Wright outduels Wheeler, Braves blank Phillies 3-0 to even NLDS

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ATLANTA — Kyle Wright, baseball’s winningest pitcher, threw six brilliant innings to outduel Zack Wheeler as the Atlanta Braves evened their NL Division Series at one game apiece, blanking the Philadelphia Phillies 3-0 on Wednesday night.

After persistent rain delayed the first pitch by nearly three hours, Wright surrendered just two hits and claimed the win when the Braves got to Wheeler for three runs in the bottom of the sixth.

This was a game the reigning World Series champions had to have after losing the opener of the best-of-five series 7-6. They had the right guy on the mound, a right-hander with a big arm and looping curveball who has finally cashed in on his enormous potential.

Wright, a former first-round draft pick who struggled to get past Triple-A, came into this season with a record of 2-8 in the majors. He totally turned that around, going 21-5 to win three more games than any other big league pitcher.

Wright kept it going in the playoffs. His only major threat came in the second, when Bryce Harper led off with a double, then tagged and moved to third on a flyout to deep center by Nick Castellanos.

Harper had to scramble back to third on Alec Bohm’s groundout to first, and Brandon Marsh struck out swinging on a four-seamer that clocked in at 96 mph.

A.J. Minter, Raisel Iglesias and Kenley Jansen closed out the three-hitter with one inning apiece. Jansen earned the save.

Dansby Swanson made a dazzling play to end the Phillies’ sixth.

Sprinting with his back to the infield, the shortstop reached out to snare a pop fly from J.T. Realmuto while tumbling to the outfield grass. Wright threw both arms in the air when he realized Swanson had the pulled off the catch.

It turned out to be the final pitch of Wright’s 83-pitch gem, in which he struck out six with one walk.

Wright watched from the top step of the dugout as the Braves finally broke the scoreless tie in the bottom half, doing all the damage after Wheeler retired the first two hitters.

It started when Wheeler plunked Ronald Acuña Jr. near the right elbow on a 96 mph fastball that rode up and in on the slugger.

There was a delay of several minutes while Acuña, writhing in pain, was checked out by the training staff. In the Atlanta dugout, Gil Heredia prepared to go in. Wheeler, meanwhile, tossed a few pitches trying to stay loose.

The right-hander who grew up in metro Atlanta wasn’t the same after Acuña finally trotted down to first base.

Swanson walked and Matt Olson drove in the first run of the game, ripping a single past first baseman Rhys Hoskins, who meekly waved at a ball he should’ve at least knocked down.

Olson was generously credited with an RBI single, but the Braves weren’t done. Austin Riley’s mighty swing produced a little dribbler down the third-base line for an infield hit that made it 2-0.

Then, it was Travis d’Arnaud grounding one up the middle for another run-scoring hit before Wheeler finally got the third out.

Far too late to keep the Braves from tying the series.

At least the wild-card Phillies are finally heading home. Game 3 is Friday at Citizens Bank Park, where Philadelphia will play for the first time since a regular-season loss to the Braves on Sept. 25.

The Phillies have played 14 straight road games since then, including four playoff games in their first postseason appearance since 2011.

DEFENSIVE BRAVES

Swanson’s catch wasn’t even the best defensive play of the night for the home team.

Riley made a similar back-to-the-field grab in foul territory in the eighth, only it was even tougher because the third baseman had to navigate the railing and the tarp stored in front of it.

He made the catch, slid along the tarp and managed to hang on while crashing to the dirt.

MATZEK OUT

A key member of the Braves bullpen in their run to the 2021 World Series title, Tyler Matzek is done for this season.

And 2023, in all likelihood.

The Braves announced Wednesday that Matzek underwent Tommy John surgery. He was left off the team’s postseason roster because of pain in his left elbow, and doctors in Texas determined he had a torn ligament.

The normal recovery period is 12-18 months, which means Matzek isn’t likely to return to a big league mound until 2024.

UP NEXT

RHP Aaron Nola (11-13, 3.25 ERA) will get the nod in Game 3 for the Phillies. The Braves had not yet announced their starter, which will either be RHP Charlie Morton (9-6, 4.34) or rookie RHP Spencer Strider (11-5, 2.67). Strider hasn’t pitched since Sept. 18 because of an oblique injury.

Texas Rangers ink free-agent ace Jacob deGrom to 5-year deal

Jacob deGrom
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ARLINGTON, Texas — Jacob deGrom is headed to the free-spending Texas Rangers, who believe the health risk is worth the potential reward in trying to end a six-year run of losing.

The two-time Cy Young Award winner agreed to a $185 million, five-year contract Friday, leaving the New York Mets after nine seasons – the past two shortened substantially by injuries.

“We acknowledge the risk, but we also acknowledge that in order to get great players, there is a risk and a cost associated with that,” Rangers general manager Chris Young said. “And one we feel like is worth taking with a player of Jacob’s caliber.”

Texas announced the signing after the 34-year-old deGrom passed his physical. A person with direct knowledge of the deal disclosed the financial terms to The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the club did not announce those details.

The Rangers were also big spenders in free agency last offseason, signing shortstop Corey Seager ($325 million, 10 years) and second baseman Marcus Semien ($175 million, seven years).

The team said deGrom will be introduced in a news conference at Globe Life Field next week following the winter meetings in San Diego.

“It fits in so many ways in terms of what we need,” Young said. “He’s a tremendous person. I have a number of close friends and teammates who played with Jacob and love him. I think he’s going to be just a perfect fit for our clubhouse and our fans.”

Texas had modest expectations after adding Seager, Semien and starter Jon Gray ($56 million, four years) last offseason but still fell short of them.

The Rangers went 68-94, firing manager Chris Woodward during the season, and then hired Bruce Bochy, a three-time World Series champion with San Francisco. Texas’ six straight losing seasons are its worst skid since the franchise moved from Washington in 1972.

Rangers owner Ray Davis said the club wouldn’t hesitate to keep adding payroll. Including the $19.65 million qualifying offer accepted by Martin Perez, the team’s best pitcher last season, the Rangers have spent nearly $761 million in free agency over the past year.

“I hate losing, but I think there’s one person in our organization who hates losing worse than me, and I think it’s Ray Davis,” Young said. “He’s tired of losing. I’m tired of losing. Our organization is tired of losing.”

After making his first start in early August last season, deGrom went 5-4 with a 3.08 ERA in 11 outings. He helped the Mets reach the playoffs, then passed up a $30.5 million salary for 2023 and opted out of his contract to become a free agent for the first time.

That ended his deal with the Mets at $107 million over four years, and deGrom rejected their $19.65 million qualifying offer in November. New York will receive draft-pick compensation for losing him.

The fan favorite becomes the latest in a long line of ace pitchers to leave the Mets for one reason or another, including Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden and David Cone.

The Rangers visit Citi Field from Aug. 28-30.

When healthy, deGrom is perhaps baseball’s most dominant pitcher. His 2.52 career ERA ranks third in the expansion era (since 1961) behind Los Angeles Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw (2.48) and Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax (2.19) among those with at least 200 starts.

The right-hander is 4-1 with a 2.90 ERA in five career postseason starts, including a win over San Diego in the wild-card round this year that extended the Mets’ season. New York was eliminated the next night.

A four-time All-Star and the 2014 NL Rookie of the Year, deGrom was a ninth-round draft pick by the Mets in 2010 out of Stetson, where he played shortstop before moving to the mound. He was slowed by Tommy John surgery early in his career and didn’t reach the majors until age 26.

Once he arrived, though, he blossomed. He helped the Mets reach the 2015 World Series and earn a 2016 playoff berth before winning consecutive NL Cy Young Awards in 2018 and 2019.

But injuries to his elbow, forearm and shoulder blade have limited him to 26 starts over the past two seasons. He compiled a career-low 1.08 ERA over 92 innings in 2021, but did not pitch after July 7 that year because of arm trouble.

DeGrom is 82-57 with 1,607 strikeouts in 1,326 innings over nine big league seasons. He gets $30 million next year, $40 million in 2024 and 2025, $38 million in 2026 and $37 million in 2027. The deal includes a conditional option for 2028 with no guaranteed money.

The addition of deGrom gives the Rangers three proven starters along with Gray and Perez, who went 12-8 with a career-best 2.89 ERA in his return to the team that signed him as a teenager out of Venezuela. Young didn’t rule out the addition of another starter.

With several holes on their starting staff, the Mets have shown interest in free agents Justin Verlander and Carlos Rodon to pair with 38-year-old Max Scherzer atop the rotation.

Now, with deGrom gone, signing one of those two could become a much bigger priority.