They do not have a pitcher who’s being compared to Sandy Koufax. They do not have a $147 million starter. They don’t have a Korean sensation in their rotation, either. The Braves do not have Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, or Hyun-Jin Ryu. They have a young trio that’s not particularly flashy, and not yet particularly famous.
But on Friday night in Atlanta, Mike Minor, who’s making $505,000 this season, was a little bit better than L.A.’s $147 million man, Greinke, as the 25-year-old lefty held the Dodgers to one run over 6 1/3 innings in a performance that reminded us that yeah, the Braves have some really good starting pitching, too. Craig Kimbrel and the Braves bullpen held on after some nervous Turner Field moments in the eighth and ninth, and the Braves tied Division Series 1-1 with a 4-3 win. We’ve got a series.
A theme to the 2013 postseason has quickly emerged: great young pitching. Alex Cobb was brilliant in the AL wild card game. Gerrit Cole dominated for Pittsburgh earlier on Friday. Rookies Michael Wacha, Sonny Gray, Dan Straily, Julio Teheran and Ryu will all be making their postseason debuts over the next few days.
Friday night was Minor’s turn to shine. One of the three young, homegrown Braves starters that will start for the Braves this series (Kris Medlen and Teheran are the others), Minor was excellent in his first career postseason appearance. He struck out five and allowed eight hits. After striking out Juan Uribe on a devastating 81-mph curve to end the sixth, he slammed his fist into his glove and yelled. “He’s maturing as a pitcher,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez told reporters after the game. “I thought he was terrific.”
“I was a lot more composed than when I was thinking about [the start] all day today,” Minor said. “I had a lot of anxiety.”
The anxiety in Atlanta built up after their messy Game 1 loss, then began to wash away when the Braves took their first lead of the series in the bottom of the fourth on Chris Johnson’s groundball single between the third baseman and shortstop. A night after a sloppy game of costly defensive mistakes for the Braves, Atlanta was outstanding with the glove, with three key double plays, none bigger than the one that came in the top of the seventh with Dodgers on the corners and one out. Lefty Luis Avilan came on to face Carl Crawford, who shot a comebacker that Avilan stabbed and (very boldly) fired a ball to defensive whiz Andrelton Simmons at second to turn an inning-ending double play.
The bottom of the seventh gave us a fascinating chess match. With two on and two outs and Paco Rodriguez on the mound, Don Mattingly elected to intentionally walk Reed Johnson, a .244 hitter this season, to face leadoff hitter Jason Heyward. With the bases loaded, Heyward — who actually hit better against lefties (.264) than righties (.250) this season — gave the Braves a 4-1 lead with a two-run single up the middle.
Kimbrel had just one multi-inning save all season, but he recorded four outs to shut the door on the Dodgers. Kimbrel and the Braves bullpen get a lot of love, and deservedly so, but how about a little more love now for the rotation? Minor got the job done Friday. On Sunday, it’ll be Teheran and Ryu, making their October debuts, at Chavez Ravine in Game 3. Late Friday night, Gonzalez admitted Game 2 was close to a must win for the Braves with the series shifting to Los Angeles this weekend. “You don’t want to go into L.A. down two games,” he said. “But now our goal over there is to win one, maybe split the two games there and come back home. But you’re facing Greinke after facing Kershaw last night, and it was a big win, and the guys stepped up, and played tremendous defense — and we really, really pitched well.”