Published 12:00 am Saturday, October 5, 2013
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 NL division series all tied up.
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 in the field, holding off Los Angeles 4-3 on Friday night to even the best-of-five 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 one 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 stop 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 short 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 with a 98 mph fastball.
After an off day, the series resumes with two games at Dodger Stadium on Sunday and Monday. A deciding Game 5, if necessary, would be back in Atlanta on Wednesday.
“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, stretching the lead to 4-1.
Good thing for the Braves, too.
Hanley Ramirez drove in all three runs for the Dodgers, including an impressive show of the 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.”
The Braves showed plenty of emotion.
When Minor made it through the sixth by fanning Juan Uribe on a 3-2 pitch with runners at first and third, the normally laid-back pitcher slammed his fist into his glove. Minor gave up an infield single to start the seventh and was lifted after a sacrifice. He walked toward the dugout to a rousing ovation, having allowed one run and eight hits in 6 1-3 innings.
But there was still work to do, especially after reliever Luis Ayala failed to touch the bag while covering first, giving Michael Young a gift single and leaving runners at first and third. It was the only defensive slip-up for the Braves, and Avilan quickly bailed them out.
Crawford skipped one up the middle and Avilan went to a knee, made the backhanded stab and quickly popped up for the throw to second. Simmons took it from there, firing to first to complete the double play. Avilan whirled his arm wildly on the way to the dugout. Minor popped up off his seat with a big smile, waiting to greet the reliever who protected the one-run lead.