After Brian McCann homered in the fourth inning Wednesday night, the Braves had a 2-0 lead against the Marlins, and Mike Minor had retired 11 consecutive batters.
Things were looking good for the left-hander and the Braves.
But not for long.
Minor walked Miami pitcher Ricky Nolasco with two outs in the fifth inning, and two pitches later Justin Ruggiano hit a three-run homer that sent the Marlins to 6-3 win on a rainy night at Turner Field.
“It starts so innocently, a two-out walk and bam,” said manager Fredi Gonzalez, whose Braves had a four-game winning streak snapped, and an eight-game winning streak against the Marlins. “Let’s say this, he didn’t want to walk the pitcher. I guarantee you that. But nevertheless, that seemed like the key to the whole game right there.”
With a runner at third and none out in the fifth, Minor (8-4) struck out the previous two batters before walking Nolasco. He said he couldn’t grip the ball properly.
“The rain,” he said. “I was trying to throw a ball right down the middle, and I walked him.”
Minor gave up six hits, four runs and three walks with nine strikeouts in six innings. The left-hander is 0-2 with a 5.62 ERA in his past four starts, after going 5-0 with a 2.04 ERA in the previous eight.
Nolasco (5-8) allowed six hits, two runs and no walks with seven strikeouts in seven innings.
“He threw great tonight, threw a lot of off-speed pitches, threw his heater when he needed to,” said Freddie Freeman, who had two of the Braves’ 10 hits. “It’s always a little challenge (to hit in rainy conditions), but the pitcher’s trying to get a grip on the ball, too. So it’s a challenge for him.
“It’s not fun when you see water drops dripping off the bill of your helmet, but the other team’s dealing with it, too.”
Minor was asked if wet conditions and his grip on the baseball had been an issue before the walk to Nolasco.
“Just some of the balls I was getting back,” he said. “I really didn’t complain about it, because both pitchers were pitching in it.”
The Braves lost for only the sixth time in 38 games in which they scored first.
Andrelton Simmons’ two-out single in the third inning scored B.J. Upton with the game’s first run. Upton beat out an infield single to start the inning and advanced on Minor’s sacrifice bunt.
McCann pushed the lead to 2-0 in the fourth with a line-drive homer that was his eighth off Nolasco, the most home runs he’s hit against any pitcher. He is 20-for-58 (.344) with 23 RBIs against the right-hander, although Nolasco got a big strikeout against McCann with a runner at third to end the sixth inning.
McCann has career-highs of 20 homers and 79 RBIs in 114 games against the Marlins, including 12 homers and 45 RBIs in his past 52 games.
The Braves didn’t have another base runner after the homer until Freeman’s two-out single in the sixth. Freeman advanced to third on an errant pickoff throw by catcher Jeff Mathis, before Nolasco struck out McCann.
Nolasco was 2-5 with a 6.11 ERA in his past 10 starts against the Braves before Wednesday, and his 6-10 record against them represents his most losses against any team.
Justin Upton flied out with two runners on to end the third, and the Braves didn’t have more than one runner on base at any other time until the ninth, when Freeman hit a leadoff single and Dan Uggla singled with one out.
At that point the Marlins brought in reliever Steve Cishek, who struck out B.J. Upton before Chris Johnson’s RBI single cut the lead to 6-3. Tyler Pastornicky grounded out to the pitcher to end the game.
Minor retired 11 in a row between Giancarlo Stanton’s one-out walk in the first inning and Donovan Solano’s leadoff double in the fifth.
Ruggiano hit Minor’s first pitch of the game for a double. After he stole third and Stanton walked, Minor struck out Marcell Ozuna and Placido Polanco.
He wasn’t as fortunate the next time the Marlins put runners on the corners, in the fifth. After doubling to start the inning, Solano advanced on a wild pitch. Minor struck out the next two to bring up Nolasco, who strode to the plate with a .103 average, two walks and 16 strikeouts in 29 at-bats.
Minor got a first-pitch strike before throwing three consecutive balls and walking Nolasco on seven pitches. He paid for the mistake two pitches later when Ruggiano drove a belt-high fastball to the left-field seats for a 3-2 Marlins lead.
It was the fifth homer off Minor in his past three starts, after he allowed six homers in his nine previous starts.
“I’m not saying at all that it was just the rain, and that’s why I gave up the hits or the walk,” Minor said. “It could have went either way if it wasn’t raining. It was just harder. In that particular inning I couldn’t grip the ball and I couldn’t get comfortable out there.”
Miami added a run on Adeiny Hechavarria’s two-out double in the sixth, after Polanco singled with one out. That made it four earned runs against Minor for the third time in his past four starts, after he allowed two or fewer in his previous seven starts.
Gonzalez was asked whether he thought the wet conditions had affected Minor.
“I don’t think so,” he said. “Until that (Nolasco walk and Ruggiano homer) I thought he did a nice job. And he went back out there for another inning and did a nice job there too. The conditions were the (same) for both clubs. I think our groundskeeper did a nice job making that field playable.”
The Marlins tacked on two runs in the eighth against reliever Cory Gearrin, pitching for the first time since June 23.