ATLANTA (AP) — 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.
“I was hoping he’d go home,” Simmons said of Avilan. “He kind of caught it a little weird and I was scared he was going to make a bad throw. He made a good throw. It was a good play.”
Heyward pounced after Mattingly made the curious decision to walk pinch-hitter Reed Johnson to get to one of the Braves’ most dangerous hitters.
While the Dodgers got a lefty-on-lefty matchup — Paco Rodriguez vs. Heyward — they passed on the chance to face Johnson, a part-timer who batted .244 with one homer and 11 RBIs during the season. The strategy backfired when Heyward lined a bases-loaded single back up the middle to bring home two runs, extending the Braves’ lead.
Just enough, it turned out.
“We’re trusting Paco to do what he had to do,” Mattingly said. “Paco has been that guy all year long.”
For the second night in a row, the Dodgers jumped ahead. Minor walked the second hitter of the game, Mark Ellis, and then gave up Ramirez’s liner into the right-field corner. Ellis hustled all the way around to score, and just like that Los Angeles was ahead.
This time, Minor limited the damage. He retired Gonzalez and Yasiel Puig on grounders to keep the Dodgers from stretching the margin as they did in the series opener, when it was 5-0 by the fourth.
But, with a raucous crowd of 48,966 — about 5,000 more than Game 1 — cheering them on, the Braves rebounded with a bunch of two-out hits.
Simmons tied it with one in the second, a run-scoring single off Zack Greinke. Chris Johnson came through with two outs in the fourth, putting the Braves ahead for the first time in the series with an RBI hit. Finally, it was Heyward with yet another two-out hit.
It ruined a strong performance by Greinke, who allowed four hits and two runs in six innings.
NOTES: Rookie Julio Teheran (14-8) will start for the Braves in Game 3 against Hyun-Jin Ryu (14-8) of the Dodgers. … Los Angeles used four pitchers in the seventh. Chris Withrow got two outs, Rodriguez and Ronald Belisario failed to get an out, before J.P. Howell retired Freeman with the bases loaded to end the inning. … Atlanta snapped the Dodgers’ seven-game winning streak in NLDS games dating to 2008.
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