ATLANTA -- Chris Johnson likely has seen his shot at the National League batting title slip away, but Friday night he got the big hit when the Braves needed it most.
Johnson's leadoff homer in the eighth inning lifted the Braves to a 1-0 win against the Phillies at Turner Field, on a night that otherwise belonged to the starting pitchers, Kris Medlen and the Phillies' Cliff Lee.
Entering the final weekend of the regular season, Medlen and Lee treated Turner Field customers to an epic pitcher's duel, the kind that would live in baseball lore if it occurred a week later in the playoffs, and the Braves moved closer to securing the top seed for the NL playoffs.
"It was just an unbelievable day," said Medlen, who took a no-hitter into the sixth inning and won his sixth consecutive home start, while Lee (14-8) struck out 13 in eight innings with no walks and three hits allowed, the third on Johnson's homer.
"Those two guys, it's tough to score runs when you get big league studs on the mound like that and on their game," said Johnson, who homered on an 0-2 slider. "I can't tell you how hard those at-bats are. No part of me was trying to hit a home run on that swing. I was just trying to keep my swing short and got my barrel to it."
Medlen (15-12) gave up two hits and two walks with seven strikeouts in eight innings to win his fifth consecutive decision, and Craig Kimbrel struck out two in a perfect ninth inning for his majors-leading 50th save, the first Brave with 50 since John Smoltz had 55 in 2002. It was the shortest game of the Braves season, at 2 hours, 7 minutes.
"That was one hell of a pitching matchup and I'm not so sure that you could call the home run Chris Johnson hit a mistake," said Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez. "I'm thinking it was a pretty darn good pitch. I haven't seen the videotape or anything like that but it almost looked like the ball was on the dirt. It was a hell of a pitch that he was able to get out of the ballpark."
The Braves (95-65) and Cardinals are tied for the National League's best record with two games remaining, but the Braves own a tiebreaker against the Cardinals by virtue of head-to-head record and can secure the league's top seed and home-field advantage through the NL playoffs by finishing ahead or tied with St. Louis.
"Ball's in our court," Johnson said. "If I'm correct, we win two games we have home-field advantage. It's nice, because then you don't have to worry about what other people are doing."
While it's not been announced, the Braves have Medlen penciled in to start Thursday's division series opener against an opponent to be determined. Friday was about as impressive a tune-up start as anyone could remember.
"We'll see between now and then, but you guys got to do the math -- that's all," Gonzalez said of postseason pitching plans.
"It's awesome," said Medlen, who is 5-0 with an 0.84 ERA in his past six starts, and 6-0 with an 0.85 ERA in his past six home starts. "They haven't told us anything, but whatever it's going to be, it's going to be. We have three, four, five pitchers who are confident in their stuff, and we've won games all year. Just go out there and do our thing."
Medlen is 9-1 with a 2.04 ERA in 11 starts since Braves veteran starter Tim Hudson's season-ending broke ankle July 24.
"If you can go toe-to-toe with that guy (Lee), you're a stud, you're an ace," Johnson said. "(Medlen) is our ace, and he's proved it for a while now." Medlen was 2-2 with a 5.85 ERA in 16 games (five starts) against the Phillies before beating them twice in the past six weeks and allowing just one run and seven hits in 15 innings of those games.
"They're just a team that I've had so much trouble with, so to have success even for one game felt pretty awesome," said Medlen, who had never gotten as deep into a game before giving up his first hit. "Now just take it into the playoffs."
The only Phillies to reach base through five innings did so on two walks, and after Cesar Hernandez's two-out infield single in the sixth broke up the no-hit bit, catcher Evan Gattis threw him out trying to steal second base.
Medlen induced double-play grounders after Carlos Ruiz's second-inning leadoff walk and Chase Utley's one-out single in the seventh, and the Braves right-hander faced just 25 batters -- one over the minimum -- in eight innings. He struck out the last two batters he faced in a perfect eighth.
Meanwhile, Lee had little difficulty plowing through the Braves' lineup. After they got a pair of singles in the second inning to put runners on the corners with two out, Lee struck out Dan Uggla to begin a stretch of 16 consecutive batters retired including 11 via strikeouts.
"He's one of those guys where he starts the ball in the same spot, it goes 14 different ways, and you walk back to the dugout, like, I don't know what to do," Johnson said. "He's tough, man. He's one of the best in the big leagues. And Medlen showed that he's one of the best in the big leagues, too."
Johnson ended Lee's streak of 16 in a row retired in dramatic fashion with his 12th homer, sending a charge through a crowd of 38,711.
"Oh, it was awesome," left fielder Reed Johnson said of the team's reaction to the homer. "Because, I mean, you're just hoping to scrap out a couple of runs. For us to be able to string together two or three or four hits in an inning to be able to score one run is almost unrealistic when a guy's throwing like that, so you almost need somebody to run into a ball like that. And that's exactly what happened."
Gonzalez said, "I was kind of reminiscing a little bit and the last time I saw a game like this, that one guy had a no-hitter, was Halladay against -- when I was manager of the Marlins -- Josh Johnson. Halladay pitched a perfect game and JJ I think gave up either two hits or three hits and gave up one run. Obviously it wasn't a perfect game or no-hitter but it was that type of game today."
Lee is 6-3 with a 1.40 ERA in his past 10 starts against the Braves, with 80 strikeouts and only five walks in 73 1/3 innings.
Dan Uggla's second-inning strikeout was his 168th to match the franchise record he set in 2012. It came in his 530th at-bat, after he set the record in 630 at-bats last season.
Uggla broke the record his next time up when he struck out looking to end the fifth inning as Lee notched his sixth consecutive strikeout, then struck out looking again in the eighth to give him 170.
The Braves reached base in only one of the first seven innings against Lee, that in the second when Freddie Freeman singled to lead off the inning. After a Gattis strikeout and a Johnson ground out, Andrelton Simmons reached on a chopped single to put runners on the corners for Uggla.
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