whoa.
The 8-5-3 area code special — So it turns out there’s no such area code as 853 – but there should be. And who knows, after the way this game ended, there might be a petition to change the area code of Truist Field from 404 to 853 — because Braves center-field wizard Michael Harris just pulled off the 8-5-3 masterpiece that will forever overshadow all other 8-5-3’s for as long as we keep score.
Check it out again, through the magic of Statcast 3D.
Michael Harris II’s catch — ball flight tracking
45% catch probability — and that doesn’t fully capture the difficulty of the leap into the wall
He needed to cover 92 feet in 5.4 seconds just to get there. His jump was +5.0 feet above average pic.twitter.com/NA609RyHm9
— David Adler (@_dadler) October 10, 2023
And now take in the rest of the play … the catch … the throw that somehow skipped along until it wound up in Riley’s hands … Bryce Harper’s furious scramble to get back to first and keep the game alive … and Riley’s how-the-heck-did-I-wind-up-with-this-thing throw that barely beat Harper to first base.
So what do you need to know? Two things:
• So do you have any recollection of all the other 8-5-3 double plays in postseason lore? Of course you don’t. The great Sarah Langs of MLB.com reports (via the Elias Sports Bureau) that there has never been another 8-5-3 double play in postseason history. Not merely to end a game. Not at any other juncture of any game. But also …
• Let’s surgically remove the 8-5-3 portion of this equation. It’s hard to remember any outfielder starting any kind of double play at that point of a game, isn’t it? Well, there’s an excellent reason for that, too. I ran this past the gang at STATS, and they tell us Harris was the first outfielder in history to start a double play that ended any postseason game. That’s any DP started by an outfielder at any position … and any size, shape or flavor of double play. Unreal.
Best laid plans — So now, finally, let’s sum it all up. The Best Team in Baseball was on the ropes. … Down, one game to zip, in this series. … Down four runs in the sixth — to a Phillies team that hadn’t trailed for one pitch of this postseason, for what that’s worth. … And then that Best Team in Baseball pulled a Houdini, wriggled out of those ropes and escaped? Well, that doesn’t happen much.
I asked the folks at STATS to work their magic on how rare that was, too. Here’s what they reported:
This was only the third time in postseason history that the team with the best regular-season record trailed in any series and then charged back to win a game in which it trailed by at least four runs in the sixth or later. And I’m pretty sure the architect of the Phillies, Dave Dombrowski, will recall the last one!
2013 ALCS, Game 2 — The 97-win Red Sox lose Game 1, then find themselves in an almost identical game. No-hit by Max Scherzer into the sixth inning … fall behind Dombrowski’s Tigers, 5-0, in the sixth … still trail, 5-1, in the eighth … then lose late, in a game remembered for this game-tying David Ortiz slam, Torii Hunter’s tumble into the bullpen and Boston’s most jubilant cop.
David Ortiz hitting a game tying Grand Slam to send Torii Hunter over the bullpen was amazing. I honestly think the bullpen cop, Steve Horgan, was as iconic. pic.twitter.com/CUGep4411I
— The Pesky Report (@PeskyReport) January 30, 2023
1982 World Series, Game 4 — This game was nowhere near as legendary. Nevertheless, the 95-win Brewers were down, two games to one, to Whitey Herzog’s Runnin’ Redbirds … then had a 5-1 canyon to climb out of … and did that, with a six-run seventh inning, centered around the opposite of the Michael Harris play — with Cardinals pitcher Dave LaPoint flubbing a ball back to the mound that upended everything.
And that’s it! So there you go. Add it all up and how can you not agree with me — that no team has ever won a game quite the way the mighty Braves won this game? It’s another one of those incomprehensible October games that don’t happen anywhere close to how you’d think they’d happen. But of course, there’s no reason we should ever expect the expected at this time of year — simply because it’s …
Baseball! (In October!)
Phillies lament missed chances to land knockout blow vs. Braves, but they have an edge in Game 3
2. Wheels on fire
I made this observation in a previous October Weird and Wild extravaganza last week, but here it comes again:
When do we start dropping Zack Wheeler into the Best Pitcher in Baseball debate?
He entered this game with (holy cannoli) the lowest WHIP of any starter in postseason history (0.73) among pitchers with seven starts or more. He exited this game with an even more microscopic WHIP (0.72) that is still the lowest of any starter in postseason history with eight starts or more.
The names right behind him are Christy Mathewson (0.84 in 11 starts) and Bob Gibson (0.89 in nine starts). So that ought to get this guy some attention. But none of that is even the Weird and Wild part.
The Weird and Wild part is that Wheeler also entered this game with the lowest opponent batting average (.162) of any starting pitcher in postseason history … and then got within 10 outs of pitching a postseason no-hitter.
Now obviously, he didn’t finish that no-hitter, and his team didn’t even end up winning. But that was one masterful show Wheeler put on. So it’s our job, here at Weird and Wild World HQ, to let you know just how masterful it was.
He almost no-hit a whole team of Ernie Banks! As Wheeler kept ticking off outs, I found myself struggling with how to describe how fearsome the lineup was that he was no-hitting. So how about this:
Ernie Banks was a Hall of Famer, a Cubs icon and a beautiful human. But let’s stick to the Hall of Famer part. Now here’s how it applies to these Braves.
Career slash line of Ernie Banks: .274/.330/.500
Slash line of the 2023 Braves (all of them): .276/.344/.501
So Zack Wheeler made a run at no-hitting an entire lineup that hits like a Hall of Famer? Sounds hard to do!
He almost no-hit a team that scored 947 runs! We often say stuff like: The Braves scored more runs than any team in baseball this year. But that barely tells the full story of this team. Maybe this tells it better:
They scored more runs this year than any National League team since the 1953 Dodgers!
And those ’53 Dodgers roamed the Earth 70 years ago. But I should point out that a bunch of American League teams have scored that many in the years since — especially in the heart of the performance-enhancing drugs era. So because they did, I had a question for STATS:
How many other pitchers have ever taken a postseason no-hitter that deep into a game against a lineup that scored as many runs as the 2023 Braves? And that answer is …
Exactly one! Ever! That was Mike Mussina, who got through 6 1/3 hitless innings against a 2004 Red Sox team that scored 949 runs — in Game 1 of an ALCS that is remembered for how it ended, not how it started. But whatever. It’s Mussina. It’s Wheeler. And that’s the whole darned list.
And let’s not forget the Anibal Sánchez game! But we don’t have to measure brilliance just with the 947-Run Club. What if we look at all the teams that led the major leagues in runs scored, no matter how many runs that was. Let’s do that, OK?
And if we do, it loops in one more game in postseason history. So why not go there, especially since it leads us to the game right before another game we’ve already written about in this column.
That was Game 1 of the 2013 ALCS, when Anibal Sánchez took a no-hitter into the seventh against an 853-run Red Sox team that would go on to win the World Series. And who did Sánchez pitch for? The 2013 Tigers, an outfit built by a fellow named … Dave Dombrowski … who is no doubt praying heavily that this series doesn’t turn out like that one.
But finally … So Zack Wheeler never did pitch that no-hitter … and his team never did get enough outs to win that game. But in other news, Wheeler got 20 outs against that terrifying Braves lineup, allowed just three hits and struck out 10. Did you know that during the regular season, only one starting pitcher went that deep in a game, while allowing that few hits and piling up that many K’s against the Braves. And that pitcher was …
Zack Wheeler! (Eight innings, three hits, 12 whiffs, on May 27.)
I don’t know what you think of when the topic turns to the Los Angeles Dodgers of Chavez Ravine. But I know what I think of.
Not to mention that Kershaw guy
That’s right. I think of aces, stomping toward the mound at Dodger Stadium in the late-afternoon October shadows, filling the world with zeros. Which means, to bring this discussion back into the 2023 realm of Weirdness and Wildness, that I don’t think of this …
NLDS Game 1 starter (Clayton Kershaw): gives up six runs in the first, gets one out
NLDS Game 2 starter (Bobby Miller): gives up three runs in the first, gets five outs
That’s what the 2023 Dodgers rotation gave them in the first two games of their postseason, all right: nine runs … six outs! And that’s basically why they now trail their NLDS against the Diamondbacks, two games to zilch. And who the heck wrote that script?
The Dodgers played their first postseason baseball game 107 years ago. So how many other times (not counting when they used an opener) had they pointed starters to the mound who couldn’t make it through the second inning in back-to-back games? That would be none, obviously.
And how many other teams have pulled that off? That was a question that sent me down a fun-filled Baseball Reference/Stathead rabbit hole way too late in the evening, but what the heck. It’s National Sleep Deprivation Month. So I had to know.
I confined the search to the era of “playoffs,” as opposed to just “the World Series.” So that meant 1969 onward. I looked only at teams that did that in the same series. And my one other rule was: No openers! I found six other times this happened. I’ll list them in order of fewest combined outs.
1992 Braves, NLCS Games 5-6: Steve Avery and Tom Glavine: 12 runs, four outs!
1984 Padres, NLCS Games 1-2: Ed Whitson and Tim Lollar: seven runs, seven outs!
1999 Red Sox, ALDS Games 4-5: Kent Mercker and Brett Saberhagen: seven runs, eight outs!
2021 Red Sox, ALDS Games 1-2: Eduardo Rodriguez and Chris Sale: seven runs, eight outs!
2021 Astros, ALCS Games 2-3: Luis Garcia and José Urquidy, 12 runs (11 earned), eight outs!*
2014 Giants, World Series Games 6-7: Jake Peavy and Tim Hudson, seven runs, nine outs in Games 6 and 7 of the World Series!
(*those 2021 Astros then made it three in a row, with Zack Greinke getting only four outs in Game 3.)
But now here’s the Weirdest and Wildest part of all: Five of those six teams still won that series — everyone but the 1999 Red Sox. That makes way too little sense. But then again, it’s …
Baseball! (In October!)
The Dodgers are on the brink, with one solution: play better
Diamondbacks are showing Dodgers how it’s done: ‘We’re playing with an edge’
Arizona’s 2 aces dismantle L.A.’s elite offense
4. Party of Five
Wait! Wait! Just a few more tidbits to pass along.
CATCH AS CATCH CAN — J.T. Realmuto bopped an inside-the-park homer against the Braves last October. On Monday, he mixed it up with an outside-the-park homer. But that isn’t even the Weird and Wild part.
Did you know that Realmuto has now hit a home run in five postseason series in a row? And the list of catchers who have done that is as cool as you’d expect. Here it comes, courtesy of STATS:
Jason Varitek (1999-2004)
Yogi Berra (1952-57)
Johnny Bench (1970-73)
J.T. Realmuto (2022-23)
(Source: STATS Perform)
ALL MAX’D OUT — It was One of Those Nights for Max Fried (95 pitches, 12 outs). But I’m here to make him feel better, not worse — by reporting that the Braves asked him to do something that almost no pitchers in history have ever done:
Win a game on 17 days of rest!
In the history of postseason baseball, only four pitchers have ever pulled that off — starting a game on 17 days’ rest or more and pitching well enough to win it. Here’s that funky list:
Bryse Wilson, Braves (17 days) — 2020 NLCS Game 4
Brett Anderson, A’s (19 days) — 2012 ALDS Game 3
Howard Ehmke, A’s (19 days) — 1929 World Series Game 1
Chief Bender, A’s (39 days) — 1910 World Series Game 1
(Source: Baseball Reference / Stathead)
Schultz: On Max Fried’s bad start and why he wouldn’t move during Braves’ comeback
ZACK AND RANGER, MEET MIKE AND NOLAN — As the Braves filled the scoreboard with doughnuts, inning after inning, how could you not think: How much longer can this last? Well, the answer was: Long enough to make history.
A 104-win Braves team started off this postseason with 14 shutout innings in a row. And that wasn’t just weird (or wild). It was unprecedented. According to the Elias Sports Bureau (via Sarah Langs), that was two more innings than any other 100-win team had accumulated consecutive zeroes at the start of a postseason.
The previous record-holders? Keith Hernandez’s 108-win 1986 Mets. And that’s yet another team whose path bore some similarities to the first two games of these Braves. That Mets lineup was held scoreless for 12 innings in a row — against Mike (Cy Young) Scott and Nolan (Good Luck Hitting This) Ryan. And then …
Wally Backman, Hernandez, Gary Carter and Darryl Strawberry went single, single, double, sac fly off Ryan, to bust up that scoreless streak. And the Mets went on to score five runs off Ryan to salvage that game and even that series. Baseball’s funny like that. Ever noticed?
WALK THIS WAY — This is left over from Game 2 on the AL side of the draw, but it’s too Weird and Wild not to mention. You’ve probably heard that Sunday in Baltimore, Texas’ Corey Seager just became the first player in history to walk five times in a postseason game, right? But no, that’s not the Weird and Wild part.
The Weird and Wild part is … Corey Seager has never even walked four times in a regular-season game … and he’s only had two three-walk games in the past six seasons combined. But hey, if I was the Orioles, I wouldn’t throw him a strike right now, either.
GOT CHANGE FOR 100? Finally, postseason baseball began 120 years ago. Since then, 106 teams have won 100 games and made it to the postseason. So how about this …
1903-2022: Not one of those 100-win teams kicked off its postseason by losing back-to-back home games against a team that had won at least 10 fewer regular-season games than they’d won.
2023: So naturally, because 2023, that’s now happened two days in a row! First, the Orioles did it against Texas. Then the Dodgers joined that “fun” against Arizona.
And if you have an explanation for that, I promise you I have a better one. Repeat after me: One … two … three … it’s …
Baseball! (In October!)
(Top photo of Austin Riley hitting a two-run homer in the eighth inning: Mary DeCicco / MLB Photos via Getty Images)