Baseball / Sports

J. Upton's 12th-inning homer gives Braves a 3-2 win over Reds

CINCINNATI -- Three weeks ago Mike Minor was extremely frustrated and even dismayed, wondering what he could do to get his disappointing season turned around so he could help instead of hinder the Braves' playoff chances.

On Friday night, he came without four outs of throwing a no-hitter against the Reds, at the most hitter-friendly ballpark in the major leagues. He pitched brilliantly and got no decision, but Justin Upton made sure Minor got to savor team victory by launching a towering two-run homer in the 12th inning to lift the Braves to a 3-1 win.

Upton's 25th homer -- and 85th and 86th RBIs -- sent the Braves to their seventh win in eight games and 10th in 15 games since an 0-8 road trip. He's 19-for-46 (.413) with five homers and 20 RBIs during a 13-game hitting streak.

The Braves had left 12 runners on base, including at least one in eight of 11 innings, before Freddie Freeman drew a one-out walk in the 12th and Upton followed him and turned an 0-1 split-finger fastball from Manny Parra into a moonshot of a homer to the left-field seats.

After Minor dominated the Reds into the eighth, five Braves relievers pitched 4 1/3 innings of one-hit ball, and Craig Kimbrel struck out Skip Schumaker with a runner at second base to end the game and collect his 38th save.

Minor received a standing ovation from Reds and Braves fans alike in a crowd of 31,160 at Bank One Ball Park when he came off the field after allowing one hit, one run and four walks with five strikeouts in 7 2/3 innings.

It was a resounding performance by the left-hander, who was replaced after Billy Hamilton hit a two-out flare single in the eighth than not only broke up the no-hit bit but drove in the tying run to make the score 1-all.

Minor had walked Zack Cozart with one out, and the runner advanced into scoring position on a groundout before Hamilton dumped a single beyond the reach of shortstop Andrelton Simmons, who sprinted as hard as he could trying to get to it. Minor was replaced by Jordan Walden after throwing 64 strikes in 107 pitches.

Third baseman Chris Johnson made two sensational plays for the last two outs of the eighth, preventing a run from scoring when he dove to his left to stop Todd Frazier's slow bouncer and got up to make a strong throw that beat the runner by a half-step.

The speedster Hamilton had already rounded third and would have scored to give the Reds a lead if Frazier had beat the throw.

With the Braves fighting to stay in playoff contention, Minor came through with a thoroughly convincing performance in his third consecutive quality start since the Braves skipped his turn in the rotation and had him work on things with pitching coach Roger McDowell. It would appear that the good Minor, the top-half-of-the-rotation starter, is back. Just in time.

This is the story of a midseason correction of dramatic proportions.

Minor had a 7.33 ERA, .357 opponents' average and 12 homers allowed in 54 innings during a dreadful period of 10 starts through Aug. 1. His next start was skipped and he didn't pitch for 11 days, spending the time working on mechanical corrections including the grip on a couple of his pitches.

In three starts since then he has a 2.53 ERA and 13 hits allowed in 21 1/3 innings, with 19 strikeouts and seven walks.

Still, there had been nothing in his previous two starts to suggest that this level of performance might be just around the bend. Especially not at the bandbox that is Great American Ball Park, where Minor allowed four homers in six innings in a May 2012 game.

He didn't allow a runner to reach base until Frazier's one-out walk in the fourth inning, and none advanced to second base until Hamilton walked and stole second with two out in the sixth.

The Braves took a 1-0 lead in the third inning on a bases-loaded groundout by Tommy La Stella, with shortstop Cozart's diving stop on the play preventing at least one more run from scoring. The Braves stranded nine runners in the first six innings, going 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position in that span.

They loaded the bases in the third on three consecutive one-out singles, including one by Justin Upton to extend his hitting steak to 13 games.

They also loaded the bases with in the second inning on Simmons' two-out double and consecutive walks issued by Reds starter Mat Latos, who intentionally walked Gerald Laird and then most unintentionally walked Minor. Jason Heyward broke his bat on a groundout to end the inning with the bases loaded.

The second runner to reach against Minor came on a two-out walk to Kristopher Negron in the fifth.

After Minor walked Hamilton in the sixth, he struck out the next batter, Frazier. Hamilton stole second base with Brandon Phillips batting before Minor induced an inning-ending groundout.

(c)2014 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Atlanta, Ga.)

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