As far as he can remember, Ian Anderson last pitched in a win-or-go-home game during the wildest week of his life.
Anderson went from being drafted third overall by the Atlanta Braves on June 9, 2016 to taking the mound for Shenendehowa in the Class AA state semifinals just two days later.
That must-win game saw Anderson throw a five-hit shutout in Shenendehowa’s state semifinal win over West Islip, and the Plainsmen went on to win the state championship later that afternoon.
There will be significantly more eyes on Anderson’s next winner-take-all start, as he takes the mound Sunday to start Game 7 of the National League Championship Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers with a trip to the World Series at stake.
“Hopefully,” Anderson said following the Braves’ 3-1 Game 6 loss on Saturday at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas, “we can repeat something like that.”
Anderson is barely seven weeks removed from his big-league debut, but said he feels confident heading into the most important start of his burgeoning career.
“It’s surprising, a little bit, but I always thought there was a good chance that I would be here,” Anderson said. “It might not have worked out the way I thought it was [going to], but I’m here. I’m going to take the mound and give it everything I have for the team. That’s why you play, to be in situations like this and compete out there.”
The Braves have every reason to be confident that Anderson, who is yet to allow a run in 15 2-3 innings over three postseason starts, can cope with the pressure of getting the ball in Game 7.
“I’m hoping he can. I think he will,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “I think he’ll handle it great.”
“Without a doubt. I’ve got 100% confidence behind Ian Anderson,” said Braves pitcher Max Fried, who took the loss in Game 6. “He’s as prepared and as smart as they come. You would never know that it’s his rookie year. I know that he’s going to be more than ready to go.”
The top pitching prospect in the Braves’ organization, Anderson was called up in late August and made his MLB debut against the New York Yankees with six innings of one-hit ball. He ended the regular season with a 3-2 record and a 1.95 earned run average for the NL East champion Braves.
In three postseason starts, Anderson is 2-0 with 22 strikeouts. The 6-foot-3 righthander pitched four shutout innings in Game 2 of the NLCS, striking out five and walking five before being lifted with his pitch count at 85 in a game the Braves went on to win 8-7.
That start, and the four games since then, have given Anderson a good frame of reference for what to expect from the Dodgers in Game 7.
“They’re really good at taking tough pitches and close pitches,” he said. “If you can get them in a count where you can kind of make something happen, and it’s in your favor, I think you have to go for it right there. We’ll see what happens as the game goes on, but that’s one thing I’ve noticed about the way they go about it.”
The most important thing, he said, will be going with the flow in a game where momentum can shift on a razor’s edge.
“I’m a competitor. You have to go out there and compete,” Anderson said. “Whether you punch them first or they punch you first, you have to find a way to stay in the fight and just compete as hard as you can, be willing to leave everything out there at the end of the day.”