Thirty years after Jack Morris and John Smoltz shared the mound deep into the night at Game 7 of the World Series, such a showdown between aces seems unimaginable at this year’s Fall Classic.
For starters, a lot has changed since Morris went 10 innings to come away with that 1-0 Series-clinching win.
Getting 27 outs is now a full a team effort, and being the first guy on the mound hardly means what it used to. Entering Saturday night’s World Series Game 4, the relievers for the Houston Astros and Atlanta Braves have logged more innings than the starting pitchers.
For Atlanta, a small disparity between the innings counts for the starters and relievers is about to grow by a large margin. The Braves are planning bullpen games each of the next two days.
There has been little rest for either team’s relievers. The World Series winner may be the team with the bullpen best equipped to withstand what’s left.
“I think it definitely could be,” Astros right-hander Phil Maton said when asked if the bullpens might determine the Series outcome.
“The big thing for us is kind of just continue to go do our job and just bridge it to our back-end guys and just handing the ball to the next guy with a zero.”
Through the first three World Series games, Braves relievers have thrown 56 2/3 innings — one more out than their starters. Atlanta leads the series two games to one.
Houston relievers have pitched 65 1/3 innings, and the starters are far behind with 48 2/3 innings. That gap, already significant, also may widen in Game 4.
Houston manager Dusty Baker said after Friday night’s 2-0 loss he will start Zack Greinke in Saturday night’s Game 4. Greinke recorded only four outs in his last start, a 9-2 win over Boston in Game 4 of the AL Championship Series.
“If anybody knows how to pitch in a big game, it’s Greinke,” Baker said. “We don’t know how long he’s going to go, just give us as much quality as you can, and then we’ll turn it over to somebody else.”
Luis Garcia lasted 3 2/3 innings in Friday night’s start before five relievers combined to give up three hits and one run in 4 1/3 innings. Kendall Graveman gave up a homer to Travis d’Arnaud in the eighth.
Atlanta manager Brian Snitker expected to have one bullpen game in the Series. Then Game 1 starter Charlie Morton broke his right leg after recording only seven outs in the Braves’ Game 1 win. Morton had surgery on Thursday and is lost for the remainder of the World Series.
Snitker wasn’t ready to name his opener for Game 4. Candidates include right-hander Kyle Wright and left-hander Tucker Davidson.
Atlanta’s bullpen delivered four scoreless innings after Ian Anderson threw five no-hit innings in Friday night’s 2-0 Game 3 win.
Snitker said confidence in his relievers was one reason he pulled Anderson with the no-hitter intact.
“I was all about winning today, and we’ll deal with tomorrow tomorrow,” Snitker said.
Wright struck out the side in his one inning in the Astros’ 7-2 Game 2 win on Wednesday night. It was his first big league appearance since June 23 and just his third of the season.
“When that bullpen door opens, we feel very, very confident, no matter who’s running out of that ’pen,” said Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman. “What Kyle Wright did, that was pretty cool. I know we were losing at the time, but I went up to him in the dugout and shook his hand and said, you just struck out the side in the World Series. That’s pretty cool.”
A mainstay in the Braves’ bullpen has been Tyler Matzek, who has pitched in 12 of the team’s 13 postseason games. Matzek threw a scoreless inning but gave up Houston’s first hit, a bloop single by Aledmys Díaz in the eighth, on Friday night.
Matzek said the heavy workload won’t affect the relievers.
“Nothing’s changed for us,” Matzek said. “We’re going to go out there and be aggressive. That’s what we try and do, try and pound the strike zone, stay in good counts, and that’s going to help us go deep in the game or be able to go two innings, three innings, four innings, whatever we need to do.”