PHILADELPHIA – Mike Minor keeps plugging away in his third solid month of pitching in a row, this better than the previous two. So strong, even a resurgent Phillies team put up little resistence Saturday when the left-hander’s impressive run continued before a sold-out crowd at Citizens Bank Park.
The Braves blasted Roy Halladay for seven runs in the first two innings and Minor allowed only two hits in six innings of an 8-2 win, which reduced Atlanta’s magic number to three to clinch at least a spot in the Oct. 5 Wild Card game.
“This was a big win for us for the simple fact, it slows Philly’s roll a little bit,” third baseman Chipper Jones said after the Braves handed the Phillies just their sixth loss in 22 games and snapped their eight-game home winning streak. “I don’t think anybody in baseball wants to face them in a one-game playoff, with their three aces and that offense. It would be a tough task for anybody. We did a good job of slowing their momentum and hopefully picking some up in the meantime.”
The top four hitters in the Braves’ order – Michael Bourn, Martin Prado, Jason Heyward and Jones – had two hits apiece, and No. 5 hitter Freddie Freeman hit a three-run, two-out homer off Halladay in the first inning.
Freeman is 7-for-15 with three homers off Halladay (10-8), who was charged with five hits and seven runs in 1-2/3 innings, the second-shortest start of his career.
Heyward had four RBIs including a two-out, three-run double in the second to chase Halladay from the game, before Jones greeted reliever Jeremy Horst with a double off the center-field wall that added another run to Halladay’s line and put the Braves ahead 7-0.
Halladay has had shoulder problems throughout the season, but no team has knocked him around like the Braves. The former two-time Cy Young Award winner is 0-2 with an 11.21 ERA in four starts against them this season, allowing 22 earned runs, 30 hits and six homers in 17-2/3 innings.
“He’s not the same Halladay I’ve seen,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “ I don’t know if it’s that scapula or shoulder blade, but he didn’t look the same the last couple of times we’ve faced him. Nevertheless, he’s probably gotten us more than we’ve gotten him.”
Jones’ first-inning single moved him past Lou Gehrig into sole possession of 58th place on the all-time hits list, and his 2,723 hits is one shy of tying Roberto Alomar for fifth on the career hits list for switch-hitters.
After the Braves built their huge early lead against Halladay, it was up to their young lefty to pitch as if the game was still close and not let Philadelphia chip away at the margin. Minor was more than up to the task, giving up only two hits – a Kevin Frandsen triple in the third inning and Ryan Howard homer in the fourth – and one walk with six strikeouts.
Braves starter Kris Medlen and closer Craig Kimbrel have understandably drawn most of the attention directed at Braves pitchers, but Minor has quietly put together a second half that’s been every bit as good as his first half was bad. He is 4-0 with a 2.48 ERA in his past six starts, and 3-0 with a 1.09 ERA in his past four, allowing 10 hits and three runs in 24-2/3 innings in the latter four games.
“To navigate that lineup only giving up two hits, he did a terrific job,” Gonzalez said. “Sometimes it’s another step in the growing process, pitching with a big lead. Sometimes it’s tough, especially for young pitchers. But he did a nice job.”
Minor said reminders from Jones helped him maintain his focus.
“Just executing pitches, that’s what it comes down to,” Minor said. “We were up so much early, there was still a lot of ballgame left. And with a big lineup like that, it could change in a hurry. Chipper came over to me a couple of times and just told me to bear down.”
Minor is 6-4 with a 2.37 ERA in 14 starts since July 1, including 11 quality starts. This after going 4-6 with a 6.20 ERA in his first 15 starts, with just four quality starts.
“He went from possibly being on the brink of getting sent down, to being one of our most consistent pitchers the past month, month and a half,” Jones said. “He’s been outstanding. He can go out there and compete with anybody. He’s not fazed by the fact that we’re facing Doc Halladay on the road. He went out there and gave us an opportunity to get up by a pretty big margin, and he didn’t stop pitching.
“The Mike Minor of years past may have, at some point, let them back in the game. He made a mistake here and there, but he held it to one run and got himself out of a couple of jams.”
Milwaukee was third in the wild-card standings and lost Saturday, knocking another game off the Braves’ magic number (it was five when the day began). The Dodgers and Phillies were also within three games of second-place St. Louis in the wild-card standings, leaving all four teams with at least a chance to claim a wild-card spot and likely matchup with the Braves on Oct. 5.
The Braves have a six-game lead over the Cardinals with only 10 games to play in the regular season.
Bourn hurts thumb: Leadoff man Bourn jammed his left thumb sliding into second base in the fourth inning, but stayed in he game and had two hits and two walks. He won’t play Sunday, but said he should be back in the lineup Tuesday after the team’s day off Monday.
“I’ve done it before, where I tore my ligament,” he said, as he soaked his thumb in a cup of ice water after the game. “So I know what it feels like. I knew I jammed it. I was just thinking, get to second because I wanted us to continue to hit. Last thing I wanted was to get out right there, so in my head I was thinking to get to the bag. I knew I was going too fast. I don’t like to slide head-first, and that’s the reason why. It’s too risky. You go in too fast with your hands and you’ll feel it more. Go in with your feet, you have a better chance.”