Three Cuts: Minor’s no-hit bid leads to Braves win over Reds

Atlanta Braves left fielder Justin Upton (left) is congratulated as he enters the dugout after hitting a home run during the 12th inning against the Cincinnati Reds on Friday. Upton's blast gave the Braves a 3-1 lead, and led to the win.

Frank Victores

Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Mike Minor pitched 7 2/3 innings of no-hit baseball on Friday, but didn’t get enough run support to register the win. Atlanta’s one-run lead evaporated with Cincinnati’s first hit of the game, a single from Billy Hamilton that scored Zack Cozart in the eighth.

Neither team could add a go-ahead run to stave off extra innings, so the Reds’ fans got some free baseball.

With one out in the top of the 12th, Freddie Freeman walked and gave Justin Upton a runner on base to drive in. And drive him in Upton did.

Upton blasted a 0-1 pitch deep down the left-field line for a two-run home run. Craig Kimbrel came in to pitch the bottom of the 12th, and held on for his 38th save of the season.

Here are three observations from Atlanta’s 3-1 win over Cincinnati, the Braves’ second win in a row over the Reds and their eighth win in 10 games:

After Minor finished his first inning on the mound, he looked in control of the game.

Minor’s first pitch was grounded to shortstop Andrelton Simmons. He then, rather effortlessly, induced two more grounders to Simmons, and exited the first inning after throwing just 12 pitches.

After a nine-pitch second inning where Minor got another ground out, struck out his first batter and then recorded his first fly-ball out, Minor was officially locked in. Minor sat the first 10 batters down that he faced, then allowed a walk to Todd Frazier.

The Frazier walk didn’t hurt Minor. He got out of the fourth inning without allowing a hit, and had only thrown 42 pitches to get into the fifth.

Minor worked much harder to get through the next three innings. He threw 47 pitches to get nine outs, and a walk in the sixth to Billy Hamilton led to a stolen base and Minor’s first runner in scoring position.

Even though he’d worked harder from the fifth through the seventh innings, Minor still had a no-hitter intact. He’d struck out five, walked three and was at a manageable 89 pitches.

Minor got the first batter in the eight to fly out to right field. Then he walked Zack Cozart, his fourth walk issued in the game. That walk would come back to haunt Minor.

The second out of the inning was recorded as Chris Johnson fielded a dribbler and threw pinch-hitter Chris Heisey out at first. On a 1-2 pitch with Cozart on second, Billy Hamilton flared a breaking pitch into center field for the first hit of the game. Hamilton’s hit tied the game at one when Cozart crossed the plate, and ended Minor’s night.

Minor threw 7 2/3 innings while striking out five batters and walking four. He only gave up one run as he set a number of season highs.

Obviously, the one hit ranks as Minor’s best outing of the year in that category. He gave up two hits in seven innings of work on July 7 against the New York Mets, and allowed three hits in 6 2/3 innings on May 13 against the San Francisco Giants. Minor also set a season high with his 7 2/3 innings pitched.

Minor’s four walks were also a season high, but understandable. After his first walk in the fourth, it seemed natural to err on the side of caution with certain batters to keep not only the no-hitter intact, but also the one-run lead. There was no caution in the voice of manager Fredi Gonzalez after the game; he praised Minor’s effort.

"Command was outstanding. His stuff was electric," said Gonzalez. "He’s rattled off three in a row now. He’s carrying that momentum and confidence, you can see it building with every start, or every pitch. It was an excellent start."

Minor was sitting with a 4-7 record with a 5.42 ERA on Aug. 1. But his most recent three starts have been nothing like his first 17.

Over Minor’s last three starts he’s 1-1 with a 2.53 ERA. He’s allowed just 13 hits and six earned runs in 21 1/3 innings with 19 strikeouts and seven walks. His overall ERA has fallen to 4.90.

In the second inning, Simmons got a gift of a double when his lazy fly fell in between Hamilton in center field and Ryan Ludwick in left, due to a lack of communication. An intentional walk of Gerald Laird to get to the pitcher Minor backfired as Mat Latos walked Minor to load the bases.

Things were going Atlanta’s way.

The Braves didn’t turn their fortune into a run in the second, but got another shot at scoring due to more good fortune later.

With two outs in the fifth, Justin Upton lined a ball over third base that was just fair. The ball got close to the wall where a fan reached over and deflected its path. Ludwick in left field stood in amazement while Upton rounded second and went to third base.

The umpires gathered to talk about sending Upton back to second because fan interference is typically ruled a ground-rule double. The umpires even called fan interference, but left Upton at third base. Chris Johnson struck out to end the threat; another good-fortune opportunity wasted.

The good fortune the Braves were getting early, ended in the eighth inning.

With a runner on and two outs, Minor threw a heck of a knuckle-curve to Hamilton, who got wood on the ball and just barely flared it over the infield and into center field. That pitch doesn’t get hit often, and when it does, it doesn’t usually drop for a hit.

With Freeman on base in the top of the 12th, Upton put the Braves up for good when he tattooed an 84 mph splitter over the left-field fence. He said he knew he hit the ball well, but wasn’t sure the ball would stay fair.

"I got an offspeed pitch in the zone that stayed up for me, and I just put a good swing on it."

Upton’s been putting a lot of good swings on baseballs of late. He went 3 for 6 on Friday with two RBI, and extended his hitting streak to 13 games. He also drove in his 23rd run in the month of August, a new career high for RBI in any one month.

Since his hitting streak began, Upton is 19 for 46 (.413) with two doubles, one triple and five home runs. He’s also driven in 20 runs in 13 games.

Upton is flourishing at the right time. Freeman is hot, which gives Upton plenty of RBI chances, and Johnson is swinging well, which means teams can’t pitch around Upton to get to the next batter in the lineup.