Updated with more information at 7:20 p.m. on Sept. 30, 2020.
ATLANTA — The scoreless innings kept piling up, along with the strikeouts. The shadows began to creep across the infield, and when the lights came on in a mostly empty stadium for a postseason game that began a little past noon, it seemed like this might go on forever.
Finally, Freddie Freeman had seen enough.
The MVP candidate who warded off a frightening bout with the coronavirus at the beginning of this most unusual Major League Baseball season fittingly delivered the winning hit in the 13th inning, ending the longest scoreless duel in MLB postseason history as the Atlanta Braves defeated the Cincinnati Reds 1-0 in the opener of their National League wild-card series Wednesday.
"That was a very stressful 4 1/2 hours," Freeman said with a chuckle.
The Braves, three-time reigning champions in the NL East Division, won a postseason opener for the first time since Game 1 of their 2001 NL Division Series against the Houston Astros. Atlanta will try to wrap up the best-of-three series Thursday and snap an MLB-record-tying streak of 10 straight playoff round losses.
Atlanta starter Max Fried, who pitched seven scoreless innings Wednesday, was just 7 years old when the Braves swept that series with Houston.
"We're one away from winning it," Fried said. "I'm feeling really good going into tomorrow."
What began as a pitching showdown between between Cy Young contenders Fried and Trevor Bauer, the Reds' ace, devolved into a strikeout contest played before a handful of family and friends at Truist Park. The teams combined for a postseason record 37 strikeouts, with 21 by the Braves.
After a couple of Atlanta hits in the bottom of the 13th against Archie Bradley, Freeman drove the ball into center field off Amir Garrett against a five-man infield with one out to end a game that dragged on for more than 4 1/2 hours.
A four-time All-Star, Freeman produced another big year in a pandemic-shortened season after a battle with COVID-19 in July so severe that the 31-year-old first baseman said he prayed: "Please don't take me."
In the 13th, he came up in a situation he relishes.
"That's the guy we want up there," Atlanta manager Brian Snitker said.
A.J. Minter escaped a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the top of the 13th for the win. It was the third straight inning the Reds pushed a runner to third but couldn't get him another 90 feet.
"These guys take so much pride in coming through in those situations," Reds manager David Bell said "Each and every time we had the opportunity, we believed it was going to happen."
While there was no denying the historic nature of the first MLB postseason matchup to be scoreless after 11 innings, it hardly qualified as a masterpiece leading off an unprecedented day of eight playoff games.
With the designated runner at second base no longer in play for postseason games — a tiebeaker rule implemented this year as the COVID-19 pandemic delayed and shortened the regular season to 60 games — two teams that rely heavily on the long ball took turns just flailing away at the plate, passing on several opportunities to bunt runners along.
Mostly, they stirred up nothing but a stiff breeze.
"We're a big-swinging team," Snitker said. "Sometimes it doesn't happen."
Bauer certainly lived up to his billing as one of baseball's best on the mound these days. The outspoken right-hander became the first pitcher in MLB history to record 12 strikeouts with no walks, no runs and two or fewer hits in a postseason start.
Bauer was lifted after retiring the first two hitters in the eighth, doing the Braves chop on his way to the dugout.
"I brought my 'A' game and everything," Bauer said. "I was exhausted."
The Braves' only real threat against Bauer came in the sixth, when Ronald Acuña Jr. led off with a double to the wall in center and moved to third on Freeman's groundout. NL home run and RBI king Marcell Ozuna popped out behind home plate, and Travis d'Arnaud struck out swinging.
Fried went nearly pitch for pitch with the Cincinnati ace, surrendering six hits while striking out five batters without walking any.
It hardly looked like a pitching duel in the beginning, though. Nick Senzel and Nick Castellanos started the game with back-to-back singles off Fried, rekindling memories of the Braves' most recent playoff outing.
In Game 5 of a 2019 NLDS, Atlanta gave up a record 10 runs to the St. Louis Cardinals in their first at-bat. This time, Fried escaped a first-and-third jam by retiring Joey Votto, Eugenio Suárez and Mike Moustakas.
"I'm trying to get out of there with only one run," he said. "Fortunately for me, I was able to get out with none."
Fried also benefited from some key defensive plays.
Castellanos was thrown out by Adam Duvall trying to go from first to third in the sixth. Then, in Fried's final inning, the Reds' attempt at a double steal ended with a pair of rundowns and Austin Riley tagging out Aristides Aquino just before he touched home.
There were injury concerns after Atlanta's last series of the regular season, but everyone was good to go in the playoffs. Acuña (wrist) and Riley (quadriceps) both started, and right-handed reliever Chris Martin (groin) worked a scoreless eighth.
Thursday's game matches two right-handed starters on the mound. Cincinnati's Luis Castillo (4-6, 3.21 ERA) will his first postseason start, and Atlanta rookie Ian Anderson (3-2, 1.95) will try to continue to boost the team's troubled rotation. Called up from the alternate training site in late August, the 2016 first-round pick went at least 5 2/3 innings in four of his six starts.