Extra crispy: Max Fried can't pitch Braves into World Series

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Max Fried had every ingredient in front of him for the biggest day of his baseball life at Dodger Stadium.

The Braves ace from Santa Monica took the mound Thursday night with the opportunity to pitch Atlanta into its first World Series of the 21st century. He had the chance to do it in front of about 60 family members and friends at the fabled baseball cathedral where he grew up idolizing Shawn Green and Clayton Kershaw.

Fried did not seize his Hollywood moment: The talented left-hander had his shortest start in nearly five months and took an emphatic loss in the Braves’ 11-2 defeat in Game 5 of the NL Championship Series.

Playoff-tested Los Angeles earned a return trip to Atlanta by hitting Fried early and often, chasing him in the fifth and leaving him disconsolate in the dugout after failing to finish five innings for the first time since June 1.

Fried’s big night at Chavez Ravine turned out to be memorable, but for none of the reasons he had hoped. The pitcher with the majors’ lowest ERA in the second half of the season — including a minuscule 1.55 ERA over his last 14 starts — gave up eight hits and five runs, walking two and managing only three strikeouts.

While the Dodgers’ pitching staff was in thorough disarray after extensive bullpen use and three straight mediocre starts from Max Scherzer, Walker Buehler and Julio Urías, the Braves had Fried pitching on full rest after his six solid innings in Game 1 of the NLCS.

Fried even got an early two-run lead in Game 5 from fellow Southern California native Freddie Freeman’s first-inning homer. But the Dodgers’ bats awoke from their postseason-long struggles to beat up Atlanta’s ace.

AJ Pollock and Chris Taylor tagged Fried for homers in the second inning, turning that 2-0 deficit into a 3-2 lead. Taylor hit the first of his historic three homers on a first-pitch, 95 mph fastball across the heart of the plate by Fried, who looked shaken from that moment onward.

Fried’s discombobulation on the mound was emphasized later in the inning when he hit Trea Turner on the shoulder with a pitch after Cody Bellinger distracted his delivery by breaking early from first base. Instead of throwing to first for an easy inning-ending pickoff, Fried looked confused and continued his pitching motion, plunking Turner in the process.

Fried gave up an RBI single to Taylor in the third inning, but he struck out Bellinger to end that threat before a 1-2-3 fourth inning. Just when Fried appeared to be rediscovering his groove, he walked Will Smith and Albert Pujols in the fifth, prompting manager Brian Snitker to pull Fried at the earliest point in his last 23 starts.

Fried’s only other playoff loss came in 2020, when he lost Game 6 of the NLCS to the Dodgers despite pitching three-run ball into the seventh inning. The Braves also lost the only other potential clinching game in which Fried has pitched, dropping one to St. Louis in the NL Division Series in 2019.

The location and timing of this loss undoubtedly will sting Fried, who famously pitched alongside Lucas Giolito and Jack Flaherty in 2012 at Harvard-Westlake, the private high school in Studio City with dozens of globally known alumni. That pitching trio couldn’t win a state title, but all three were opening day starters in the majors this season.

All three former Wolverines have already earned a postseason victory during their major league careers, but Fried is hoping to be the first of the trio to reach the World Series. The Braves had been 5-1 in Fried’s playoff starts before this demolition at Dodger Stadium.

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