Ian Anderson Carries Braves Past Astros In Game 3 Of World Series

Image credit: Ian Anderson (Getty Images)

ATLANTA—When the Braves drafted Ian Anderson with the third overall pick in the 2016 draft, the selection raised a few eyebrows.

Anderson, a talented righthander out of Shenendehowa High in upstate New York, ranked No. 12 on the BA 500 draft prospects. He was a surefire first-round pick and had a commitment to Vanderbilt, the defending College World Series runner-up.

Still, in a draft class stocked with touted high school pitchers, Anderson wasn’t expected to be the first one taken. When the Braves signed him for a $4 million bonus, more than $2.5 million below the recommended slot amount, it revealed the selection was a money-saver for the club to spread its bonus pool allotment around to later picks.

Five years later, the Braves’ decision to draft Anderson continues to pay enormous dividends for the franchise. At any price, the 23-year-old righthander has been a bargain.

Anderson continued his postseason mastery with five no-hit innings in his first World Series start before surprisingly being pulled, lifting the Braves to a 2-0 win over the Astros in Game 3. The Braves lead the series two games to one heading into Game 4 on Saturday.

Anderson lowered his career postseason ERA to 1.26, the fourth-lowest mark all-time through a pitcher’s first eight career playoff starts. He became just the second rookie to pitch at least five no-hit innings in a World Series game, joining New York Giants righthander Jeff Tesreau, who had a no-hitter through 5.1 innings in Game 1 of the 1912 World Series before losing it.

“We had a good game plan going in,” said Anderson, the No. 8 prospect on the BA Top 100 entering the season. “I think for the most part we’ve been able to execute. I think the biggest thing tonight, why we had some success, was just we never really gave in….We were able to make some big-time pitches when it mattered.”

Unlike Tesreau, however, Anderson didn’t get the chance to keep his no-hitter going. Braves manager Brian Snitker pulled Anderson after he completed the fifth inning having thrown only 76 pitches.

Relievers A.J. Minter and Luke Jackson each followed with a hitless inning of relief to keep a combined no-hit effort intact, but Astros pinch-hitter Aledmys Diaz ended the bid when his fly ball to lead off the eighth against Tyler Matzek dropped in front of charging left fielder Eddie Rosario, who pulled up at the last minute to try and avoid a collision with shortstop Dansby Swanson. Matzek recovered to retire the next three batters and closer Will Smith worked around a leadoff single in the ninth to wrap up a combined two-hit shutout.

“He wasn’t going to pitch a nine-inning no-hitter,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “He didn’t have the pitches to do that.

“One of the things was he’d thrown a lot of pitches in the top half of that lineup… I was just like ‘Ian, I’m going with my gut right here. My eyes. My gut.’ It’d been really easy to let him go out. Something just, our guys (in the bullpen) were rested that we liked.”

The decision to pull Anderson with a no-hitter intact and his pitch count so low will nonetheless be second-guessed in light of what’s ahead. The Braves are planning to throw back-to-back bullpen games in Games 4 and 5. With Anderson only at 76 pitches, preserving the bullpen as much as possible appeared the most prudent course of action.

The top of the Astros order was due up for a third time, but Anderson had fared better against hitters the third time through the order this season (.764 OPS) than he did the first time through the order (.772). On pitch numbers 76-100 this season, Anderson held opponents to a .220/.284/.420 slash line.

While the Braves were clinging to a slim, 1-0 lead, Anderson’s spot in the order was not due up until after the sixth, giving him at least another inning before the decision to pull him for a pinch-hitter had to be made.

Despite the low pitch count, Anderson’s demonstrated success pitching late in games and the Braves’ need to preserve their bullpen as much as possible, Snitker pulled him. The ramifications for Games 4 and 5, particularly with the Braves top four relievers all being used in Game 3, will be watched closely.

“I dunno, it could’ve backfired, I guess,” Snitker said. “I just thought at that point in time, in a game of this magnitude and all that he had done his job and we had a bullpen. All the guys we used had two days off.”

Surprisingly given his pedigree as a High School All-American and five-time Top 100 Prospect, Anderson has never thrown a complete-game no-hitter.

The closest he came was at Double-A Mississippi in 2019, when he threw seven innings of a combined no-hitter with reliever Jeremy Walker.

“Obviously you want the chance to compete, especially on the biggest stage like this is, but yeah, I knew (Snitker) wasn’t going to budge,” Anderson said. “It’s hard to. You got guys like Matzek and Minter and Luke and Will at the back end coming in, you can’t blame him for going to those guys. Those guys get it done time in and time out, and they did it again tonight.”

For now, Anderson and Braves are content with their series lead. They chased Astros starter Luis Garcia after just 3.2 innings, forcing the Astros to go to their bullpen early.

The Astros rookie righthander walked Eddie Rosario and surrendered a hard single to Freddie Freeman to lead off the third. Two batters later, Austin Riley drilled a double down the left-field line to score Rosario and give the Braves a 1-0 lead.

Garcia escaped further damage in the inning. With the bases loaded and one out, he got Adam Duvall to pop out weakly to first baseman Yuli Gurriel in foul ground and stuck out Travis d’Arnaud swinging over a cutter off outer part the plate.

Still, with the way Anderson was throwing, that one run was all the Braves needed.

“He was commanding his pitches,” Astros third baseman Alex Bregman said. “I mean, give him all the credit. He pitched his tail off tonight, and we didn’t really get anything going offensively.”

Anderson wasn’t particularly efficient. He threw only 39 of his 76 pitches for strikes, walked three and hit a batter, but he avoided hard contact to minimize the damage. The Astros hit only one ball with an exit velocity over 100 mph off of Anderson. Seven of the 11 balls in play he allowed came off the bat at under 90 mph.

Anderson also helped himself out with a pair of nifty defensive plays. He started a 1-6-3 double play in the first inning to erase a leadoff walk. In the fourth got off the mound quickly to grab a slow roller on the third-base side and made the long throw to get Kyle Tucker at first base and end the inning.

Anderson’s ability to draw weak contact and his composure to limit damage have been apparent since his pro debut in the lowest levels of the minors. Those traits have translated directly to the majors, and helped him dominate in the postseason like few rookies before.

“I think just the moment never gets too big for him,” Riley said. “You look at him on the mound, you wouldn’t think he’s 23, a rookie in the big leagues and pitching in the World Series. He’s just very calm, collected, and I think that goes a long way.”

d’Arnaud added a solo home run with two outs in the eighth for insurance, putting an exclamation point on the Braves first World Series win in their home city since 1995.

Now, they will turn to their bullpen to try and win the next two games and finish the series at home. For being in that position, they can largely thank Anderson, no-hitter or not.

“I think kind of the way the playoffs have been played and managed, I think you can’t fault Snit for making that move,” Anderson said. “Like I said, those (relievers) post every time, so you’ve got to have the utmost trust in them. Ultimately, those are the guys that are going to get this thing done.”

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