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 game Medlen started (10-1, 1.57 ERA) in more than two years.
Just stop reminding the 26-year-old 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 two 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 (16-3, 2.86), 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.”
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.
“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.
“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.”