HOUSTON — Walt Weiss was remembering what a good hitter Tyler Matzek was in 2014 and 2015. Dave Roberts was recalling a nightmare from 2016.
On Saturday night, a pivotal moment was playing out in NLCS Game 6. The Braves were trying to deke the Dodgers, whose manager, Roberts, was deciding whether to be deked or not.
The Braves held a 4-2 lead in Game 6 and were leading the series 3-2. They had Dansby Swanson on first at Truist Park after a two-out single in the bottom of the seventh. That brought up No. 8 hitter Travis d’Arnaud. Jorge Soler moved into the on-deck circle.
But there was this: “We didn’t want to take the bat out of d’Arnaud’s hands, so we put Soler [on deck] to hope they would pitch to [d’Arnaud],” said Weiss, the Braves’ bench coach.
Atlanta manager Brian Snitker said, “It was a bluff. Matzek was going to hit.”
It is not traditional to intentionally walk a hitter without an open base. But Roberts said in a phone conversation he was pondering it. The key would be to try to get Matzek, who had been dominant in the series, out of the game. The reliever had come in during the top of the seventh with the tying runs on second and third and no out, and struck out Albert Pujols, Steven Souza Jr. and Mookie Betts.
Roberts said he knew Jesse Chavez was warming and preferred him in the game to Matzek. He also contemplated that even if Matzek remained in the game, he had just exerted a lot of energy to escape the seventh, would have sat down, and was going to face the 2-3-4 hitters in the Dodgers’ lineup. Mostly, though, Roberts said, “I thought about Miguel Montero.”
In Game 1 of the 2016 NLCS at Wrigley Field, the score was tied 3-3 between the Dodgers and Cubs in the bottom of the eighth inning. With a runner on second, Roberts ordered two of the next three hitters be intentionally walked to leave the bases loaded and two outs. He wanted to get to the pitcher’s spot and have Cubs manager Joe Maddon remove his best reliever, Arolids Chapman, which Maddon did by sending up Montero. Joe Blanton got ahead 0-2, hung a slider and Montero hit a grand slam that gave the Cubs a Game 1 victory.
“It was on my mind,” Roberts said. “I knew they were saving Soler as a bullet to fire and I was thinking about Montero. I thought Soler might never get up, but I didn’t want to risk it.”
Soler was never going to get up. The Braves didn’t like his bat against Corey Knebel’s slider. And they just were not going to remove Matzek.
Matzek hadn’t taken an at-bat since 2015, when he was in the midst of failing as a starter with Colorado, when Weiss was his manager. But Weiss said he still takes BP and, “really was a good hitting pitcher [.217 batting average]. So we would have had a little hope.”
As it turned out, d’Arnaud struck out. Matzek stayed in the game to deliver a dominant six-pitch eighth inning. The Braves won 4-2 to clinch the NL pennant without ever having to expose Matzek to that at-bat.
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