LOS ANGELES (AP) — Max Fried had every ingredient in front of him for the biggest day of his baseball life at Dodger Stadium.
The Braves ace from Santa Monica took the mound Thursday night with the opportunity to pitch Atlanta into its first World Series of the 21st century. He had the chance to do it in front of about 60 family members and friends at the fabled baseball cathedral where he grew up idolizing Shawn Green and Clayton Kershaw.
Fried did not seize his Hollywood moment: The talented left-hander had his shortest start in nearly five months and took an emphatic loss in the Braves’ 11-2 defeat in Game 5 of the NL Championship Series.
The defending World Series champions earned a return trip to Atlanta by hitting Fried early and often, chasing him in the fifth and leaving him disconsolate in the dugout after failing to finish five innings for the first time since June 1.
Fried hadn’t cheered up by the time the Dodgers wrapped up the blowout.
“At the end of the day, it’s playoff baseball,” Fried said. “(Los Angeles is) a really good team, won a lot of games, and you’ve got to be on top of your game and bring your best to give your team a chance to win. And unfortunately tonight, I wasn’t as sharp as I needed to be.”
Fried’s big night at Chavez Ravine turned out to be memorable, but for none of the reasons he had hoped.
The pitcher with the majors’ lowest ERA in the second half of the season — including a minuscule 1.55 ERA over his last 14 starts — gave up eight hits and five runs, walking two and managing only three strikeouts while grooving far too many pitches over the plate. All in all, the performance was barely recognizable from a pitcher who has grown into one of the majors’ most dependable winners in the past three seasons.
The Dodgers had to try a bullpen game Thursday with their pitching staff in thorough disarray after their extensive reliever use and three straight mediocre starts from Max Scherzer, Walker Buehler and Julio Urías. The Braves had won a bullpen game Wednesday, and they had Fried pitching on full rest after his six solid innings in Game 1 of the NLCS.
Seemingly everything favored Fried and the Braves — but the Dodgers’ hitters weren’t paying attention.
“I think the big thing is just … if Max was sharp, we were hoping that he could extend the game,” Atlanta manager Brian Snitker said. “Honestly, I was hoping that he would go at least seven innings with where we were after the bullpen game, and it didn’t work out that way.”
Fried even got an early two-run lead in Game 5 from fellow Southern California native Freddie Freeman’s first-inning homer. But the Dodgers’ bats awoke from their postseason-long struggles to beat up Atlanta’s ace.
AJ Pollock and Chris Taylor tagged Fried for homers in the second inning, turning that 2-0 deficit into a 3-2 lead. Taylor hit the first of his historic three homers on a first-pitch, 95 mph fastball across the heart of the plate by Fried, who looked shaken from that moment onward.
“Physically felt great,” Fried said. “Just a really good, aggressive lineup hit some pitches over the middle. I wasn’t executing on the corners like I normally do, and when you leave the balls over the middle, normally damage happens.”
Fried’s discombobulation on the mound was emphasized later in the inning when he hit Trea Turner on the shoulder with a pitch after Cody Bellinger distracted his delivery by breaking early from first base. Instead of throwing to first for an easy inning-ending pickoff, Fried looked confused and continued his pitching motion, plunking Turner in the process.
Fried gave up an RBI single to Taylor in the third inning, but he struck out Bellinger to end that threat before a 1-2-3 fourth inning. Just when Fried appeared to be rediscovering his form, he walked Will Smith and Albert Pujols in the fifth, prompting Snitker to pull Fried at the earliest point in his last 23 starts.
“It’s just one of them days,” Snitker said. “Couldn’t get the ball where he wanted it.”
Three pitches later, Taylor’s second homer brought home Pujols and blew Game 5 open.
Fried’s only other playoff loss came in 2020, when he lost Game 6 of the NLCS to the Dodgers despite pitching three-run ball into the seventh inning.
The location and timing of this loss undoubtedly will sting Fried, who famously pitched alongside Lucas Giolito and Jack Flaherty in 2012 at Harvard-Westlake, the private high school in Studio City with dozens of globally known alumni. That pitching trio couldn’t win a state title, but all three were opening day starters in the majors this season.
All three former Wolverines have already earned a postseason victory during their major league careers, but Fried is hoping to be the first of the trio to reach the World Series. The Braves had been 5-1 in Fried’s playoff starts before this demolition at Dodger Stadium.
“We still have all the faith in him,” Game 6 starter Ian Anderson said. “We wouldn’t be in this spot without him, and he’s been the rock all year for us, so we’re all going to pick him up and get this thing done.”
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