Milwaukee — Max Fried says his strategy in pressure situations is to avoid making too much of the moment.
The approach that worked so well for the Atlanta Braves left-hander in the regular season also is paying dividends in the playoffs.
Fried pitched six sharp innings and Atlanta’s bullpen held on after manager Brian Snitker’s quick hook, sending the Braves over the Milwaukee Brewers, 3-0, Saturday to tie their NL Division Series at a game apiece.
The best-of-five series heads to Atlanta for Game 3 on Monday.
“He was phenomenal — all you could ask for,” said Atlanta’s Austin Riley, who homered in the sixth inning. “He came out, pounded the zone. He’s been doing that since the All-Star break.”
Once Fried was pulled, it got more dicey for the Braves.
The Brewers brought the tying run to the plate against Atlanta’s bullpen in each of the last three innings but couldn’t get a key hit. They couldn’t do much of anything against Fried, who has allowed just one earned run over 29 innings in his last four starts.
Fried struck out nine, gave up three hits and didn’t walk anybody. The Brewers didn’t get a runner in scoring position until Willy Adames hit a two-out double in the sixth, and Fried responded by striking out Eduardo Escobar.
“He’s just a really good pitcher, executing a lot of pitches,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “It spells a tough night for the offense.”
Fried went 7-0 with a 1.46 ERA over his last 11 regular-season starts while pitching his best down the stretch.
He produced arguably Atlanta’s biggest pitching performance of the regular season Sept. 25. The Braves had lost to San Diego earlier that day in the resumption of a suspended game. Hours later, Fried threw a three-hit shutout to stabilize the Braves’ division lead.
Fried delivered again Saturday as the Braves bounced back from a 2-1 loss in Game 1.
“You just try to focus and realize that this is the same game we’ve been playing all year,” Fried said. “The stakes might be a little bit higher, but you go out there and make the pitch that you’re supposed to make, that’s going to trump all.”
This was the second straight exceptional outing by a Braves starter in a series that has been dominated by pitching.
Atlanta’s Charlie Morton held Milwaukee scoreless through six innings Friday, but allowed a two-run homer to Rowdy Tellez in the seventh inning on his 85th and final pitch.
Snitker made sure Fried didn’t get that far. Fried had thrown 81 pitches when he was pulled for a pinch-hitter in the top of the seventh.
“He bled it out there in the sixth,” Snitker said. “He went through the meat of their lineup and expended what I felt was a lot of energy right there, in a real big moment in playoff baseball. Charlie’s been through this 100 times. Max is just cutting his teeth with all this.”
The move nearly gave Atlanta two extra runs. After pinch-hitter Joc Pederson singled, Jorge Soler hit a deep drive that left fielder Christian Yelich caught in front of the wall.
Then the Brewers made things interesting against Atlanta’s bullpen.
After Luke Jackson struck out the first two batters he faced in the seventh, Luis Urías singled and Lorenzo Cain walked. Tyler Matzek replaced Jackson and got out of the jam by striking out pinch-hitter Tyrone Taylor.
Jace Peterson walked and Kolten Wong singled to start the bottom of the eighth, but Matzek worked out of it by retiring Adames, Escobar and Avisaíl García in order.
Will Smith worked around a leadoff walk to Yelich and a single by Urías in the ninth by getting a flyout and a groundball double play for his first career postseason save.
“I thought in those three innings, we got runners on base,” Counsell said. “We had some pitches to hit. And we just fouled them off.”
Four Atlanta pitchers struck out 14 and combined on a six-hitter.
The Braves pulled ahead for good with two runs in the third off Brandon Woodruff. They were inches away from getting a third run in that inning.
Soler hit a one-out double down the left-field line and scored on Freddie Freeman’s single. Albies drove in Freeman with an RBI double that went off the yellow at the top of the right-field wall.
Albies responded to the double by doing push-ups near second base out of frustration that he didn’t homer.
“Tomorrow’s an off-day,” Albies said. “I might work out from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. That ball has to go out.”
Woodruff struck out seven while allowing three runs, five hits and one walk in six innings. The All-Star right-hander had the worst run support of any major league starting pitcher during the regular season, which explains why he went 9-10 despite owning a sparkling 2.56 ERA.