ATLANTA -- Kris Medlen entered the postseason as the National League's hottest pitcher for the second year in a row, and once again he was greeted rudely by the opposition and done no favors by his defense early -- or himself later -- on a night when the Braves needed far more against Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers.
And so their home playoff woes continue.
The Dodgers scored two runs in an ugly second inning, and Adrian Gonzalez added a two-run homer in the third, propelling Kershaw and the West Division champions to a 6-1 win against the Braves in an NLDS opener Thursday night before a crowd of 43,021 at Turner Field.
"We've got a lot of guys out there maybe the first or second game in the postseason, myself included," said Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez, who thought his players might have been "over-amped a little bit" in the first few innings.
Kershaw struck out 12 in seven innings while allowing only three hits, one run and three walks. The left-hander struck out nine of the last 11 batters he faced.
It was the fourth consecutive home playoff loss for the Braves and 17th in 22 home postseason games dating to a pair of losses to start the 1999 World Series against the Yankees.
"Against a great pitcher like Kershaw, there's not a lot of room for error," Medlen said. "And I had a lot of error." Medlen was charged with nine hits and five runs in four-plus innings for the Braves, who have lost six consecutive playoff series plus the Wild Card game against St. Louis last year. He was replaced with two on and none out in the fifth inning after giving up a single and hitting Yasiel Puig with a pitch.
"Just location," Braves catcher Brian McCann said of Medlen's rought outing. "That's it. That's the key to pitching is location, and he was a little bit off tonight." Left fielder Evan Gattis had a fielding miscue in the top of the second and a base-running blunder in the bottom of the inning for the Braves, who will host Game 2 on Friday night before the best-of-five series shifts to Los Angeles for Game 3 on Sunday and a fourth game Monday, if necessary.
McCann's long fly to the left-field wall with two on the fourth was the one time Kershaw looked vulnerable. It was caught, a loud out and the Braves' last major threat.
"We got his pitch count up," McCann said. "We just didn't score any runs. We had a good game plan off him but we just didn't get the timely hit." Kershaw threw 124 pitches, including 77 in the first four innings before he went on his strikeout bender.
"That was our game plan, make him pitch a little bit," Gonzalez said of the high pitch count early. "When you look up and you see 77 pitches in the (fourth) inning, you feel like you have a chance. But he is what he is. He turned it up the next three or four innings and we didn't really get good swings at him." Medlen was 5-0 with an 0.84 ERA in his past six starts and the NL's Pitcher of the Month for the second year in a row, and he revved the crowd by striking out the side in the first inning on 14 pitches, with Hanley Ramirez looking at a full-count change-up to end the inning.
Trouble loomed in the Dodgers' second, when Puig and Juan Uribe hit consecutive one-out singles and Puig aggressively advanced to third base on the Uribe line drive just out of shortstop Andrelton Simmons' reach.
Skip Schumaker followed with a sacrifice fly to center, and Jason Heyward threw to home instead of hitting the cutoff man. His throw was a few feet up the first-base line, and Puig scored easily for a 1-0 lead, while Uribe advanced to second.
Heyward said he meant to throw the ball lower, to give the cutoff man the option of catching it and prevent the baserunner from advancing to second. But the ball sailed far over the cutoff man's head.
"Little things like that," Gonzalez said. "Guys were excited, and rightfully so. It was a big game. I had to check myself a little bit in the dugout, and I can imagine those guys playing in front of a good crowd, against the National League West champion... Hopefully come out tomorrow and play a little better baseball, a little calmed down." A.J. Ellis followed with a double to left field, which Gattis dove for after covering as much ground as the converted catcher could. The ball skipped past his glove and rolled to the wall as Uribe coasted home from second base for a 2-0 lead.
Gattis said he wouldn't have gone after the ball as aggressively if Uribe had been on first base instead of second.
In the bottom of the inning, Gattis reached on a leadoff single, then got caught in a double play when he went about halfway to second base on Chris Johnson's one-out fly ball to shallow right. Puig caught in on the run and threw to first base to easily double off Gattis to end the inning.
"I got deked," Gattis said. "A lot of outfielders just throw their glove up there like they're going to catch it when they're not, and I didn't think he was so I took a hard step toward second and it was just a mistake." In the Dodgers' third, Carl Crawford reached on an infield single off the glove of second baseman Elliot Johnson. Two outs later, Medlen hung a first-pitch change-up to Gonzalez, who drove it over the center-field fence for a 4-0 lead.
The first postseason homer of Gonzalez's career drained some buzz from the crowd. The Dodgers pushed the lead to 5-0 in the fourth with a run on a walk and two hits, including another A.J. Ellis double and Mark Ellis' two-out RBI single.
A year ago, the Braves lost 6-3 in the Wild Card game, when Medlen was charged with five runs, only two of which were earned. The Braves led 2-0 early in that game, but Chipper Jones' throwing error ignited a three-run Cardinals fourth inning, and the Braves made two more errors in a two-run seventh inning.
The Braves had won a majors-record 23 consecutive regular-season starts by Medlen entering that Wild Card game.
This year Medlen elevated his performance after veteran starter Tim Hudson's season-ending broken ankle July 24. He was 9-1 with a 2.08 ERA in 11 starts since, and allowed one or no earned runs in six of his past eight starts. But against an injury-weakened Dodgers lineup that struggled to score in September, Medlen couldn't find answers after the first inning.
The Braves' last gasp against Kershaw came after Freddie Freeman lined a single to right with one out in the fourth, and Gattis walked to bring up McCann. He hit an opposite-field long fly that sent Crawford to the wall, but the left fielder reached up and caught it, and McCann punched the air in frustration as he neared first base.
The Dodgers tacked on another run in the sixth on two hits against reliever Jordan Walden, including Hanley Ramirez's scorched RBI double.
Walden missed much of the past six weeks with a groin injury and sore shoulder and allowed eight hits (two homers) and six earned runs in 3 1/3 innings in four appearances in September.
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