CHICAGO – Braves players are the first to admit they need to play better on the road than they have so far. But they though their latest road loss Sunday against the White Sox was a result of tough luck as much as anything.
Mike Minor was sharp in his first complete game and first by a Braves pitcher all season, but Atlanta left the bases loaded twice in the first three innings, and Reed Johnson’s would-be tying homer was erased on a leaping catch in the eighth inning of a 3-1 loss to the White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field.
“It just goes to show you how important defense is,” Braves catcher Gerald Laird said. “They made the plays when they needed to, and we just couldn’t get that big hit.”
Minor (9-5) was charged with three runs (two earned) and five hits in eight innings, with two walks and eight strikeouts. The White Sox scored on a bloop hit over a drawn-in infield in the third inning and added an unearned run after an Andrelton Simmons error in the sixth.
“It’s a cruel game at times,” said manager Fredi Gonzalez, whose first-place Braves lost two of three to the White Sox and have dropped 20 of their past 33 road games. “Mikey pitched probably the best game of the year, and he got nothing. He got an ‘L,’ that’s all he got. It’s a shame.”
Minor matched his career high with eight innings. The complete-game loss was the first in more than three years by a Braves pitcher, since Tim Hudson lost against Minnesota on June 11, 2010.
“Not the way I wanted it to end, but it was a lot better than I thought it was going to end up,” Minor said. “Because in the first inning, I really didn’t have a feel for any pitches. I was missing a lot of spots, walked the first guy. I really didn’t know where I was throwing the ball. As the game progressed, I got a lot better.”
After Alejandro De Aza walked to start the first inning, he advanced on a wild pitch, and scored on a two-out RBI single by Adam Dunn for a 1-0 lead. That hit would’ve been an out if the Braves weren’t in a defensive shift against the pull hitter.
The Braves loaded the bases with none out in the second on a Fredde Freeman single, a Brian McCann walk, and an Evan Gattis single. After Dan Uggla’s National League-leading 120th strikeout, Reed Johnson lined out to shortstop Alexei Ramirez, who tossed to second for the inning-ending double play.
While the Braves have ranked near the bottom of the league for most of the season in hitting with runners in scoring position, they’ve thrived with the bases loaded, carrying a majors-leading .375 average before Sunday.
They got another chance in the third inning, when they loaded them on a leadoff single by Laird, a two-out walk by Justin Upton, and a Freeman single. That brought up Brian McCann, he of the .351 career average and 10 grand slams in 151 at-bats with the bases loaded.
This time he hit a sharp grounder that looked like it would get through the right side. Instead, second baseman Jeff Keppinger made a diving stop and threw him out.
Jose Quintana (5-2) escaped bases-loaded situations in consecutive innings. The right-hander allowed nine hits and three walks in 5-2/3 innings, but only one run.
“We had so many opportunities and we hit some balls hard,” said Laird, who left after being hit in the hand by a pitch in the fourth inning (X-rays were negative, and he isn’t expected to miss any time.)
The White Sox scored what proved to be the winning run in the third inning when De Aza hit a leadoff double, advanced to third on a flyout, and scored on Rios’ bloop hit. Gonzalez was asked about having the infield drawn in so early.
“We’re down 1-nothing already,” he said. “And you bring them in there and try to cut the run down (at the plate). Your gut feeling is that it’s going to be a close ballgame. And it was.”
The Braves trailed 3-1 when Reed Johnson came to bat in the eighth with a runner on and one out. He hit a fly that looked like it might land in the first row of seats, but Wells jumped and caught it with his glove above the fence.
“I knew the ball was traveling pretty good all weekend, so when I hit it I was kind of begging for it to get up,” Johnson said. “If I hit that ball earlier in the game it’s probably a homer, because he’s probably playing me a lot shallower in left field.”