By PAUL NEWBERRY
ATLANTA (AP) — This was a game the Atlanta Braves absolutely had to win.
They had the right guy on the mound.
Kyle Wright, baseball’s only 20-game winner, threw six brilliant innings to outduel Zack Wheeler as the Braves evened their NL Division Series at one game apiece, blanking the Philadelphia Phillies 3-0 on Wednesday night.
After steady 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.
The reigning World Series champions were in a must-win situation after losing the opener of the best-of-five series 7-6.
The Braves turned to the right-hander with a big arm and snapping curveball who has finally cashed in on his enormous potential.
“I’ve worked on a lot of things this year,” Wright said. “Really, it just goes back to confidence. ”
Wright, the fifth overall pick in the 2017 amateur draft, struggled to get past Triple-A and came into this season with a record of 2-8 in the majors. He totally turned that around, going 21-5 to collect three more wins 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 sharp grounder to first, and Brandon Marsh struck out swinging on a four-seamer that clocked in at 96 mph.
“As he’s out there and figures things out, he’s going to continue to develop and grow and gain confidence,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said of Wright. “With that arsenal he’s got, he can be a force for a long time.”
A.J. Minter, Raisel Iglesias and Kenley Jansen closed out the three-hitter with one inning apiece.
Jansen earned the save, the 20th of his postseason career but first with the Braves after spending the last dozen seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Game 3 is Friday in Philadelphia.
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 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 could’ve at least knocked down.
“I think if you asked Rhys, he would say he should make that play,” Phillies manager Rob Thomson said.
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 will be Philadelphia’s first game at Citizens Bank Park 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.
“To leave here with a split and go back home in front of a packed house of passionate people … I think will give our guys a little shot in the arm,” Thomson said.
Acuña is sure to be sore after getting hit by Wheeler’s pitch, but Snitker said there was no structural damage.
“Probably good we have a day off,” the manager said. “They can treat him up.”
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.
RHP Aaron Nola (11-13, 3.25 ERA) gets 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.
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