ATLANTA — And in the fourth game, the offenses finally erupted.
Until Tuesday, the National League division series between Atlanta and Milwaukee had been nothing but pitching masterpieces, with three games that saw a total of nine runs. Game 4, the first of the series with a season’s fate at stake, brought out the bats at last.
By night’s end, after an evening of power and pinch-hitting and, yes, some doses of pretty good pitching, Atlanta had beaten Milwaukee, 5-4, and advanced to the National League Championship Series for the second consecutive year.
“Runs were hard to come by,” said Freddie Freeman, Atlanta’s first baseman, “but when they were hard to come by we still pulled out two wins and we were able to do it today.”
Indeed, Atlanta showed Tuesday that it could do it even after failing to strike first.
In the fourth inning, Avisail Garcia, the right-handed-hitting Milwaukee outfielder, jumped at a fastball Charlie Morton fired to begin the at-bat for a single to left. Morton’s errant pickoff attempt let Garcia scoot to second, where he stayed when Luis Urias walked on five pitches.
With one out, Omar Narváez lifted a fastball into center for a single that scored Garcia and moved Urias to third. Lorenzo Cain, Milwaukee’s No. 8 hitter, promptly turned a sinker into a single to give the Brewers a 2-0 lead.
But any ambitions Milwaukee had to sustain that trend vanished in the inning’s bottom half, when, with the bases loaded, the Atlanta pinch-hitter Eddie Rosario swaggered into the batter’s box.
A slider went foul. A fastball became a called strike. Another fastball, another foul, still an 0-2 count with two outs. Rosario then brought Truist Park to life, connecting with a fastball and sending it toward shallow center, tying the game.
Of course, Rowdy Tellez, the man whose home run off Morton had decided Game 1, was due in the fifth inning. Christian Yelich singled. Garcia swung at, and missed, three consecutive sliders from A.J. Minter.
Minter stuck with the slider when Tellez approached. This time, he hit it 448 feet for a home run.
Atlanta offered a far less glamorous or speedy response in its half of the fifth — it included a fielder’s choice off the slightly-cooled-but-still-hot bat of Joc Pederson and a single to right — but tied the game again.
“You could tell the team is hungry to take the next step and keep advancing and progressing,” Rosario said.
Milwaukee turned to one of its fearsome faces, the left-handed reliever Josh Hader, in the eighth. With a 1.23 earned-run average in 60 games this season, along with his third All-Star selection, Hader had dazzled Milwaukee as a strikeout machine.
But Freeman doesn’t succumb to dazzle easily.
Hader, whose slider had already tormented two Atlanta batters on Tuesday, offered another and Freeman took a sweeping, powerful cut at it.
Milwaukee’s hopes of staying alive in the series narrowed when the ball reached the stands in left-center — as it seemed destined to do from the moment Freeman made contact — and the stadium, which had already echoed through the night with Atlanta’s signature chants and taunts, roared anew.
“I didn’t know if he was going slider-happy,” Freeman said of Hader, “but I just kind of looked up and away to keep me from swinging at the slider down and away, and luckily he threw one up there.”
Atlanta and Milwaukee entered Game 4 testing radically different approaches to postseason starting pitching. Atlanta sent out Morton, who had thrown six innings in Milwaukee on Friday, after Manager Brian Snitker invoked the teachings of a man who coached as early as the 1950s to explain his choice in the 21st century.
“This wasn’t short rest — it was the norm, back until we made it not,” Snitker said. “Back in Johnny Sain’s day when he was a pitching coach, he was all for guys getting two days and then pitching.”
Craig Counsell of Milwaukee, it seemed, could hardly harbor such a thought, much less act on it: He ruled out deploying Corbin Burnes, the Cy Young Award contender who allowed two hits in six innings on Friday, for the Brewers’ must-win matchup.
“He wanted to do it, but we had to make sure he was physically ready to do it,” Counsell, whose club had largely relied on a six-man rotation during the regular season, said before the game. “He’s just not ready to do it.”
That left Milwaukee with Eric Lauer, a left-hander who had last pitched on Oct. 1, to face an Atlanta lineup filled with right-handers.
Morton lasted three and a third innings and gave up two runs on four hits. He struck out five. Lauer did not stick around much longer; he pitched three and two-thirds innings, surrendering four hits and allowing two runs.
Atlanta used seven pitchers on Tuesday, and Milwaukee sent five to the mound during a game that lasted almost four hours.
“In the moment right now, we’re all really disappointed,” Counsell said afterward. “And it’s hard to get past the disappointment right now sitting here right now. It just is. But I think in the end we had big goals. We didn’t quite get there. But you win 95 games, it’s a special group, and they did accomplish some special things.”
In the Atlanta clubhouse, the Champagne was spewing — and planning for the N.L.C.S., which will start on Saturday, would wait just a little bit into the future.
Soler Ruled Out
Hours before Tuesday’s first pitch, Major League Baseball announced that Atlanta’s leadoff hitter, Jorge Soler, had tested positive for the coronavirus. Cristian Pache replaced Soler, who hit .269 for Atlanta this season after a July trade from Kansas City, on the division series roster, and Atlanta shuffled its lineup to put Dansby Swanson atop the order. Under baseball’s health protocols, Soler could return during the N.L.C.S.