That sure was fun, wasn’t it? So many great performances from different guys, where do we begin?
Let’s start with Mike Minor. Minor, making the first playoff start of his career, gave up his usual first inning run, then proceeded to shut down the Dodgers over the next 5+ innings to give the Braves exactly what they needed to even this NLDS at 1 game a piece. With one out in the first, Minor walked Mark Ellis before a double by Hanley Ramirez plated the first run of the game and gave the Dodgers an early 1-0 lead. Minor then retired Adrian Gonzalez and Yasiel Puig to strand Ramirez at third and escape further damage. Over the next five innings, Minor settled in and gave up a few hits, but his defense had his back by turning two double plays. Overall Minor went 6.1 innings, giving up 8 hits and only that one run. He only walked 1 and struck out 5.
Luis Avilan started what turned out to be the play of the game. Avilan entered the game with runners on the corners and 1 out with the top of the Dodgers lineup coming to the plate. Avilan made some good pitches and then stabbed a hard ground ball right back to him and started the 1-6-3 double play to end the inning and the Dodgers scoring threat. Avilan pumped his first as he walked to the dugout and I am pretty sure most of the Braves family pumped their fists with him.
Andrelton Simmons was part of that big double play, and also helped the Braves out at the plate. He drove home the Braves first run of the game with a 2 out double over Puig’s head in right-center field in the 2nd inning. The Braves took their first led of the series a few innings later when Freddie Freeman crushed a double to lead off the 4th inning. After a pair of ground outs by Evan Gattis and Brian McCann, the Braves conjured up some more 2 out magic. Chris Johnson singled home Freeman to give the Braves a 2-1 lead that they would never relinquish.
The Braves stretched their lead up to 4-1 in the bottom of the 7th after a series of questionable moves by both managers. Each move seemed worse than the last, like Gonzalez and Mattingly were engaged in a witless battle of fools. Dodgers reliever Chris Whithrow walked Brian McCann to lead off the inning and faced a 1st and 2nd situation with no one out after a Chris Johnson single. In a head scratching move, Fredi Gonzalez decided to bunt with Simmons to try to get two runners into scoring position with less than 2 out. Unfortunately the next two hitters were Elliot Johnson and a pinch-hitting Jose Constanza. Predictably Johnson struck out and Constanza strolled to the plate with 2 on and 2 out in a huge situation. Now, Don Mattingly decides that he is gonna put in a lefty to face Constanza, which of course means Fredi will then pinch hit Reed Johnson against a lefty, which is actually a positive move for the Braves. In an even more unbelievable move, Mattingly decides to WALK Reed to load the bases and face Jason Heyward. You just can’t make this stuff up. Of course, Heyward lines a single into center and drives home two runs to make it a 4-1 Braves lead and give them some cushion. This was probably the most over-managed inning that I have ever seen, and Mattingly got burned bad trying to “follow the book”.
It turns out the Braves really needed both of those insurance runs, as in the 8th inning David Carpenter gave up a one-handed off-balance home run to Hanley Ramirez to bring the game back to an uncomfortable 4-3 lead. Carpenter then blew away Gonzalez and Puig before giving way to Craig Kimbrel to go for the 4 out save, which he eventually converted, but not without giving all of Braves Nation a heart attack in the process. Craig struck out Schumaker to start the 9th, then walked AJ Ellis, who was pinch run for by Dodgers speedster Dee Gordon. Gordon took off almost immediately and was thrown out at 2nd by the Braves backup catcher, Gerald Laird. It was a bang-bang play, but it was nice to see a 50/50 call go the Braves way for just about the first time in the series. Kimbrel then walked pinch hitter Andre Either before striking out Carl Crawford to end the Dodgers threat and the ball game. Kimbrel was so jacked up that many of his fastballs reached triple digits tonight and I think he was overthrowing a little bit, which led to the little bit of wildness and the walks.
The Braves will now head to LA for games 3 and 4 with a new lease on their season, and only needing to win at least one of the two games out west to make sure they will play the deciding fifth game back home at Turner Field.