Bats Ignite At Last, Vaulting Atlanta Past Milwaukee and Into N.L.C.S.
ATLANTA — And in the fourth game, the offenses finally erupted.
Until Tuesday, the National League division series between Atlanta and Milwaukee had been nothing but pitching masterpieces, with three games that saw a total of nine runs. Game 4, the first of the series with a season’s fate at stake, brought out the bats: Atlanta won, 5-4, and advanced to the National League Championship Series for the second consecutive year.
Atlanta had relied on mastery from the mound earlier in this series. On Tuesday, it turned to power, pinch-hits and a few fundamentals that worked in its favor.
Milwaukee, facing the possibility of becoming the first team since the 1966 Los Angeles Dodgers to go scoreless in three consecutive postseason games, steered away from history’s menace in the fourth inning, raising the pressure on Atlanta.
Avisail Garcia, the right-handed-hitting outfielder, jumped at a fastball Charlie Morton fired to begin the at-bat for a single to left. Morton’s errant pickoff throw let Garcia scoot to second, where he stayed when Luis Urias walked on five pitches.
With one out, Omar Narváez lifted a fastball into center for a single that scored Garcia and moved Urias to third. Lorenzo Cain, Milwaukee’s No. 8 hitter on Tuesday, promptly turned a sinker into a single to give the Brewers a 2-0 lead.
On Friday, that was enough for Milwaukee. On Saturday and Monday, two runs were more than enough for Atlanta.
But any ambitions Milwaukee had to sustain that trend ended in the inning’s bottom half, when, with the bases loaded, the Atlanta pinch-hitter Eddie Rosario swaggered into the batter’s box.
A slider went foul. A fastball became a called strike. Another fastball, another foul, still an 0-2 count with two outs. Rosario then brought Truist Park to life, connecting with a fastball and sending it toward shallow center, tying the game.
Of course, Rowdy Tellez, the man whose home run off Morton had decided Game 1, was due in the fifth inning. Christian Yelich singled. Garcia swung at, and missed, three consecutive sliders from A.J. Minter.
Minter stuck with the slider when Tellez approached. This time, he hit it 448 feet for a home run.
Atlanta offered a far less glamorous or speedy response in their half of the fifth — it included a fielder’s choice off the slightly-cooled-but-still-hot bat of Joc Pederson and a single to right — but tied the game again.
Milwaukee turned to its most fearsome face, the left-handed reliever Josh Hader, in the eighth. With a 1.23 earned-run average in 60 games this season, along with his third All-Star selection, Hader, 27, had dazzled Milwaukee as a strikeout machine.
But Freddie Freeman doesn’t succumb to dazzle easily.
Hader offered a slider and Freeman took a sweeping, powerful cut at it.
Milwaukee’s hopes of staying alive in the series narrowed when the ball reached the stands in left-center — as it seemed destined to do from the moment Freeman made contact — and Truist Park, which had already echoed through the night with Atlanta’s signature chants and taunts, roared anew.
Atlanta and Milwaukee had entered Game 4 testing radically different approaches to starting pitching in the postseason. Atlanta sent out Morton, who had thrown six innings in Milwaukee on Friday, after Manager Brian Snitker invoked the teachings of a man who coached as early as the 1950s to explain his choice in the 21st century.
“This wasn’t short rest — it was the norm, back until we made it not,” Snitker said. “Back in Johnny Sain’s day when he was a pitching coach, he was all for guys getting two days and then pitching.”
Craig Counsell of Milwaukee, it seemed, could hardly harbor such a thought, much less act on it: He ruled out turning to Corbin Burnes, the Cy Young Award contender who allowed two hits in six innings on Friday, for the Brewers’ must-win matchup.
“He wanted to do it, but we had to make sure he was physically ready to do it,” Counsell, whose club had largely relied on a six-man rotation during the regular season, said before the game. “He’s just not ready to do it.”
That left Milwaukee with Eric Lauer, a left-hander who had last pitched on Oct. 1, to face an Atlanta lineup filled with right-handers.
Short rest, of course, is not always worth the fear mongering that comes with it. In 1965, Sandy Koufax threw a two-hit World Series shutout on two days’ rest. In 2015, Clayton Kershaw went seven innings on three days’ rest and led Los Angeles to victory in a division series game against the Mets.
But Snitker gambled with the strategy two years ago and lost. In Game 4 of a division series against St. Louis, he deployed Dallas Keuchel on short rest. Keuchel lasted 67 pitches and was charged with three runs — and Atlanta went on to lose that game and, later, the series.
The approach worked out a bit better for Atlanta on Tuesday, when Morton went three and a third innings, like Keuchel, and gave up two runs on four hits. He struck out five. The more-rested Lauer did not stick around much longer: He pitched three and two-thirds innings, surrendering four hits and allowing two runs.
Soler Ruled Out
Hours before Tuesday’s first pitch, Major League Baseball announced that Atlanta’s leadoff hitter, Jorge Soler, had tested positive for the coronavirus. Cristian Pache replaced Soler, who hit .269 for Atlanta this season after a July trade from Kansas City, on the division series roster, and Atlanta shuffled its lineup to put Dansby Swanson atop the order. Under baseball’s health protocols, Soler could return during the N.L.C.S.
That series will begin on Saturday.