Clutch hits lift Braves to sixth straight win

Atlanta collects all five runs on two-out hits to keep rolling

Clutch hits lift Braves to sixth straight win

ATLANTA -- If the Braves are going to realize their goal of advancing deep into October, they need Mike Minor to begin showing signs he is capable of rekindling last year's promise. But things are going so well for them right now, they are able to overcome Minor's struggles, like they did during Tuesday night's 5-4 win over the Mets at Turner Field.

"We did some nice things offensively," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "We ran the bases, stole three bases. I think a couple of those stolen bases created some runs. But nevertheless, we kept the line moving and put some big hits [together] with two outs."

The Braves, who have won six straight and eight of their past nine games, scored each of their five runs with two outs. Andrelton Simmons' two-out, two-run single capped the decisive three-run fourth inning that allowed the Braves to overcome the damage incurred by Minor, who was charged with four earned runs and nine hits in 4 1/3 innings. This marked the third time in 12 starts this year that Minor did not complete five innings. He completed more than five innings in 31 of 32 starts last year.

After Minor made his latest early exit, the Braves bullpen limited the Mets to one hit over the final 4 1/3 innings. Shae Simmons stranded two in the fifth inning and then worked a perfect sixth to earn his first win.

"Shae came in and I left him with two guys on and two outs to get," Minor said. "He still closed the door. It's the fifth inning and I'm diving out of there and those guys are picking me up."

As Minor has posted a 7.52 ERA over his past five starts, he has seen his season ERA balloon from 3.07 to 4.73. His only strong effort during this stretch came on June 20, when he limited the Nationals to two runs in seven innings. Still, the Braves have won four of these past five games that their talented southpaw has started.

"I still have confidence every time I go out," Minor said. "I feel like I'm going to dominate and I feel good. Stuff feels good, I think I showed that with the Nationals' start. That was one of my best with the way I felt. I thought I was going to carry that into my next couple starts. It just so happens, I didn't."

As bad as Minor might have been on the mound again, the Braves might not have notched this latest win if their struggling pitcher had not produced the first of the three consecutive two-out hits recorded off Daisuke Matsuzaka in the three-run fourth inning. Minor's RBI single helped extend the inning long enough for Simmons to record just his fifth hit in 26 at-bats with two outs and runners in scoring position this season.

"That certainly hurt us bad," Mets manager Terry Collins said of Minor's single. "There's no doubt, giving up the hit. And then when they needed a big hit, they got it."

While Minor was damaged solely by two poor offspeed pitches that added to his maddening home run collection, Matsuzaka experienced an equally frustrating outing, marred by the inability to make the one pitch that could have allowed him to escape three different innings without damage. Chris Johnson's two-out single in the second inning gave the Braves their first baserunner and, more importantly, helped keep the inning going long enough for Christian Bethancourt to tally his first career RBI with a line-drive single to center field. Matsuzaka again retired the first two batters he faced in the third inning. But Simmons sent a sharp single past third baseman Eric Campbell's glove and then scored from first base when Freddie Freeman followed by drilling a 3-2 fastball off the left-center wall.

Johnson began the three-run fourth inning by drawing a walk and B.J. Upton kept things alive when he singled just ahead of Simmons' two-run single. But Upton would not have come to the plate had Minor not tallied his second RBI of the season by scoring Johnson with a single.

"It felt good, that's about the only thing I did well tonight," Minor said.

Though he got through the first two innings in scoreless fashion, Minor showed signs of trouble as he needed 24 pitches to get through the first inning. Still, he didn't pay for a mistake until Curtis Granderson sent a two-run home run over the right-center-field wall in the third inning. Granderson's shot accounted for the first home run Minor surrendered to a left-handed hitter in a span of 93 innings, dating back to Sept. 6. But the uniqueness of this homer evaporated when another lefty -- Daniel Murphy -- hit another two-run shot against Minor in the fifth inning. Minor has surrendered a team-high 12 home runs in just 70 innings and he has now allowed two home runs in seven of his past 18 starts.

"I give up a home run it seems like every game now and it's killing me," Minor said. "It's just bad pitches right now."

Mark Bowman is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.