MILWAUKEE — Corbin Burnes stood alone on the mound, a triangle of trouble already threatening to swamp the Milwaukee Brewers in the first inning of a playoff game on Friday.
Jorge Soler, Atlanta’s leadoff hitter, had converted a 1-2 count into a walk. It had taken nine pitches to walk Freddie Freeman and, thanks to a passed ball, to put him and Soler on the corners. Now Atlanta’s No. 3 hitter, Ozzie Albies, strode toward the plate after a 30-homer regular season.
Burnes’s cutter had betrayed him through the first two batters of this National League division series. He went back to it anyway. Albies swung and grounded harmlessly toward first. Soler streaked just too slowly toward home to beat a throw from Rowdy Tellez, who had already stepped on first. Four pitches (and just one cutter) later, Atlanta’s promising start had yielded nothing and Burnes was bound for the Brewers’ dugout. He would carry a no-hitter into the fifth and exit after the sixth, after striking out six and surrendering two hits and no runs.
Tellez did the rest, when, with Avisail Garcia already on base in the seventh, he hammered Charlie Morton’s 95-mile-an-hour fastball some 411 feet and gave Milwaukee the only runs they would need to prevail, 2-1.
“I don’t think ‘we’ve got to do this’ is the language that we’re using,” Burnes had said on Thursday afternoon. “When you start to put that added pressure on is when you start trying to do too much. You start getting away from what we do best as a team. What we do best as a team is we play loose, we have fun, we have a lot of energy.”
They, in turn, have made pitching a high art in Milwaukee this year. If they wanted to contend, they hardly had a choice. The Milwaukee lineup, even with the former Most Valuable Player Award-winner Christian Yelich, managed a regular-season average that was only good for second-to-last in the N.L. The Brewers also scarcely hit for power, finishing eighth in the N.L. in regular-season home runs.
But Milwaukee’s pitchers tormented rivals, hurling 19 shutouts, the most in the majors, and logging 1,618 strikeouts, also the best in baseball. Bud Selig, the former baseball commissioner and the onetime owner of the Brewers, argued on Thursday that Milwaukee would advance “as far as pitching takes it.”
Morton, with a fooling curveball and a record of postseason prestige, hardly had a poor showing. Tellez’s home run was one of three hits he allowed on Friday, when he struck out nine over six innings. Atlanta’s mighty offense — the club was one of the most power-prone in the league this season — simply sputtered before a partisan crowd and a series of pitchers who made only fleeting mistakes.
Game 2 is scheduled for Saturday evening in Milwaukee; the best-of-five series will move to Atlanta for up to two games starting on Monday before potentially returning to Milwaukee on Thursday for a final Game 5 showdown.