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HomeSportsBraves relievers putting together MVP-like performance: Sherman

Braves relievers putting together MVP-like performance: Sherman

ATLANTA — Never before in World Series history has a unit won the MVP. In 2001, The Big Unit, Randy Johnson, won it in tandem with Curt Schilling. Twenty years earlier, the Dodgers trio of Ron Cey, Pedro Guerrero and Steve Yeager shared the honor.

But if the Braves win the World Series, they should pen a twist to the award — with their relief corps earning MVP.

Is there anything more fitting for 2021 baseball than this? MVP in the 117th World Series should stand for Most Valuable Pen.

The Braves have three wins against Houston. Their relievers were great for 20 outs after Charlie Morton fractured his leg, and the Braves won Game 1. The relievers validated manager Brian Snitker’s choice to lift Ian Anderson following five no-hit innings by delivering four shutout innings to seal Game 3. And the bullpen was dynamic for 26 outs on Saturday night in Game 4.

Atlanta’s starter in a bullpen game was Dylan Lee, who had been released by the Marlins in spring training. Snitker did not even alert Lee that the lefty would be starting until hours before the game, so as to avoid the potential for a sleepless night. Lee had appeared in four major league games, two in the postseason and none as a starter, so Snitker said he “told him, ‘You don’t need to go five innings, just get some outs.’ ”

Notice the plural — outs.

Because Lee didn’t get them. Instead, he went single, walk, strikeout, walk and was removed. The bases were loaded with one out. Messiness and disaster loomed. Then Kyle Wright entered and the Braves were in their comfort zone. The nominal starter was out. The pen was in.

Will Smith celebrates after getting the save in the Braves' 3-2 Game 4 win over the Astros, but he wasn't the only hero in Atlanta's bullpen.
Will Smith celebrates after getting the save in the Braves’ 3-2 Game 4 win over the Astros, but he wasn’t the only hero in Atlanta’s bullpen.
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Wright, Chris Martin and Tyler Matzek kept Houston down until the Braves could rally, and then Luke Jackson and Will Smith finished off the Astros. The final was 3-2, moving the Braves to the doorstep of their first championship in 26 years. The Braves lead the 117th World Series three games to one. Just as they did Saturday, Atlanta will need to win behind a bullpen game Sunday night because Morton had surgery and is done until spring training, so the Game 1 starter can’t make the Game 5 start.

But doubting the Braves at this point feels silly. Their starters have managed just 12 ²/₃ innings this World Series. Their bullpen has covered 22 ¹/₃ innings. In the three Fall Classic victories, Atlanta relievers have allowed three runs in 19 ¹/₃ innings.

“I can’t say enough about our bullpen,” Snitker said. “My God. I will have to talk to ownership and send them all to Hawaii for a week, when we are done.”

The heavy lifting in Game 4 was done by Wright. He had a 9.95 ERA in two starts this year, but struck out all three Astros he faced in relief in Houston’s blowout win in Game 2. He held the Astros to just the one run in the first inning of Game 4 after taking on Lee’s mess. In the fourth, he also yielded Jose Altuve’s 23rd career postseason homer, which broke a tie with Bernie Williams and left Altuve behind just Manny Ramirez (29).

Over the first three innings, however, the Astros went hitless in seven at-bats with runners in scoring position. Their chance to blow the game open vanished. That allowed Snitker to manage similarly to the way he had the previous night. In Game 3, controversially, he removed Anderson after five innings, 76 pitches and no hits. Snitker wanted to get to his pitching strength, his late-game relievers.

Saturday, Wright gave the Braves 4 ²/₃ innings and 75 pitches. Martin put up a scoreless sixth. Atlanta generated a run in the bottom of the inning. Houston still led 2-1. But it is the World Series and it was close late, so there was no holding back. Matzek began the parade of relievers Snitker most trusts.

Matzek and fellow lefty A.J. Minter, in particular, have been brilliant this postseason. They were the key components in the five-inning relief tag-team in NLCS Game 6 that finished off the Dodgers. This night, Matzek held the Astros scoreless.

Dansby Swanson then hit a one-out homer to tie the score in the seventh. Snitker had not started Jorge Soler, waiting for just the right spot to unleash him. Here it was. Soler also homered, just beyond the outstretched glove of left fielder Yordan Alvarez.

There had not been a lead change in the first 33 innings of this World Series, but there was now. Eight outs from tying this series, Houston surrendered those back-to-back homers off Cristian Javier. Jackson and Smith were perfect to help the Braves hold the high-octane Astros to two or fewer runs for the third time in four World Series contests; mainly because of the bullpen.

Game 5 is Sunday night. The Braves will have a chance to win the second title ever for an Atlanta team in the four major sports leagues. They will have to do it beginning with an opener. So there will be more desperation, but also more chances to nail down the MVP for a unit.

Most Valuable Pen.

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