Three Cuts: Braves cap Hall of Fame day with win over Padres
The Braves were doubly blessed with a six-run third inning and strong start from Mike Minor on Sunday, fueling the club's 8-3 victory over the Padres.
Braves southpaw Mike Minor (six strikeouts, one walk vs. San Diego) scattered eight hits over 6.2 innings on Sunday, while allowing only two solo homers.
Dale Zanine / USA TODAY Sports
By Jay Clemons
ATLANTA -- Here are three things we learned from the Braves' 8-3 romp of the Padres on Sunday -- a late-afternoon start which allowed the Turner Field faithful (31,456) to also watch the Hall of Fame ceremonies, principally starring Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux and longtime skipper Bobby Cox:
1. Leave it to the surging Gerald Laird to kick-start the Braves' monstrous inning
The Atlanta hitters had endured a pair of 1-2-3 innings early on before busting out for six runs in the 3rd, demoralizing a desultory San Diego team that now has a 13-loss pitcher (Eric Stults) and one of the least potent offenses in modern-day history.
Laird and Andrelton Simmons opened the inning with doubles, allowing the former to score. B.J. Upton then laced a single to center field, immediately setting up Tommy La Stella for an RBI single.
After a Freddie Freeman walk and Justin Upton strikeout, Chris Johnson then crushed a double to right field, easily bringing B.J. Upton and La Stella home.
Throw in an RBI single from Ryan Doumit -- scoring Freeman and Johnson -- and the Braves efficiently needed only 10 batters to get the 6-spot.
"(Laird) seems to come up big every time you play him," noted Braves skipper Fredi Gonzalez about Laird, who currently holds a modest seven-game hit streak (dating back to June 29).
Gonzalez also broke out one of his favorite terms when discussing the Braves' six-run eruption, simply saying they "were able to keep the line moving" -- on a day when Jason Heyward and Evan Gattis earned a day of rest.
It's been an interesting month for the Braves, who currently stand at 57-48 (1 1/2 games behind the Nationals in the NL East). They've been treading water somewhat, going 11-9 for July.
But when breaking down the tallies, the offense has produced five or more runs 11 times during this span ... and the pitchers have surrendered more than four runs just six times.
Either way, Laird's just happy his team has some positive mojo before entering a grueling stretch of eight games on the West Coast (after Monday's series finale) ... followed up by a 10-game home stand of three first-place club (Nationals, Dodgers, Athletics from Aug. 8-17).
"It's good to get hot at the right time," said Laird, who's batting .360 during the hit streak.
2. Mike Minor couldn't have asked for a better get-well opponent on this hot and sticky day
As previously mentioned on Saturday, the anemic Padres (46-58) currently rank dead last in the following offensive categories: Runs, hits, doubles, RBI, batting average, on-base percentage, slugging and OPS.
To wit, Sunday's victory -- while fun and productive for the Braves -- was essentially a must-win venture for the enigmatic Minor, who had been saddled with a 7.86 ERA in five previous starts (June 26-June 22).
And the southpaw responded to the high-expectations challenge, scattering eight hits over 6.2 innings and only making two bad pitches on the day -- solo homers to Yangervis Solarte (third inning) and Rene Rivera (6th).
"That's the type of pitcher I am," says Minor, noting his propensity for giving up solo shots.
Before addressing the homers, Minor (six strikeouts, one walk) expressed a certain restrained jubilation for the victory -- his fourth of the year.
"It felt good to get a win," said Minor. He then added: "Even if I give up four (runs), but go seven (innings), I feel that's still a good game."
It also helped that Atlanta's six-run flurry came early in the game, enabling Minor to relax and throw 70 strikes (110 total pitches), without living in great fear of the big inning.
He also had the luxury of shifting his per-batter focus, aiming for the "halves of the plate" instead of routinely nipping the corners.
Gonzalez gushed over Minor's consistent delivery and a breaking ball that improved as the game continued.
"His arm action and his delivery were there ... 90 percent of the time," said Gonzalez. "(Minor) was able to command his fastball on each side of the plate, and that was because the delivery. It was better than a quality start."
2a. We can't stop thinking about the consequences of the Padres' early baserunning gaffe
The Padres curiously missed on a golden opportunity to score in the 1st:
With Chris Denorfia on third base and one out (the result of a Laird passed ball), the Padres outfielder seemingly had the go-ahead to score during a choppy ground ball to Chris Johnson (from Chris Nelson's bat).
But instead of breaking for home, Denorfia froze briefly before diving back to third base.
All this begged the question: In a scoreless game in the first inning, would Johnson have even attempted a throw home, especially since he was on the same vertical throwing lane as Denorfia?
Given how pedestrian the Padres are on offense, it's also fair to wonder if an early run might have changed the complexion of the game?
Oh well. What's done is done.
3. The Braves' Hall of Fame trio all brought something to the table during their induction speeches
**Until Sunday, I had never seen Greg Maddux (career: 355 wins, 3.16 ERA, four NL Cy Youngs, one World Series title) in a suit and tie; and now that he has the whole Cooperstown pomp and circumstance out of the way, it may be the last time he'll be publicly obligated to dress so formally.
As for Maddux's speech, it was quick, concise, respectful and appreciative -- but not with a lot of extra flair. In other words, it was precisely the type of cool address you'd expect from a guy who loathed talking about himself for 23 major league seasons.
**Bobby Cox (2,504 career victories, 15 division titles, five pennants, one World Series title) has the look of a kindly grandfather-type with a million stories to go with all that wisdom.
He didn't disappoint the masses at the Hall of Fame, humbly giving credit to his players -- particularly the "Big Three" of pitchers Maddux, Glavine and John Smoltz (who was covering the event for MLB Network) -- before sharing key moments that shaped his playing days and subsequent career as one of baseball's most successful managers.
For example, when he tried out for the Los Angeles Dodgers in the early 1960s, a club scout and Cox -- then a precocious California teenager -- worked out a system of tipping pitches, so Cox would fare well when auditioining for Al Campanis, one of the Dodgers' most influential executives of the 1960s, 70s and 80s.
(Unfortunately, he's best remembered for racial comments made on TV's Nightline, prompting the end of his career.)
Cox then closed by mentioning a letter he had received from Campanis, congratulating him for reaching the majors -- along with a bonus check of $2,500. And in the note, Campanis informed Cox he was fully aware of the "tipping pitches" system with the Dodgers scout.
**Tom Glavine has been the epitome of class and humility since breaking into the majors in the late 1980s ... so why would anything be different for the most important speech of his professional career?
Glavine -- the second-to-last pitcher to reach 300 victories (preceding Randy Johnson) -- thanked everyone who had played an integral role in his superb career, most notably his parents.
He even discussed his life-altering decision, circa 1984, of choosing baseball (Atlanta Braves) over hockey (Los Angeles Kings) after graduating from high school in Massachusetts.
There were no tinges of remorse from that decision, although the podium allowed Glavine one tongue-in-cheek boast:
Since Glavine (two-time NL Cy Young, pitched the World Series-clinching Game 6 in 1995) was drafted ahead of future Hall of Famers Luc Robitallie and Brett Hull in the 1984 NHL Draft ... "surely I would have been a Hall of Famer (in hockey), too."
It was a sincere, witty end to a picture-perfect day for the Braves.