The Atlanta Braves fight back

(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
“Grrr,” says Chris Johnson, as he crosses home with the Braves’ winning run.

True to my word, I was in the stands last night at Turner Field. I wore my lucky hat and my lucky shirt. Hell, I even wore my lucky underoos in Braves blue.

And I brought you a win! Because that’s what it takes to win a ballgame. You’re welcome, Braves Country.

Of course, it could also be to watch the Atlanta Braves fight back to their level and play the way they’ve become so accustomed to playing it.

While we’re exchanging pleasantries, let me also say, “Thank You, Braves Country.”

At my first playoff game, the crowd came out in full effect. Maybe every seat in the house wasn’t occupied, but from the Dodgers’ dugout, I’ll bet they couldn’t tell the difference. The Ted was rocking hard last night. I could feel the stands under my feet vibrating for most of the game and I’m probably not the only one who has little voice left today.

After an extremely forgettable game on Thursday, in which many of the Braves’ faithful thought they were watching yet another postseason collapse, we watched the Atlanta Braves fight back and come out strong on Friday. Mike Minor facing Zack Greinke was a huge question mark. After a fairly dominant season, in which Minor seemed to be solidifying his spot as the Braves’ ace, he had a tough September, especially during the first inning where he posted a startling 5.62 ERA. In truth, many fans probably wanted to see him give up as little damage as possible and cross their fingers that the offense could respond in kind.

So when Minor gave up and RBI double to Hanley Ramirez, there was a collective holding of breath in Atlanta.

But Minor did what he’s done so often this season — dial it in and shut down the Dodgers’ offense for the next 5 innings. Not to say he didn’t find himself in a jam or two, but he ratcheted it up, finishing with five Ks, one walk and scattering eight hits over his 6.1 innings. Compare that to Greinke’s six innings — four hits, no walks and only three Ks — and Zack looked like the better pitcher. But those four hits against the Dodgers’ number two yielded two runs, which ended up earning Greinke the loss.

The Braves’ offense made the most of their scoring opportunities, which made the difference in a game where runs came at a high premium.

Chris Johnson and Andrelton Simmons both came through with RBI hits, RISP and two outs, one of the facets of the game that most analysts were convinced the Braves couldn’t do. In fact, they won this game without the benefit of the longball; yet, another piece of the puzzle everyone thought the Braves couldn’t live without.

But it was really two plays that really shifted the tide in the Braves’ favor:

1. Luis Avilan‘s ill-advised throw to second with runners on the corners turned into an inning-ending 1-6-3 double play, mostly due to Andreton Simmons’ cannon-like arm. It was this play that shifted the momentum in the Braves’ favor for the bases-loaded, two-RBI single by Jason Heyward in the bottom of the inning. Why Don Mattingly intentionally walked Reed Johnson to load the bases for Heyward, I and many of the Dodgers faithful may never know. But it could well be the play that haunts LA if the Atlanta Braves fight back and end up taking this series. I understand the lefty-lefty matchup, but Heyward’s average against lefties this season was a healthy .263 with a .455 slugging percentage. This is not the kind of duel I’d feel great about as a manager.

Not that the rest of the game wasn’t without its share of tense moments.

2. The three-run lead, although enough to win, got slimmed down to one in the eighth, prompting Fredi Gonzalez to go ahead and light the fires, signaling Craig Kimbrel in from the pen. Kimbrel went on to pitch 1.1 innings, getting the save and shutting the Dodgers down. But he needed some help in the form of a rifle shot throw from Gerald Laird to gun down Dee Gordon trying to swipe second.

In all, it was the kind of the rebound game Atlanta fans needed to see.

We know what kind of weaknesses the Braves have. But Friday’s game showed everyone the Achilles Heel of the Dodgers, even while Greinke pitched a totally respectable game. This was an important one — a must win for the Braves and a game that might have potentially gotten their offense on the kind of a roll they’ll need to take across the country to L.A.

Trust me, I’m not calling this series because of one game.

The work is cut out for them, and the next two games will be a serious litmus test, as the Braves will have to put their .500 road-game record on the line and try to win away from home. It will take at least one win to bring the series back to Atlanta, in which they’ll likely go up against Clayton Kershaw, albeit on short rest following a 124-pitch game. But Friday was the perfect example of how evenly matched these teams are, and should be a good indicator of how the rest of the series will be played. Punch-for-punch, this is gonna be a good one.

Tomorrow, the rookies will butt heads as Julio Teheran toes the rubber against Hyun-Jin Ryu in the Chavez Ravine. Ryu’s last game was among his worst of the season, throwing only 4 innings and giving up two runs on eight hits. Sure, it’s not a ton of runs, but the Braves showed last night what they can do with just a few hits. And now there’s a rumor that Ryu might be playing injured.

More importantly, the adversity that came in as my No. 2 reason why the Braves will beat the Dodgers, was in full effect last night. I know we all wanted to see the Braves confidently put away Kershaw in game 1, but getting backed into a corner may end up being the best thing that could have happened to this team and have the Atlanta Braves fight back.

The bear has been poked, Braves country, and things just might get nasty. Hooray.

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