HOUSTON — Rookie right-hander 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 the Miami Marlins 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 their National League Division Series.
The Braves have pitched three shutouts in four games during this year's playoffs. They're just the third team in Major League Baseball 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 at the Houston Astros' Minute Maid Park. Game 3 is Thursday, with Atlanta set to send Kyle Wright to the mound and Miami countering with Sixto Sanchez.
"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 switch-hitting slugger Chipper Jones, and pitchers Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz played under Cox. All of them are now in the National Baseball Hall of Fame
The Braves have lost eight NLDS since then, including in the past two seasons — a fact star slugger and first baseman Freddie Freeman said put a chip on their shoulders entering this round.
Anderson scattered three hits and struck out eight batters in 5 2/3 innings. The lanky 22-year-old who made his MLB debut in late August added another impressive playoff showing after fanning nine batters in six scoreless innings against the Cincinnati Reds, who were shut out in back-to-back games as Atlanta swept the best-of-three series at home.
"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, Anderson admitted to some early 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."
Markakis, 36 and in his sixth season with the Braves, contributed after Anderson departed.
Corey Dickerson reached on an error by Swanson at shortstop to start the eighth, setting up the 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 have 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 multirun homers in a huge seventh inning for the Braves in the opener, a 9-5 comeback victory.
Players from both teams behaved themselves a day after tempers flared when Braves star Ronald Acuña Jr. was nailed by a 98 mph fastball. Acuña had a quiet Wednesday 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 homer 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 homers in one postseason since Brian McCann also had two in 2005. He has made quite a comeback this season after bouncing around between three teams in a tough 2019.
The Marlins, who are in 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 Wednesday when they couldn't scratch a single run across, going 0-for-4 with runners in scoring position.
It has them cusp of losing a playoff series for the first time in franchise history after entering this round 7-0 all-time in postseason rounds.
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 and striking out seven batters in five innings, but he was done in by the homers 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."