Only this time, it's the biggest game of his career.
The diminutive right-hander, who didn't even start the season in Atlanta's rotation, will deliver the first pitch in the inaugural wild-card playoff against the defending World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals. The Braves couldn't have asked for anyone better in the winner-take-all format, considering they haven't lost a start by Medlen (10-1, 1.57 ERA) in more than two years.
Just stop reminding him about it."It's not me by myself," said Medlen, who always snacks on a peanut butter and honey sandwich before his starts. "I've given up four or five runs in a start, and guys pull it out for me. My name is in the books or whatever, but it's a team thing. I didn't do it all by myself, that's for sure."
No one is quite sure what to expect from the one-game format, which was added this year when Major League Baseball expanded the playoff field by adding a second wild-card team in each league.
One-and-done may be the norm in football. But this is a whole new ballgame for the big leagues."We know the necessity to make it like a Game 7," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "You do things differently. We've been anticipating it, but I also want these guys to know we just want to go out and play the game we've been playing."
Besides, St. Louis knows it's just fortunate to have a chance to win another title. The Cardinals finished six games behind Atlanta in the wild-card standings. If not for the new system, they would be watching from home."We're exceptionally happy about the format," Matheny said with a smile.
Despite losing Albert Pujols last winter in free agency, the Cardinals have a chance to pull off another magical postseason run. A year ago, they trailed the Braves by 10 1/2 games in late August, but Atlanta collapsed over the final month and St. Louis pulled out the wild card on a frenetic final day. That momentum carried right into the playoffs, where the Redbirds pulled off three straight upsets, including another stunning rally against Texas in the World Series.
Pujols may be gone. But there's plenty of holdovers from the title team, including Lohse (16-3, 2.86)."A lot of guys with me in that clubhouse, they experienced last year from being 10 1/2 back and a lot of people kind of saying, `Go get `em next year,"' he said. "It helped us mature a lot and grow a lot as individuals and learn how to handle big situations like the one that's coming up."
The winner advances to face NL East champion Washington in the divisional round.
The Braves would love to get another crack at the Nationals, having chased them futilely all summer and coming up four games short in the divisional race. But Atlanta will have to do something it hasn't done in more than a decade - win a playoff round. The Braves have dropped six straight series since winning a divisional playoff in 2001, including an 0-5 mark in elimination games at Turner Field.
They don't want to go out like that again, not with 40-year-old Chipper Jones planning to retire as soon as the season is over."You don't have that many opportunities in your career to play in the playoffs or to play in whatever this is called," Medlen said. "But especially for him. It's his last year. It inspires you to want to get a few more games under his belt and let him go out on top, which is where he belongs."
If the Braves needed any more motivation, they could turn to the words of Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright .
As St. Louis closed in on the second wild card, the players took note of the raucous celebration by the Braves after they clinched a playoff spot - especially Wainwright, who came up in the Atlanta organization."No disrespect to what they did, but I think we're going to save the big pop for after we beat Atlanta," he said.
That little sound bite has made the rounds in the Braves clubhouse, providing some extra fire. But, overlooking the one-game format, this isn't the gridiron. Bulletin-board fodder only goes so far. A player isn't suddenly going to hit the ball harder because he's mad at the other team. A pitcher isn't going to get an extra 5 mph on his fastball."It's not like football where we post it and I want to rip his head off," said Braves catcher David Ross , noting that Wainwright won't even be on the 25-man roster for this game. "But it is one of those things, you wonder why guys comment about other teams. I feel like, as a player, I wouldn't make a comment about another team in a negative light to a media outlet. I just feel like I'm better than that."
No one has been better than Medlen over the past two months.
Forced into the rotation by injuries and ineffective performances, he suddenly became baseball's hottest pitcher. He hardly looks the part, generously listed at 5-foot-10 with a fastball that struggles to reach 90 mph. But he is especially bedeviling with his changeup, a pitch the organization ordered him to throw coming up through the minors.
In 12 starts this season, Medlen is 9-0 with an 0.97 ERA. He struck out 13 hitters in one game, 12 in another. In six of those appearances, he didn't give up an earned run.
Away from the field, it's hard to take Medlen seriously. He is a bundle of nervous energy, which he copes with by delivering a constant string of jokes and one-liners. As manager Fredi Gonzalez finished up his time at the podium Thursday, Medlen stood against the wall, clapping slowly.
When asked about his pregame routine, Medlen made it clear he doesn't have one.
Except for the peanut butter and honey."It's a light meal. It's good energy," he said. "It's not like I'm going to eat fried chicken."
Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963
|St. Louis Cardinals|
|September 28, 2012||David Freese||Day-to-Day||Sprained right ankle|
|September 28, 2012||Matt Holliday||Day-to-Day||Left game - left elbow contusion|
|September 23, 2012||Yadier Molina||Day-to-Day||Lower back spasms|
|September 09, 2012||David Freese||Day-to-Day||Swollen left ankle|
|September 09, 2012||Matt Carpenter||Day-to-Day||Cut hand|
|September 09, 2012||Jake Westbrook||Day-to-Day||Strained right oblique|
|September 18, 2012||Paul Janish||Day-to-Day||Shoulder|
|September 15, 2012||Brian McCann||Day-to-Day||Left game - right hamstring tendinitis|
|August 25, 2012||Ben Sheets||15-Day DL||Right shoulder inflammation|
|August 25, 2012||Ben Sheets||15-Day DL||Right shoulder inflammation|
|August 10, 2012||Chipper Jones||Day-to-Day||Back tightness|
|August 01, 2012||Jair Jurrjens||15-Day DL||Strained right groin|
ATLANTA (AP) -- Talk about a wild card.
This one was just plain wild.
Chipper Jones played his final game. The Atlanta fans turned Turner Field into a trash heap after a disputed infield fly. And the St. Louis Cardinals did what they always seem to do in October.
Celebrated another postseason triumph.
Matt Holliday homered and the Cardinals rallied from an early deficit, taking advantage of three Atlanta throwing errors - the most crucial of them by the retiring Jones - to beat the Braves 6-3 in a winner-take-all wild-card playoff Friday.
In the eighth inning, there was more crazy throwing, this time by an irate crowd that littered the field to protest an umpiring decision that went against the Braves. The Cardinals fled for cover, the Braves protested and the game was halted for 19 minutes while workers cleared up all the beer cups, popcorn holders and other debris.
St. Louis manager Mike Matheny was asked if he'd ever seen anything like it.
"Not in the United States," he said.
Major League Baseball executive Joe Torre said the protest was denied. St. Louis advanced to face Washington in the best-of-five division round, beginning Sunday at Busch Stadium.
The Braves are done for this season, the recipients of another heartbreaking loss in the playoffs.
The 40-year-old Jones is all done, period. He managed an infield hit in his final at-bat but threw away a double play ball in the fourth, which led to a three-run inning that wiped out Atlanta's 2-0 lead behind Kris Medlen .
"Ultimately, I feel I'm the one to blame," Jones said.
But this one-and-done game will be remembered for the eighth, when a disputed call on a fly ball that dropped in short left field cost the Braves a chance at extending Jones' career.
The Braves thought they had the bases loaded with one out after the ball fell between two fielders. But left-field umpire Sam Holbrook called Andrelton Simmons out under the infield fly rule - even though the ball landed at least 50 feet beyond the dirt. When the sellout crowd of 52,631 realized what had happened, and a second out go up on the scoreboard, they littered the field with whatever they could get their hands on.
"It was scary," St. Louis catcher Yadier Molina said.
Holbrook defended the call, even after he looked at the replay.
"Once that fielder established himself, he got ordinary effort," he said, referring to shortstop Pete Kozma calling for the ball, then veering away at the last moment as left fielder Holliday drifted in. "That's when the call was made."
Braves president John Schuerholz apologized for the actions of the crowd, saying a "small group of those fans acted in a manner that was uncharacteristic and unacceptable." The barrage left Holbrook fearing for his safety.
"When cans are flying past your head, yeah, a little bit," Holbrook said.
The stoppage only delayed the inevitable. When play resumed, Brian McCann walked to load the bases but Michael Bourn struck out to end the threat. Dan Uggla grounded out with two aboard in the ninth to finish it, leading to one more wave of trash throwing as the umps scurried off the field - probably feeling a lot like those replacement NFL refs who caught so much grief.
The infield fly is a complicated rule, designed to prevent infielders from intentionally dropping a popup with more than one runner on base and perhaps get an extra out.
No one could ever remember it being applied like this. And, after past postseasons dotted by contested calls, this play will certainly lead to another slew of October cries for more instant replay.
"I was under it," Kozma said. "I should have made the play. I took my eyes off it. I was camped under it."
This is what some fans feared about a one-game playoff - a disputed call determining a team's fate for an entire season, even with two extra umpires added for postseason games.
Jones refused to pin this loss on the umps.
"That one play didn't cost us the game. Three errors cost us the game," he said. "We just dug ourselves too big a hole."
Holliday homered in the sixth off Medlen, who had been baseball's most dominant starter over the final two months. The Braves had not lost a start by the diminutive right-hander since 2010 - a streak of 23 games, the longest in modern baseball history.
But this is the postseason.
This is when the Cardinals shine.
St. Louis stunningly made the playoffs a year ago at the Braves' expense, ralllying from 10 1/2 games back in the wild-card race to pass Atlanta on the final day of the season. The Cardinals on capture the championship, winning four straight elimination games while upsetting Philadelphia, Milwaukee and, finally, Texas, with the most improbable victory over all in the World Series.
St. Louis was expected to fade after slugger Albert Pujols signed with the Angels and longtime manager Tony La Russa retired. And, indeed, the Cardinals wouldn't have made the playoffs without a change in the format, adding a second wild-card team in the each league. They finished six games behind the Braves during the regular season, only to hand them more misery in the postseason.
The Braves haven't won a playoff round since 2001. Since then, they've gone 0 for 7 - including six decisive losses at Turner Field.
David Ross , starting in place of the slumping, ailing McCann, had the place rockin' in the second when he launched a two-run homer into the left-field seats off 16-game winner Kyle Lohse . It looked as though Ross had struck out to end the inning, but he yelled for time just before Lohse delivered the pitch. Umpire Jeff Kellogg hopped out from behind the plate waving his arms while Ross swung and missed.
That call worked out for the Braves. Ross homered on the next pitch.
But the Cardinals have been in this position before.
Carlos Beltran led off the fourth with the first hit of the game off Medlen, a bloop single to right. Holliday followed with a hard shot to third base, and Jones made a nice backhanded scoop. The crowd cheered, expecting a double play. That turned to gasps when Jones' throw to second base sailed over the head of Uggla, winding up in right field. Instead of having no one on with two outs, Medlen and the Braves faced second and third and no outs.
The Cardinals made Atlanta pay, as they always seem to do in October. Allen Craig , the replacement at first base for Pujols, lined a double off the left-field wall, cutting Atlanta's lead to 2-1. Molina followed with a groundout that brought home another run and moved to Craig over to third. He trotted home on a sacrifice fly by David Freese , the hero of last year's postseason.
The Braves totally fell apart in the seventh, and Freese was right in the middle of things again. He led off with a routine grounder to Uggla, who bobbled it briefly, then unnecessarily rushed his throw to first. It wasn't close, the ball sailing off behind home plate while Freese took second. Daniel Descalso bunted pinch-runner Adron Chambers over to third, and Chad Durbin replaced Medlen.
Durbin got what he wanted from Kozma - a grounder to the drawn-in infield. But Simmons bobbled the ball and hurriedly threw it all the way to the backstop as Chambers slid across head first to make it 5-2. Kozma took second on the miscue, and he came all the way around to score on another ball that didn't get out of the infield. Matt Carpenter 's bunt down the first-base line was fielded by the third pitcher of the inning, Jonny Venters , who missed a swipe tag and, with his back turned, failed to notice that Kozma kept right on running to make it 6-2.
"We played to win the game," Molina said. "They played to lose the game."
Lohse got the win, allowing six hits and two runs in 5 2-3 innings. Medlen, who went 10-1 during the regular season, surrendered just three hits and two earned runs in 6 1-3 innings. But he gave up five runs in all, most of it none of his doing.
Jason Motte earned a save by getting the final four outs, taking over after the delay.
NOTES: The Braves outhit the Cardinals 12-6 but left 10 runners on base. St. Louis stranded only two. ... Lohse (16-3) and Medlen had a combined record of 26-4 during the regular season. The cumulative win percentage of .867 was the highest ever for opposing postseason starters, edging the .850 mark of California's John Candelaria (10-2) and Boston's Roger Clemens (24-4) in the 1986 AL championship series.