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Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Snitker right to end Anderson’s shot at World Series history

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ATLANTA — There was the game. There was the series. And there was history.

Brian Snitker determined the best way to win Game 3 of the World Series on Friday night and best position his team to navigate to a title was to ignore history — at least the part in which one pitcher makes it by himself and becomes part of forever when October baseball is discussed.

Snitker decided not to let Ian Anderson go for that history. He decided to have the pitching burden shared — and the Braves nearly made history anyway. Not like Don Larsen. But like 2021, with five pitchers working to try to hold arguably the best lineup in the majors to no hits.

It nearly happened.

Anderson to A.J. Minter to Luke Jackson to Tyler Matzek to Will Smith will not exactly make for easy poetry. But it will always sound beautiful to Braves fans. For in the first World Series game played in Atlanta in 22 years, that quintet was the quintessence of modern pitching: Don’t let the starter face a lineup for a third time and then unleash one monster relief arm after another.

The Braves needed that level of effort, since they managed just two runs — the second coming with two outs in the eighth inning when Travis d’Arnaud homered. Their pitching fivesome made it stand. The final was 2-0 in the first tense, dramatic game of the 117th World Series, which Atlanta now leads two-games-to-one.

Going into Saturday, there had been 680 World Series games and the only one in which an offense did not produce a hit was Game 5 of the 1956 World Series, when Larsen went from afterthought to perfection as the Yankees beat the Dodgers.

Braves
Braves manager Brian Snitker pulled starter Ian Anderson after five no-hit innings.
USA Today Sports, Getty Images

It almost happened again in World Series Game No. 681. The Astros managed two hits, the first not arriving until the first batter of the eighth, when a leadoff bloop by pinch-hitter Aledmys Diaz landed just in front of left fielder Eddie Rosario. Had Rosario dove for the ball, he would have had a good chance to grab it. He didn’t.

And yet that was just the second most controversial decision of this contest.

Because while fans at Truist Park chanted, “Cheater, cheater,” for current Astros who were part of the 2017 sign-stealing core — but mostly directed it at Houston leadoff man Jose Altuve — the biggest cheating felt like at an attempt at history. Or at least old-fashioned baseball history.

Look, I get it. I really do. I understand what Snitker did. If I were the manager of the Braves, I probably would have done the same thing. But I am a fan of the game. I love the game. One reason is because of the heroics offered at this time of year. And it is getting harder to have heroes, certainly to have starting pitching heroes.

Snitker pulled Anderson though he had a no-hitter through five innings. Anderson was hardly perfect. He had walked three and hit a batter. Snitker was weighing so much here. Houston was just about to turn over its lineup for a third time — though Anderson’s numbers a third time through a lineup are not much different than the first. Anderson was at 70 pitches. In 32 career starts, including the postseason, Anderson had never gotten an out in the eighth inning and had crossed 100 pitches just twice. At the pace he was on, he was going to need 120 to go the distance.

But for Atlanta to go the distance to its second-ever title in this city, Snitker felt the best way to win Game 3 was to get Anderson out and have his four best relievers tag-team to the end, not putting a lot of weight on any individual. That is key because Anderson still might be needed for Game 7. And the relievers certainly are going to be needed this weekend. The Braves do not have a traditional starter available and, thus, they will pitch Games 4 and 5 exclusively out of the bullpen.

Braves
A.J. Minter
USA Today Sports

In a different time (and not even an ancient time), Snitker, to have his pen for those games, would have asked a starter like Anderson to give as much as he could. But the numbers and the pitching style don’t recommend that any longer.

It is part of an important question that looms over this sport. The style played today that teams believe best helps them win is not the best entertainment to sell. It generally makes the games longer with less action and deprives the chance for starting pitching to do now what Bob Gibson and Jack Morris and Madison Bumgarner did in the past.

The numbers absolutely agree with that mode, and the most important number for Snitker was 2-0, which made this World Series 2-1 in favor of his Braves.

Snitker made the right choice for his team. No doubt. But I wish he had kept Anderson in to try to make forever history.

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