Former Orange High pitching star Bryse Wilson found himself in a most unique situation Thursday evening - on the mound at Globe Life Park in Arlington, Texas. The starting pitcher for the Atlanta Braves in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series.
Although the Braves had gotten the upper hand on the favored Los Angeles Dodgers, winning the first two games, Los Angeles had come back in a huge way in the third game the night before, scoring 12 first inning runs on the way to a 15-3 rout that pulled LA back within two games to one.
So there was Wilson, in a critical situation in what was unquestionably the biggest test of his brief Major League career.
A win, and the Braves were within a single victory of the franchise’s first World Series appearance in 21 years.
A loss, and Atlanta was suddenly tied 2-2, with all the momentum swinging in the direction of the Dodgers.
“This morning, I was a little nervous,” Wilson told MLB Network shortly after Thursday night’s game. “Once I got to the field, I definitely calmed down a little bit being around the guys, (and) keeping my mind busy. But this morning, I was really nervous.”
Whatever nerves Wilson may have been feeling in the morning were long gone by the time he took the hill Thursday night. In a dominating performance, Wilson threw 50 strikes in 74 pitches over six dazzling innings.
He made just one mistake - a solo home run to Edwin Rios that gave Los Angeles a brief 1-0 lead in the third inning - but set himself up to be the winning pitcher when the Braves broke through with six runs in the bottom of the six on their way to a 10-2 win.
Cool as a cucumber. Ice water running through his veins. Use your cliche. But what Wilson truly was was effective, working his lethal 96-mile-per-hour fastball throughout the strike zone at will, perplexing the dangerous Dodgers lineup with his offerings. Rios’ homer was the only hit the Dodgers got off Wilson.
The Atlanta youngster froze Dodgers All-Star Cody Bellinger with a brilliant fastball that nipped the outside corner in the top of the fifth, on his way to striking out the side on just 12 pitches.
“Honestly, I wanted to establish the inner half,” Wilson said. “My whole mentality, they can’t do a lot of damage if they can’t get their hands extended. So I wanted to establish the inner half with the fastball - four seam and two seam - and then go off the swings from there.”
“Coming up through the minors, I was honestly a power/sinker guy. Then I found my four seam (fastball). Just this year, I started going back to the two seam. It’s a tough pitch to throw, but it’s a freeze pitch. And if you can execute it, it’s a real good pitch. I saw the changes, and I went into it - I wanted to go out there and attack the zone and get ahead. At the end of the day, it’s a hard game to play. So for me, I just wanted to do the best I can, go out there and attack the hitters, obviously get good counts and go from there.”
Heading into Thursday night’s crucial outing, Wilson had made just 15 MLB appearances, going into the sixth inning only one other time.
Game 4 of the NLCS became the second.
Wilson had brilliant chemistry with Braves catcher Travis D’Arnaud, a seasoned big league veteran who kept him on track with a well-executed game behind the plate.
“Thinking back, I don’t think I shook off (D’Arnaud) once,” Wilson recalled. “We had our meeting before the game to get on the same page, and we were there the whole night. It’s great, the energy he brings back there. It’s incredible.”
Aside of Wilson’s stellar pitching, another of the joys of the evening was watching Wilson’s mother, Tracey, alongside his father Chad, cheering their son on throughout the game. Mrs. Wilson was mentioned by MLB Network for her exuberant enthusiasm in their postgame discussion with the winning pitcher.
“This network has been on the air since 2009. You’re only 22 years old, so you were like ten when we launched,” MLB Network announcer Greg Amsinger said. “I’ve seen a lot of parents in the stands get excited. Your parents are my favorite baseball parents that I’ve ever seen.”
“You mom, she was fired up. You could see it. “Let’s Go!” She screamed over and over. “So much fun. Congratulations, what a great night for you.”
“Your mom, she put the hammer down,” added MLB Network analyst Harold Reynolds.
Due to his young age in reaching the Big Leagues, Wilson has already found himself in some unique company. When he found himself on the Opening Day roster for the Braves, pitching in Atlanta’s second game of the season against the Phillies in 2019, he joined the likes of Fernando Valenzuela, Dwight Gooden, Hall of Famer Greg Maddux, and Jose Fernandez as just the fourth National League pitcher under the age of 22 to make one of his team’s first two starts of a season going back to 1980.
With his dazzling performance Thursday night against the Dodgers, Wilson and Braves teammate Ian Anderson became the first two teammates in a single postseason to go at least six innings and allow one or fewer runs in their respective MLB postseason debuts since Hall of Famer Jim Palmer and Wally Bunker of the 1966 Baltimore Orioles.
So how could Wilson possibly top this impressive outing on baseball’s brightest stage?
Stay tuned. He may get a chance to do it again next week in the World Series.