ATLANTA – Flashing plenty of fire and some nifty defense, the Atlanta Braves recaptured their Turner Field swagger. Now, they’re headed to Dodger Stadium with the N.L. division series tied.
Mike Minor pitched six strong innings in his first postseason start, Jason Heyward had a two-run single and Atlanta made one slick play after another to stop Los Angeles 4-3 on Friday night and even the best-of-5 series at one game apiece.
Just what the Braves needed after an ugly 6-1 loss in the opener – their first postseason win at “The Ted” since the 2005 NLDS, snapping a streak of four straight defeats at a park where they had the best home record in the majors during the regular season.
“We definitely didn’t want to lose two games in front of our home crowd,” Chris Johnson said.
In a postseason already marked by defensive miscues all over the place, the Braves defense came through by turning three double plays – none more crucial than the 1-6-3 reliever Luis Avilan started in the seventh to escape the inning with a 2-1 lead intact.
Gerald Laird and Andrelton Simmons combined for another huge defensive play in the ninth when pinch-runner Dee Gordon attempted to use his speed to get into scoring position against Braves closer Craig Kimbrel.
Taking off for second, Gordon thought he had it stolen. But Laird unleashed a strong throw from behind the plate that Simmons scooped on the hop while making the tag in one motion, all while blocking Gordon’s left hand from the bag with his knee.
Simmons screamed and Laird pumped his fist twice. Gordon was wide-eyed in disbelief at the call. But Dodgers manager Don Mattingly had a good look at it from the third-base dugout and didn’t raise a peep.
“That’s a big throw,” Laird said. “(If he’s safe) then we walk a guy and the next thing you know it’s first and second and they get a bloop single and get the lead.”
Kimbrel, who walked two during a rare four-out save, finally finished off the Dodgers by striking out Carl Crawford.
After an off day, the series resumes with two games at Dodger Stadium. A deciding Game 5, if necessary, would be back in Atlanta.
“We leave with a split,” Dodgers slugger Adrian Gonzalez said. “We’ll try to wrap it up at home.”
Heyward had his big hit in the seventh, extending the lead to 4-1.
Hanley Ramirez drove in all three runs for the Dodgers, including an impressive show of strength in the eighth for a two-run homer. He cleared the wall down the left-field line with a one-handed swing off David Carpenter, again bringing Los Angeles within a run.
They would get no closer.
“We feel fine,” Mattingly said. “We understand we’re in a series with a good club.”