ATLANTA It's an interesting paradox.
On the most tension-filled night of the Atlanta Braves' season, with the super-sized Turner Field crowd of 48,966 living and dying on every pitch, hit or disputed check swing, the club had all of its eggs in the basket of perhaps the coolest, calmest and most charmingly robotic pitcher on staff.
And the southpaw, cocksure yet fist-pump-free, rewarded that faith with a stellar performance on Friday, leading the Braves to a thrilling 4-3 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 2 of the National League Division Series.
With the home win, the Braves have knotted the best-of-five matchup at 1-all. The series shifts to Los Angeles for Games 3 and 4 (SundayMonday).
"Mike was outstanding, gave us a great opportunity to win the game," said Braves skipper Fredi Gonzalez in the post-game media scrum. "It was nice to shake hands, especially after (Thursday night's loss). Come out and play a really, really good game, and hopefully carry a little momentum going to L.A."
When bluntly asked if Gonzalez viewed Friday as a "must-win" game, he responded with a similarly frank answer.
"Oh, there's no question. You don't want to go to L.A. down two games," said Gonzalez, while intimating his club's adjusted goal of at least splitting the next two outings out West.
As for the 25-year-old Minor, who spent the vast majority of his amateur career in Tennessee and pro tenure in Georgia, his Friday performance (one run, one walk, five strikeouts over 6.1 innings) was reminiscent to the first three starts of the season (two total runs allowed) or the seven-outing stretch from May 8-June 9, holding the opposition to two runs or less each time.
On a 'breakthrough' scale, however, this night loomed even larger than Minor's five-start run of sheer dominance to close out last season (4-0, 0.87 ERA, 0.71 WHIP, 289 K-BB) a phenomenal finish that, sadly, didn't include a playoff start.
(The 2012 Braves, at 94-68, were summarily booted from the playoffs, the result of a wild-card loss to the Cardinals.)
"I thought about (Friday's game) all day, I had a lot of anxiety," admitted Minor. "But when I got out there, it was all the same."
When perusing the box score, it's hard to believe Minor gave up eight hits over six-plus innings, in the sense that he was seldom put in compromised situations after the first inning (one run allowed).
For the 2nd and 3rd, Atlanta's combo of shortstop Andrelton Simmons and second baseman Elliot Johnson greatly diminished the impact of three L.A. hits with two double plays.
In the 4th, Adrian Gonzalez's leadoff single was more incidental than impactful.
And in the 5th and 6th, Minor thwarted two potential rallies with four dazzling strikeouts relying on a lethal combination of fastballs, sinkers and knuckle-curves.
All in a day's work? Not bad for a kid who was only 17 the last time the Braves won a home playoff game.
It's funny how the Braves batters appeared more relaxed on this night, as if there was some great disparity between Thursday's hero, Clayton Kershaw, the best pitcher on the planet right now, and Friday starter Zack Greinke.
Sure, Kershaw (12 strikeouts in Game 1) is just a few weeks away from claiming his second National League Cy Young trophy in three years. But Greinke has been similarly spectacular over the last three months, racking up nine victories, a 1.58 ERA, 0.91 WHIP and 9622 strikeout-to-walk ratio since July 8 (excluding the playoffs).
In other words, he's been piling up Kershaw-esque numbers since America's birthday ... while essentially flying under the national radar the whole time.
But then again, that's probably how the soft-spoken Greinke prefers things these days getting all the money and respect that comes with co-anchoring a championship-contending club ... without the obligation of carrying the group, verbally or emotionally.
Against Greinke, the Braves only produced two runs and four hits. But they still bore the look of confident, controlled hitters, seldom going out of their comfort zone to combat Greinke's three-pitch arsenal of fastballs, sliders and changeups.
On Thursday, Atlanta hitters were on the business end of a few check-swing or tentative-swing strikeouts. On Friday, Jason Heyward (one hit, two RBI), Simmons (one hit, one RBI) and Chris Johnson (two hits, one RBI, one run) led an offense that capitalized on its opportunities.
In the bottom of the 2nd, with the Braves trailing 1-0, Simmons laced a double to right field, allowing Evan Gattis to score from second.
Two frames later, after Freeman led off with a double, Chris Johnson's broken-bat, seeing-eye single on the left side produced the second run for the Braves.
Both runs off Greinke had come with two outs.
And in the 7th, with Atlanta nursing a one-run lead, Heyward's bases-loaded single brought home B.J. Upton (pinch-running for Brian McCann) and Johnson for the eventual game-clinching runs.
Adding to the intrigue, the Dodgers intentionally walked reserve Reed Johnson (a .244 hitter this season) to get to Heyward, with two outs.
"For me, personally, I was just happy to come through there for my teammates," said Hewyard, while acknowledging the hit as perhaps his most exciting pro moment.
It was the wrong strategy, in hindsight. But it was also a risky move ahead of time, as well.
Back on May 17, L.A.'s only visit to Atlanta during the regular season, Heyward's RBI single in the 7th off a battered Dodgers bullpen helped solidify the Braves' comeback victory (six runs after the sixth inning).