The Braves are going back to the playoffs, and as anybody could have predicted back in spring training their two most important players when the postseason opens will be Chipper Jones and . . . Kris Medlen.
OK. Maybe not so predictable.
It’s sort of like if the guys at NASA had a running bet and one predicted that the first two astronauts to walk on the moon would be Neil Armstrong and the kid who brought him coffee every day.
“This has been the ride of my life,” Medlen said Sunday. “I mean, you go through some adversity and you come back with the kind of success that I’ve had, it’s awesome. It’s crazy.”
Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez put it another way: “It’s Nintendo-like stuff.”
Medlen did it again Sunday. He started and he won. He started and the Braves won. Like, “Good morning: Oh look, there’s the sun.”
The Braves’ middle reliever-turned-emergency-starter-turned-No. 6-starter-turned go-to-guy held the New York Mets to one earned run and four hits in six innings. The Braves went to win their final regular season home game 6-2, officially closing Chipper Jones Lovefest Weekend.
The win allowed Medlen to put some distance between himself and those two slackers, Carl Hubbell and Whitey Ford. Previously, he shared a major league record with the two Hall of Famers, the Braves having won 22 straight when Medlen started. Now the streak is at 23 and the record is owned solely by Medlen.
Again, if you missed that threesome: Carl Hubbell … Whitey Ford … Kris Medlen.
Asked if he had heard of Hubbell and Ford, Medlen responded, “I don’t know if I heard of the first dude.”
Medlen will start the expected wild card game Friday. It figured to take something extraordinary for Gonzalez to select Medlen over a veteran, Tim Hudson, but Medlen accomplished that.
Actually, he blew past extraordinary and went straight to illogical.
Since moving to the rotation on July 31, Medlen is 9-0 with a 0.97 ERA in 12 starts. He is 14-0 during the start streak, which dates back to May 29, 2010.
He shared the spotlight on the season’s final homestand with Jones. That’s fine by him. He prefers being the funny teammate in the background.
“I don’t like the attention,” he said. “I mean, they show me on the Jumbotron [before the game] and … I don’t know how to tip my cap [to the fans].” (Visualize Medlen giving a goofy look.)
“Under the radar is how I prefer it,” he continued. “But this is the coolest experience of my life.”
Medlen’s initial goal this season was to stay healthy, not an uncommon objective for a pitcher coming off Tommy John surgery. He ended up turning into the staff ace.
There has been some amusing revisionist history, some suggesting the Braves held Medlen out of the rotation for so long because they wanted to limit his innings. The reality is that if things had gone according to plan, Medlen would still be in the bullpen. He made it here only because of Brandon Beachy’s elbow surgery, Jair Jurrjens’ decline, Randall Delgado’s slow development and Ben Sheets’ return to Earth. He was sent to Gwinnett in May to “stretch out” his arm but when he returned he still pitched out of the bullpen 17 times.
But it’s clear teammates love playing behind Medlen. He works fast. He throws strikes. He never seems stressed.
“They’re not standing on their feet, walking around going, ‘OK, when is ball three going to come?’” Gonzalez said.
Medlen was happy to be the second-biggest story this week behind Jones: “I prefer it this way: I do something good and he does something better.”
He remembers showing up to his first spring training and seeing Jones in the clubhouse.
“I was No. 72,” Medlen said, laughing. “Chipper was standing there watching some hunting show. I was dating a girl from Mississippi who took me duck hunting, so I thought, ‘That’s my icebreaker.’ So I went up to Chipper and said, ‘Hey, I went duck hunting in the delta.’ He looked up and down at me and then looked back at the TV. I was like, ‘OK, maybe I’ll see you again some time. I’ll just go back over here now.” (Visualize another funny look.)
Fortunately, Medlen need not worry about introducing himself any more.
By Jeff Schultz
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