By Paul Newberry
AP Sports Writer
ATLANTA — Mike Minor slammed his fist into his glove after getting out of a jam with a strikeout. Luis Avilan pumped his arm wildly after escaping another mess with a huge double play. Andrelton Simmons hollered after a neat tag in the ninth.
The Braves were fired up for this one, with good reason.
Atlanta got the win it had to have before heading to Los Angeles.
Minor pitched six strong innings, Jason Heyward had a two-run single and the Braves flashed some nifty plays in the field, holding off the Dodgers 4-3 on Friday night to even the NL division series at one game apiece.
In a postseason already marked by defensive miscues all over the place, including shaky plays by the Bravesin Game 1, Atlanta’s defense came through by turning three double plays — none more crucial than the one Avilan started in the seventh to escape the inning with a 2-1 lead intact.
Heyward came through in the bottom half with a two-run single.
Good thing for the Braves, too.
Hanley Ramirez drove in all three runs for the Dodgers, including an impressive show of the strength in the eighth for a two-run homer. He cleared the wall down the left-field line with a one-handed swing off David Carpenter.
Not taking any chances, the Braves went to closer Craig Kimbrel for a rare four-out save. He ended the eighth by retiring Juan Uribe on a groundout, then pitched around two walks in the ninth — again getting a hand from the defense.
Pinch-runner Dee Gordon tried to steal second, but catcher Gerald Laird unleashed a strong throw that Simmons scooped on the short hop while making the tag in one motion, all while blocking Gordon’s left hand from bag with his knee.
Laird pumped his fist twice and let out a scream, Gordon was wide-eyed in disbelief at the call. Kimbrel finished it off by striking out Carl Crawford with a 98 mph fastball.
After an off-day, the best-of-five series resumes with two games at Dodger Stadium on Sunday and Monday. A deciding Game 5, if necessary, would be back in Atlanta on Wednesday.
Minor made it through the sixth by fanning Uribe on a 3-2 pitch with runners at first and third. Skip Schumaker started the seventh with a chopper over the mound. Minor leaped for it, but it ticked off the edge of his glove and Simmons had no chance to get the runner after making a barehanded pickup at shortstop.
A.J. Ellis got down a sacrifice bunt, and that was the end of the night for Minor. He walked toward the dugout to a rousing ovation, having worked around eight hits and a walk in 6 1-3 innings.
Luis Ayala took over against pinch-hitter Michael Young and got what he needed, a grounder wide of first base that was scooped up by Freddie Freeman. He made the flip to Ayala covering first, but the veteran reliever missed the bag with his right foot to give Young a gift single, about the only thing that didn’t go right for Atlanta’s defense.
Bullpen comes through
Manager Fredi Gonzalez went to his bullpen again, calling on the lefty Avilan to face Crawford. It couldn’t have worked out any better for the Braves.
Crawford skipped one up the middle. Avilan went to a knee, made the backhanded stab and quickly popped up for the throw to second. Simmons took it from there, firing on to first to complete the double play. While Avilan celebrated on his way to the dugout, Minor popped up off his seat with a big smile, waiting to greet the reliever who protected the one-run lead.
Heyward came through after Dodgers manager Don Mattingly made the curious decision to walk pinch-hitter Reed Johnson to get to one of the Braves’ most dangerous hitters.
While Mattingly got a lefty-on-lefty matchup — Paco Rodriguez vs. Heyward — he passed on the chance to face Johnson, a part-timer who batted .244 with one homer and 11 RBIs during the season.
The strategy backfired when Heyward lined a bases-loaded single back up the middle to bring home two runs, extending the Braves’ lead to 4-1.
For the second night in a row, the Dodgers jumped ahead. Minor walked the second hitter of the game, Mark Ellis, then gave up Ramirez’s liner into the right-fielder corner. Ellis hustled all the way around to score, and just like that Los Angeles was ahead.
This time, Minor limited the damage. He retired Adrian Gonzalez and Yasiel Puig on grounders to keep theDodgers from stretching the margin as they did in the series opener, when it was 5-0 by the fourth. Los Angeles cruised to a 6-1 victory over a team that had the best home record in baseball during the regular season.
But, with a raucous crowd of 48,966 — about 5,000 more than Game 1 — cheering them on, the Bravesregained their Turner Field swagger with a bunch of two-out hits.
Simmons tied it with a run-scoring single in the second off Zack Greinke. Chris Johnson came through again with two outs in the fourth, putting the Braves ahead for the first time in the series with an RBI hit. Finally, it was Heyward with another two-out hit.
Greinke pitched well, allowing four hits and two runs with three strikeouts.