A.J. Minter’s resurgence perfectly illustrates the 2021 Braves

Braves reliever A.J. Minter reacts after striking out Los Angeles Dodgers catcher Will Smith in the sixth inning of Game 6 of the NLCS Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021, at Truist Park in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton / curtis.compton@ajc.com)
Caption
Braves reliever A.J. Minter reacts after striking out Los Angeles Dodgers catcher Will Smith in the sixth inning of Game 6 of the NLCS Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021, at Truist Park in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton / curtis.compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton

In many ways, lefty A.J. Minter is a microcosm of his Braves team.

Minter’s up-and-down journey reached new heights during the National League Championship Series. The southpaw, whose struggles put him in Triple-A earlier this season, was a key contributor in getting the Braves past the Dodgers and into the World Series.

Minter covered two innings during the Braves’ bullpen effort in Game 4. He pitched two frames again Saturday, helping the Braves protect their lead against the Dodgers and finish the NLCS in six games.

In four games against the Dodgers, Minter allowed two hits and struck out eight in six innings. His emotions were evident Saturday as Minter gave an emphatic fist pump after every out.

“I felt like I’ve let this team down so many different times in the past few years and I let the fans down,” Minter said. “I felt like I just went out there and I just wanted to give it all for them. We all have our story and I’ve been through failure. I felt like I wouldn’t be in this spot tonight if I hadn’t gone through that failure, it just made me prepare for this moment and that’s what life is all about. Nothing’s supposed to be easy, it’s not supposed to be given to you and you have to earn it.

“If you haven’t gone through failure, then you haven’t experienced life. Going through failure, it builds you. It’s going to make you better. If you have the taste of failing and the taste of winning, that’s what keeps you driving and I choose winning every time, so that’s our fuel.”

Braves relief pitcher A.J. Minter (33) is relieved in the eighth inning after issuing three walks Monday, April 12, 2021, against the Miami Marlins at Truist Park in Atlanta. The Marlins won 5-3 in an extra inning. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
Caption
Braves relief pitcher A.J. Minter (33) is relieved in the eighth inning after issuing three walks Monday, April 12, 2021, against the Miami Marlins at Truist Park in Atlanta. The Marlins won 5-3 in an extra inning. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Minter’s had a strange career, seeing stretches of brilliance interrupted by injuries and a sudden loss of command. He debuted with 16 appearances in 2017, showing promise that led many to peg him the franchise’s closer of the future. He had a 3.23 ERA with a 69:22 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 65 games the following season.

But Minter got into a minor car accident in spring training 2019, which threw off the start to his campaign. He never recovered, eventually getting sent to the minors and finishing with a 7.06 ERA in 36 games.

The lefty recaptured form during the shortened 2020 season. He had a 0.83 ERA in 22 games. Minter also had a memorable performance in last year’s NLCS, making his first start since college and pitching three scoreless innings, fanning seven, in Game 5 as an opener.

He dipped again this season. Minter was demoted to Triple-A in mid-July after having a 4.86 ERA in 42 games. He returned almost a month later after the Braves dropped veteran Shane Greene. Minter had a 1.89 ERA and 20:6 strikeout-to-walk ratio in the next 19 games.

A.J. Minter stats

“It doesn’t matter if he has a bad game or a good game, he wants the ball the next day,” third baseman Austin Riley said. “I think that says a lot. I think he’s a bulldog. He comes to the yard every day and he’s one of those guys that puts his head down and works really hard. Just like me, he’s had a few struggles. But when it comes crunch time, he’s come up big, and especially in the postseason this year and last year, he’s been huge for us.

Like his team, Minter has constantly exhibited mental toughness. He’s rebounded from his lowest lows and, as Riley said, delivered in the times it’s mattered most. He’s one of many resurgent individuals on a team that didn’t cross the .500 mark until August and overcame a bout of injuries and misfortune to secure a spot in the World Series for the first time in 22 years.

In his Game 4 outing against the Dodgers, Minter allowed one hit to Albert Pujols. He quickly erased the baserunner by coaxing a double play from former MVP Mookie Betts, completing two scoreless innings at Dodger Stadium.

In Game 6, Minter needed 26 pitches to retire six Dodgers, including four via strikeout. He struck out Pujols that time. He struck out Betts on four pitches. The Dodgers’ two balls in play were groundouts.

And so the pitcher who was banished to Triple-A in July was retiring future Hall of Famers in October.

Braves relief pitcher A.J. Minter reacts to Los Angeles Dodgers center fielder Gavin Lux flying out to end the top of the fifth inning of Game 2 of the NLCS Sunday, Oct. 17, 2021, at Truist Park in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton / curtis.compton@ajc.com)
Caption
Braves relief pitcher A.J. Minter reacts to Los Angeles Dodgers center fielder Gavin Lux flying out to end the top of the fifth inning of Game 2 of the NLCS Sunday, Oct. 17, 2021, at Truist Park in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton / curtis.compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton

Credit: Curtis Compton

“Every person (has) their story, their failure,” Minter told the AJC before Game 5. “Every time I have a good outing or whatever it may be, I always just think about the hard times. I don’t know if that’s the right way of thinking about it, but I always just go back to now. It’s been hard and nothing in life should be easy. I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for all the failures I’ve had and having the hard times and being sitting down and just learning how to be a better pitcher every single day.

“I wouldn’t be here, no doubt, I didn’t struggle. Everyone has their own story, and I think that’s what makes this team unique. Everyone has had hardships, and that’s what makes this team special.”

The Braves will face the Astros in the World Series. The Fall Classic will begin in Houston, about three hours and 20 minutes south of Minter’s hometown in Tyler, Texas, and 90 minutes away from his alma mater Texas A&M.

Minter, wearing a cowboy hat while speaking with reporters following Game 6, is eager for the latest chapter of his life to continue where it began.

“I’m going back home,” he said. “Grew up in Texas, born and raised. Went to Texas A&M right down the road from Houston. It’s going to be special, just to go back there and play in front of fans, friends and family. It’s going to be truly special. We plan on going there and winning the whole thing. Can’t wait to get it started.”

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