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Max Fried etches name in Atlanta lore with World Series Game 6 performance

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HOUSTON — Oh, no.

No!

Please God, not again.

Atlanta, cursed all season with injuries, losing their future World Series MVP to COVID-19 at the start of the postseason, their Game 1 starter with a broken leg, and now their GM with COVID, were in shock.

Here it was, just the second batter into the game Tuesday night, and Atlanta ace Max Fried was lying on the ground in pain.

His teammates stared in disbelief.

"Oh (Bleep)! Oh, (Bleep)! Oh (bleep)," catcher Travis d'Arnaud yelled.

Atlanta CEO Terry McGuirk’s mind raced back to 2013.

"Tim Hudson. Tim Hudson," McGuirk said. "That’s all I could think about, when Hudson broke his ankle on a play just like that."

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Braves starting pitcher Max Fried (54) reacts after being spiked by Astros left fielder Michael Brantley (23) during the first inning.
Braves starting pitcher Max Fried (54) reacts after being spiked by Astros left fielder Michael Brantley (23) during the first inning.

Manager Brian Snitker, trying to stay calm, leaned over to pitching coach Rick Kranitz and whispered.

"I’m going out there. What do you think? And who is it?"

Kranitz immediately thought of grabbing the bullpen phone and telling reliever Jesse Chavez to warm up. But he couldn’t talk. He could barely breathe.

Come on, first inning of Game 6 of the World Series. Two runners on. No outs. And no idea whether Fried’s night was over.

"I thought I was going to have to go to the hospital at that point," Kranitz said. "We were both going to sit side-by-side in the bed. If he went out, I was going with him, I’ll tell you that right now."

It all happened when Michael Brantley hit a slow roller towards the right side. First baseman Freddie Freeman fielded the ball, but Fried was late covering. Freeman flipped the ball, and Fried awkwardly tried to catch it.

Fried’s right foot missed the base.

So did Brantley’s left foot.

The only thing Brantley touched was Fried’s right foot, landing squarely on Fried, spiking him, as he missed the first-base bag.

Fried was in immediate pain, but was more annoyed by the situation than worrying about his foot.

"It didn't feel good, but at that point it's the World Series," Fried said. "You just got to figure out how to get through. Initially, I just knew that he stepped on my leg. It got tight, but it was never any shooting pain, or anything too severe or uncomfortable.

"At that point, the only thing I was worried about was the situation. First and second, nobody out. I didn't want the inning to get out of hand."

Well, there should have been one out, but only if Atlanta appealed the play. They never challenged it. They never appealed it. Nothing.

"All I saw was that he missed first base," first base umpire Chris Conroy told USA TODAY Sports. "If they had appealed, I would have called him out.

"I was waiting for that. I was waiting, waiting, waiting. They never did. It just seemed like everybody kind of got messed up with each other."

Fried, now furious, knowing that he could suddenly be in big trouble, snorted, fired and struck out Carlos Correa. He induced a soft grounder from Yordan Alvarez for the second out. And he struck out Yuli Gurriel.

Threat over.

Inning over.

And soon, game over.

Atlanta trounced the Houston Astros, 7-0, becoming World Series champions for the first time since 1995, and Fried etched a spot in franchise folklore.

"It makes him one of the greatest champions in our franchise history pitching like he did tonight," McGuirk said. "He called his sot. He said he’d do it, and he did it.

"He told the world that."

Max Fried celebrates after retiring the side against the Astros during the sixth inning.
Max Fried celebrates after retiring the side against the Astros during the sixth inning.

Fried didn’t permit another runner to reach second base the rest of the night. He left the game after six innings with a 7-0 lead, giving up just four hits without a walk.

Fried became the first starting pitcher to strike out six without permitting a walk or run in a potential clinching game in World Series history. And the first Atlanta pitcher to pitch at least six shutout innings in a World Series game since Hall of Famer Greg Maddux in 1996.

"When I watched him get up and complete that inning, I knew it was destiny," Atlanta reliever Luke Jackson said. "I mean the guy was more than locked in. It had storybook written all over it."

There was no way Fried was going to lose this game, no matter how many times guys stepped on his ankle. He had something to prove. He was one of the best pitchers in baseball, yielding a 1.74 ERA after the All-Star Game, but he was brutal in his last two postseason starts, surrendering a 10.24 ERA.

He was so anxious to get back on the mound that he asked Kranitz if he could pitch on three days’ rest in Game 5. He offered to pitch out of the bullpen. Anything to help out, trying to flush the ugly outings from his system.

Fried’s teammates, knowing how much this was eating at his soul, reached out to help. Freeman sent him a text message in the morning, telling him that he still had everyone's confidence.

"He sent me a really, really awesome text message that was just a big boost of encouragement, just saying that he believed in me and that he knew that I could get this done," Fried said. "To be able just to have that support from someone like that, it made my confidence go up."

Just before Fried left the dugout and walked to the mound, Kranitz put his hands on his shoulders, and stopped him.

"Max, just be who you are man," Kranitz said. "Just be who you are. It’s good enough. Just let your natural ability take over, and that’s exactly what he did."

Fried, with high-school teammates Jack Flaherty of the St. Louis Cardinals and Lucas Giolito of the Chicago White Sox watching from a suite, never gave the Astros a chance. He was virtually unhittable. They were sitting on fastballs, and Fried was firing changeups. They were looking for sliders and he was throwing sinkers.

"When Max started throwing those changeups, I started pacing like crazy," Kranitz said. “Oh, my gosh, I can’t believe he’s throwing that changeup here. But he knew exactly what he was doing.

"When he got locked in like that, it was some of the best pitches I’ve ever seen a young man throw."

Who knew that being spiked would totally enrage Fried, kicking in a ferocity that made him nearly untouchable?

"Honestly, I thought it was his trigger to get going," reliever Tyler Matzek said. "He got a little pissed off and started dominating after that point. Obviously, we’re holding our breath when he got up, but I think that pissed him off a little bit.

"The guy was unbelievable. He never wavered. That’s the Max Fried I know. That’s the Max Fried the world should know."

Then again, if he wasn’t spiked, perhaps it would have made no difference. His demeanor was unlike anything his teammates had seen all season. He was intense, focused, with a conviction, d’Arnaud said, seeing it from his first warmup pitch in the bullpen to his final pitch of the game.

"He wanted to show the world basically who he is," d’Arnaud said. "He was like, 'I’m going to get it. I want the ball. I want the ball. I want the ball.'"

Said closer Will Smith: "Max had this look about him all day that he was not going to be denied. He wasn’t going to back down from anybody. He was going to leave it all out on the field. And he did exactly that.

"He’s a bad dude."

Fried, almost in a daze afterwards, walked around the field, repeating himself, still trying to grasp the idea that he was a World Series champion.

"It's indescribable," he said. "It's something you dream about as a kid. Something you always want to happen and you dream about, and to be able to kind of have this moment, it's really special.

"Pretty awesome."

It was a night that forever will be cherished in Atlanta history.

"I’m still numb, but what Max Fried did today was unbelievable," Freeman said. "We needed him to be Max Fried. He was just incredible.

"We’re World Series champions, and Max is the reason why."

Follow Nightengale on Twitter: @Bnightengale. Follow Nightengale on Twitter: @Bnightengale

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: World Series: Braves' Max Fried stymies Astros after ankle gets spiked