Braves hope Medlen can extend streak in wild card
Break out the peanut butter and honey. Kris Medlen is ready for
Only this time, it’s the biggest game of his career.
The diminutive right-hander, who didn’t even start the season in
Atlanta’s rotation, will deliver the first pitch in the inaugural
wild-card playoff against the defending World Series champion St.
Louis Cardinals. The Braves couldn’t have asked for anyone better
in the winner-take-all format, considering they haven’t lost a
start by Medlen (10-1, 1.57 ERA) in more than two years.
Just stop reminding him about it.
”It’s not me by myself,” said Medlen, who always snacks on a
peanut butter and honey sandwich before his starts. ”I’ve given up
four or five runs in a start, and guys pull it out for me. My name
is in the books or whatever, but it’s a team thing. I didn’t do it
all by myself, that’s for sure.”
The Braves have won 23 consecutive starts by Medlen – a modern
big league record. He eclipsed the mark held by a pair of Hall of
Famers, Carl Hubbell and Whitey Ford.
”You can’t help but notice when someone’s having the amount of
success that he’s had,” said Kyle Lohse, who will start for the
Cardinals. ”It’s impressive what he’s done. Obviously, the team
plays very well behind him, and to be that consistently good to
keep your team in games or win games says a lot about what kind of
pitcher he is.
”I expect him to keep doing what he’s been doing out there,”
Lohse added, ”and my job is to do the same thing that he’s doing.
Go out there and shut down their team.”
No one is quite sure what to expect from the one-game format,
which was added this year when Major League Baseball expanded the
playoff field by adding a second wild-card team in each league.
One-and-done may be the norm in football. But this is a whole
new ballgame for the big leagues.
”We know the necessity to make it like a Game 7,” Cardinals
manager Mike Matheny said. ”You do things differently. We’ve been
anticipating it, but I also want these guys to know we just want to
go out and play the game we’ve been playing.”
Besides, St. Louis knows it’s just fortunate to have a chance to
win another title. The Cardinals finished six games behind Atlanta
in the wild-card standings. If not for the new system, they would
be watching from home.
”We’re exceptionally happy about the format,” Matheny said
with a smile.
Despite losing Albert Pujols last winter in free agency, the
Cardinals have a chance to pull off another magical postseason run.
A year ago, they trailed the Braves by 10 1/2 games in late August,
but Atlanta collapsed over the final month and St. Louis pulled out
the wild card on a frenetic final day. That momentum carried right
into the playoffs, where the Redbirds pulled off three straight
upsets, including another stunning rally against Texas in the World
Pujols may be gone. But there’s plenty of holdovers from the
title team, including Lohse (16-3, 2.86).
”A lot of guys with me in that clubhouse, they experienced last
year from being 10 1/2 back and a lot of people kind of saying, `Go
get `em next year,”’ he said. ”It helped us mature a lot and grow
a lot as individuals and learn how to handle big situations like
the one that’s coming up.”
The winner advances to face NL East champion Washington in the
The Braves would love to get another crack at the Nationals,
having chased them futilely all summer and coming up four games
short in the divisional race. But Atlanta will have to do something
it hasn’t done in more than a decade – win a playoff round. The
Braves have dropped six straight series since winning a divisional
playoff in 2001, including an 0-5 mark in elimination games at
They don’t want to go out like that again, not with 40-year-old
Chipper Jones planning to retire as soon as the season is over.
”You don’t have that many opportunities in your career to play
in the playoffs or to play in whatever this is called,” Medlen
said. ”But especially for him. It’s his last year. It inspires you
to want to get a few more games under his belt and let him go out
on top, which is where he belongs.”
If the Braves needed any more motivation, they could turn to the
words of Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright.
As St. Louis closed in on the second wild card, the players took
note of the raucous celebration by the Braves after they clinched a
playoff spot – especially Wainwright, who came up in the Atlanta
”No disrespect to what they did, but I think we’re going to
save the big pop for after we beat Atlanta,” he said.
That little sound bite has made the rounds in the Braves
clubhouse, providing some extra fire. But, overlooking the one-game
format, this isn’t the gridiron. Bulletin-board fodder only goes so
far. A player isn’t suddenly going to hit the ball harder because
he’s mad at the other team. A pitcher isn’t going to get an extra 5
mph on his fastball.
”It’s not like football where we post it and I want to rip his
head off,” said Braves catcher David Ross, noting that Wainwright
won’t even be on the 25-man roster for this game. ”But it is one
of those things, you wonder why guys comment about other teams. I
feel like, as a player, I wouldn’t make a comment about another
team in a negative light to a media outlet. I just feel like I’m
better than that.”
No one has been better than Medlen over the past two months.
Forced into the rotation by injuries and ineffective
performances, he suddenly became baseball’s hottest pitcher. He
hardly looks the part, generously listed at 5-foot-10 with a
fastball that struggles to reach 90 mph. But he is especially
bedeviling with his changeup, a pitch the organization ordered him
to throw coming up through the minors.
In 12 starts this season, Medlen is 9-0 with an 0.97 ERA. He
struck out 13 hitters in one game, 12 in another. In six of those
appearances, he didn’t give up an earned run.
Away from the field, it’s hard to take Medlen seriously. He is a
bundle of nervous energy, which he copes with by delivering a
constant string of jokes and one-liners. As manager Fredi Gonzalez
finished up his time at the podium Thursday, Medlen stood against
the wall, clapping slowly.
When asked about his pregame routine, Medlen made it clear he
doesn’t have one.
Except for the peanut butter and honey.
”It’s a light meal. It’s good energy,” he said. ”It’s not
like I’m going to eat fried chicken.”
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