By PAUL NEWBERRY
October 05, 2012
ATLANTA — Break out the peanut butter and honey. Kris Medlen is ready for another start.
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.”
The Braves have won 23 consecutive starts by Medlen — a modern big league record. He eclipsed the mark held by a pair of Hall of Famers, Carl Hubbell and Whitey Ford.
“You can’t help but notice when someone’s having the amount of success that he’s had,” said Kyle Lohse, who will start for the Cardinals. “It’s impressive what he’s done. Obviously, the team plays very well behind him, and to be that consistently good to keep your team in games or win games says a lot about what kind of pitcher he is.”
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.
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.
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.”