ATLANTA — Kyle Wright, baseball’s winningest pitcher, threw six brilliant innings to outduel Zack Wheeler as the Atlanta Braves evened their NL Division Series at one game apiece, blanking the Philadelphia Phillies 3-0 on Wednesday night.
After persistent rain delayed the first pitch by nearly three hours, Wright surrendered just two hits and claimed the win when the Braves got to Wheeler for three runs in the bottom of the sixth.
This was a game the reigning World Series champions had to have after losing the opener of the best-of-five series 7-6. They had the right guy on the mound, a right-hander with a big arm and looping curveball who has finally cashed in on his enormous potential.
Wright, a former first-round draft pick who struggled to get past Triple-A, came into this season with a record of 2-8 in the majors. He totally turned that around, going 21-5 to win three more games than any other big league pitcher.
Wright kept it going in the playoffs. His only major threat came in the second, when Bryce Harper led off with a double, then tagged and moved to third on a flyout to deep center by Nick Castellanos.
Harper had to scramble back to third on Alec Bohm’s groundout to first, and Brandon Marsh struck out swinging on a four-seamer that clocked in at 96 mph.
A.J. Minter, Raisel Iglesias and Kenley Jansen closed out the three-hitter with one inning apiece. Jansen earned the save.
Dansby Swanson made a dazzling play to end the Phillies’ sixth.
Sprinting with his back to the infield, the shortstop reached out to snare a pop fly from J.T. Realmuto while tumbling to the outfield grass. Wright threw both arms in the air when he realized Swanson had the pulled off the catch.
It turned out to be the final pitch of Wright’s 83-pitch gem, in which he struck out six with one walk.
Wright watched from the top step of the dugout as the Braves finally broke the scoreless tie in the bottom half, doing all the damage after Wheeler retired the first two hitters.
It started when Wheeler plunked Ronald Acuña Jr. near the right elbow on a 96 mph fastball that rode up and in on the slugger.
There was a delay of several minutes while Acuña, writhing in pain, was checked out by the training staff. In the Atlanta dugout, Gil Heredia prepared to go in. Wheeler, meanwhile, tossed a few pitches trying to stay loose.
The right-hander who grew up in metro Atlanta wasn’t the same after Acuña finally trotted down to first base.
Swanson walked and Matt Olson drove in the first run of the game, ripping a single past first baseman Rhys Hoskins, who meekly waved at a ball he should’ve at least knocked down.
Olson was generously credited with an RBI single, but the Braves weren’t done. Austin Riley’s mighty swing produced a little dribbler down the third-base line for an infield hit that made it 2-0.
Then, it was Travis d’Arnaud grounding one up the middle for another run-scoring hit before Wheeler finally got the third out.
Far too late to keep the Braves from tying the series.
At least the wild-card Phillies are finally heading home. Game 3 is Friday at Citizens Bank Park, where Philadelphia will play for the first time since a regular-season loss to the Braves on Sept. 25.
The Phillies have played 14 straight road games since then, including four playoff games in their first postseason appearance since 2011.
Swanson’s catch wasn’t even the best defensive play of the night for the home team.
Riley made a similar back-to-the-field grab in foul territory in the eighth, only it was even tougher because the third baseman had to navigate the railing and the tarp stored in front of it.
He made the catch, slid along the tarp and managed to hang on while crashing to the dirt.
A key member of the Braves bullpen in their run to the 2021 World Series title, Tyler Matzek is done for this season.
And 2023, in all likelihood.
The Braves announced Wednesday that Matzek underwent Tommy John surgery. He was left off the team’s postseason roster because of pain in his left elbow, and doctors in Texas determined he had a torn ligament.
The normal recovery period is 12-18 months, which means Matzek isn’t likely to return to a big league mound until 2024.
RHP Aaron Nola (11-13, 3.25 ERA) will get the nod in Game 3 for the Phillies. The Braves had not yet announced their starter, which will either be RHP Charlie Morton (9-6, 4.34) or rookie RHP Spencer Strider (11-5, 2.67). Strider hasn’t pitched since Sept. 18 because of an oblique injury.