HOUSTON -- The sudden loss of Charlie Morton continues to hang over these Atlanta Braves, so prevalent that it lingers even over games he wouldn't have started. And so on Wednesday night, moments after a 7-2 loss to the Houston Astros in Game 2 of the World Series, Max Fried was asked about the possibility of coming back on short rest to pitch in Sunday's Game 5 -- the start Morton would have made if not for the fractured fibula he suffered on a comebacker in Game 1.
"We'll see how I feel over the next couple days," Fried said, "but not against it."
Fried put the Braves in a 5-1 hole after a second inning in which he allowed five singles, three of which were not hit particularly hard. He was dealt his third consecutive loss of this postseason, a stretch in which he has allowed 17 runs over the course of 14 2/3 innings. But his outing was considered a positive one for a simple reason: He pitched through the fifth inning.
The Braves' bullpen was especially taxed during Tuesday's Game 1 victory, forced to pick up 5 2/3 innings after Morton's early exit. An off day follows on Thursday, but the Braves face the likelihood of two bullpen games during what remains of this series -- in Saturday's Game 4 and then probably again in Sunday's Game 5, unless Fried comes back on short rest for the first time in his career. When Wednesday's second inning ended, Fried had already thrown 43 pitches. But he retired nine consecutive batters from the start of the third until the end of the fifth, came back out for the sixth and ultimately kept Braves manager Brian Snitker from deploying any of his high-leverage relievers.
"That's terrific for him to be able to get into the sixth there, especially after they were able to score the runs they did," Braves catcher Travis d'Arnaud said. "It gave our bullpen the rest they needed."
Dylan Lee, a 27-year-old journeyman who has made three big league appearances in his career, followed by recording the first two outs in the sixth inning. And Kyle Wright, who made just two major league starts this season, struck out the side in the bottom of the eighth, displaying an active sinker and a biting curveball in the process. Both are largely unknown relievers who pitched in low-leverage situations, but both provided encouraging outings for a team that might be forced to trust them later.
"The bullpen's going to play a big part, obviously, in what we've got going on because we lost a huge starter," said Snitker, who will start Ian Anderson in Friday's Game 3. "We're going to have probably two games in a row that we're going to pitch 18 innings out of that bullpen."
The first two games from Houston marked the sixth time in World Series history that the two teams began by trading wins of at least four runs. Four of the previous five series ultimately lasted seven games. After earning the split on Wednesday, the Astros became the first team to win a World Series game in its home park in 1,097 days. It's a number skewed by the neutral-site postseason that was staged amid the COVID-19 pandemic last year. But teams had lost 10 consecutive home World Series games heading into Wednesday, accounting for the longest streak of all time.
The Braves seemingly left satisfied.
They won a game on the road, and now they'll return to Truist Park in Atlanta, where they boast a five-game winning streak this postseason.
"Braves Country is real," Snitker said. "That's why I think it was so important to split here."