By KRISTIE RIEKEN
HOUSTON (AP) — Rookie Ian Anderson pitched like an October veteran. Old pro Nick Markakis threw the best strike of the game. And just like that, the Atlanta Braves are on the verge of something they haven’t done since the days of Chipper, the Big Three and Bobby Cox.
Anderson blanked Miami into the sixth inning, Markakis made a nifty play in right field to help preserve the lead late, and the Braves threw another playoff shutout in a 2-0 victory Wednesday for a 2-0 lead in the NL Division Series.
The Braves have pitched three shutouts in four games during this year’s playoffs. They’re just the third team in MLB history to toss three shutouts in the first four games of a postseason, joining the 1966 Baltimore Orioles and the 1905 New York Giants.
Travis d’Arnaud and Dansby Swanson each homered for the second straight day, putting the Braves one win away from a sweep in the best-of-five matchup. Game 3 is Thursday in Houston.
“It’s hard to bunch hits together, pitching is too good,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “Power, I think is something that plays in the postseason and was witnessed today.”
Atlanta hasn’t reached the NL Championship Series since 2001 when Chipper Jones, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz played under Cox.
The Braves have lost in the division series eight times since then, including in the last two seasons — a fact star slugger Freddie Freeman said put a chip on their shoulders entering this round.
Anderson scattered three hits and struck out eight over 5 2/3 innings. The lanky right-hander who made his major league debut in late August added to his impressive outing last week in the wild-card series when he fanned nine in six scoreless frames against Cincinnati.
“It doesn’t seem like the moment ever matters to him,” Snitker said. “He just keeps pitching and trusting his stuff.”
Added d’Arnaud, his catcher: “He’s just always been like that. It’s something that should be noticed and put out there.”
Despite his calm demeanor, the 22-year-old Anderson admitted to some early-game jitters.
“I definitely had more nerves today,” he said. “I don’t know if was the different site and seeing all the playoff stuff around the stadium or what … but I was able to calm down and get in the groove of the game.”
The 36-year-old Markakis contributed after Anderson departed.
Corey Dickerson reached on an error by Swanson at shortstop to start the eighth, setting up Markakis’ heads-up play.
Jon Berti followed by slicing a high fly down the line that Markakis alertly plucked on one hop and, with Dickerson holding up to see if the ball would be caught, threw to Swanson for a forceout at second base in a close play.
“He’s a veteran outfielder and he’s one of the best in the business at what he does,” Swanson said. “And he really made a perfect play.”
Miami manager Don Mattingly didn’t fault Dickerson for being thrown out because he said Markakis could’ve dived to catch it.
“Corey’s in a tough spot there, and that ball just kind of bounced right up to (Markakis),” he said. “That’s just a tough read in a tough situation.”
Will Smith retired the next two batters and Mark Melancon, Atlanta’s fifth pitcher of the game, closed the combined three-hitter for a save.
On a day when Atlanta got only four hits, Swanson and d’Arnaud provided the offense. Both players hit solo shots a day after the two hit multi-run homers in a huge seventh inning for the Braves in their Game 1 win.
Players from both teams behaved themselves a day after tempers flared in the opener when Braves star Ronald Acuña Jr. was nailed by a 98 mph fastball. Acuña had a quiet afternoon, going 0 for 4 and striking out all four times.
Swanson’s homer off Pablo Lopez put the Braves up 1-0 with two outs in the second inning.
There was one out in the fourth when d’Arnaud launched his soaring home run to left field, where it bounced off a metal sign high on the wall making a loud bang. Cameras panned to Anderson in the dugout, and the pitcher smiled broadly as he watched the ball sail away.
D’Arnaud’s homer made him the first catcher for the Braves to hit multiple home runs in one postseason since Brian McCann also had two in 2005. He’s made quite a comeback this season after bouncing around between three teams in a tough 2019.
The Marlins, who made the playoffs for the first time since 2003, bounded their way into this round with high energy and plenty of smiles. They had little reason to grin on Wednesday when they couldn’t scratch a single run across, going 0-4 with runners in scoring position.
It’s put them cusp of losing the first playoff series in franchise history after entering this round 7-0 all-time in the postseason.
They had a chance to cut into the lead in the sixth inning when Berti singled with one out before Darren O’Day took over for Anderson with two outs and plunked Brian Anderson. The veteran reliever than walked Garrett Cooper to load the bases, but the Marlins came away empty when Matt Joyce grounded out to end the inning.
Lopez didn’t pitch badly, allowing just three hits in and striking out seven in five innings. But he was done in by the home runs in his postseason debut after not pitching since Sept. 24.
“Pablo was really good,” Mattingly said. “With a lot of guys, and these guys have a lot of good hitters, you miss your spots and sometimes you can get away with it, and sometimes you don’t.”
Atlanta’s Kyle Wright will make his postseason debut when he starts in Game 3 against rookie Sixto Sanchez. Wright hasn’t pitched since Sept. 25 when he allowed two runs in a career-high 6 2/3 innings against the Red Sox. Sanchez started Game 2 of the wild-card round, striking out six in five scoreless innings.