Rookie mistakes sink the Braves

Posted: September 22, 2010

Due to circumstances beyond their control, youth was served by the Atlanta Braves in the first two games of their National League East showdown with the Phillies.

The Braves sent two starting pitchers with a combined seven major-league starts to the mound at Citizens Bank Park, and by the time Tuesday night was over, their pursuit of the first-place Phillies was well done.

After dropping a second straight tight game, 5-3, to the Phillies, the Braves found themselves five games out of first place with 10 to play. Braves manager Bobby Cox said Monday that his team was in two races - one for the division and the other for the wild card - and he was paying close attention to both.

When Cox and the Braves leave Philadelphia after Wednesday night's game, they can stop watching the Phillies' scores and worry about the wild-card race, which was trimmed to 11/2 games pending the San Diego Padres' result in Los Angeles Tuesday night.

Perhaps this will work out well for the Braves. By the time the Phillies arrive in Atlanta for the final series of the regular season, manager Charlie Manuel will likely be resting some of his regulars and removing his starting pitchers early in the game in preparation for the postseason.

But Cox knows the Braves could have been back within three games of first place if they had played a better game Tuesday night.

Unlike Brandon Beachy in his major-league debut Monday, the slightly more experienced Mike Minor did not do a respectable job in the eighth and most important start of his big-league career. The rookie lefthander lasted only 21/3 innings and surrendered a three-run homer to Jayson Werth on a 2-1 fastball he left in the middle of the plate in the bottom of the third.

"I just couldn't get my breaking pitches over and they weren't going to swing at anything that was bending or changing speeds," Minor said. "They really negated everything but the fastball."

The fastball to Werth was Minor's second-biggest mistake of the evening.

In the top of the third, Minor stepped to the plate after Rick Ankiel drew a leadoff walk from Roy Halladay.

The situation screamed for a sacrifice bunt.

Minor, 0 for 27 in his professional career after never even batting at Vanderbilt University, swung at the second pitch and hit into a 4-6-3 double play.

"He missed the sign," Cox said.

The rookie mistake grew even more glaring when leadoff man Omar Infante followed with a single to right field that likely would have scored Ankiel.

"It was just a mess-up on my part," Minor said. "I had it the first time. I guess I wasn't really thinking because he didn't give it to me the second time, but it's already on. It's automatic and I didn't even think about it. It possibly could have been a run right there. The whole game I didn't have anything going for me."

Cox agreed.

"He struggled in the first, second and the third," the manager said. "He struggled every inning."

Despite Minor's poor outing, the Braves managed to stay close.

Reliever Cristhian Martinez came on for Minor and pitched out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam without allowing a run in the bottom of the third, but the Braves blew a chance to even the score against Halladay in the top of the sixth.

Martin Prado opened the inning with a single and Brian McCann followed with a double off the right-field wall, placing runners at second and third with nobody out. Derrek Lee lifted a sacrifice fly to center field to make it 3-2.

Inexplicably, the lead-footed McCann tried to advance from second to third on the fly ball and was nailed by a perfect throw from centerfielder Shane Victorino.

"He thought he could make it," Cox said. "That's on his own. You don't coach that."

Two potential runs had been erased on a night when the Braves lost by two.

The Phillies' two insurance runs came in the bottom of the sixth when Cox had the matchup he wanted with Raul Ibanez at the plate against lefthander Mike Dunn.

"Dunn made a bad pitch to Ibanez and he got it down the line," Cox said.

The result was a two-run double.

And now, the Braves can turn their attention to the wild-card race because the Phillies are on the verge of celebrating their fourth straight division title.


Contact staff writer Bob Brookover at 215-854-2577 or bbrookover@phillynews.com.

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