Braves-Blue Jays: Aces Up As Atlanta Bests Toronto

James HulkaAnalyst IMay 23, 2009

ATLANTA - APRIL 11: Pitcher Kenshin Kawakami #11 of the Atlanta Braves starts against the Washington Nationals on April 11, 2009 at Turner Field in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

Roy Halladay is probably the best pitcher in baseball and the absolute epitome of an ace. 

Kenshin Kawakami showed Friday night why he was one in Japan.

In a tidy two hours and 20 minutes, the 33-year-old right hander matched the 2003 AL Cy Young Award winner pitch for pitch as the Braves scratched a run across off the Toronto bullpen to give the Braves a hard-earned 1-0 victory Friday night at Turner Field.

Delayed about 45 minutes because of a rain delay, Kenshin Kawakami, the 2004 Eija Sawamura Award winner and MVP for the Chunichi Dragons of Japan's Central League, was not affected as he set down the Jays in order in each of the first two innings.

Kawakami had to be that sharp, as Roy Halladay was giving another virtuoso performance. Twice on Friday night, he caught Kelly Johnson looking at a called strike three with two runners on with a 90 mph cut fastball that likely made Greg Maddux proud.

The old-fashioned pitchers' duel continued after Halladay stranded two in the fourth after Kelly Johnson couldn't get a bunt down, and Jeff Francoeur flied out with runners on second and third to end the inning.

Halladay only gave up a walk and an infield single in his last three innings and erased one of them on a double play to end the seventh.

Kawakami was masterful and only got better as the game went on. He only had one strikeout through the first 4 2/3 innings but got six of his final 10 outs via the strikeout.

His control was impeccable, not walking any Jays, giving up only three hits, and never letting a runner get past second base.

He threw 71 of his 106 pitches over a season high eight scoreless innings for strikes.

The lone run of the game came in the bottom of the eighth after Kawakami froze pinch-hitter Joe Inglett on a curveball to end the top of the frame.

Matt Diaz pinch-hit for Kawakami and immediately drilled a fastball deep to right center for a ground-rule double.

After getting two strikes, Yunel Escobar put a beautiful inside-out swing on a close pitch grounding out, but moving Diaz to third with only one out.

Casey Kotchman sized up reliever Jesse Carlson and got a ball deep enough to left to score Matt Diaz for a sacrifice fly and the game's first run.

Adam Lind's throw was online, but not in time as Diaz scored standing up.

In the ninth, Mike Gonzalez came on and quickly got Marco Scutaro to fly out to right.

Aaron Hill lined a double to left, and moved to third when Alex Rios grounded out on a swinging bunt to the pitcher.

Many Braves fans' hearts skipped a beat when third baseman Martin Prado charged a chopper off the bat of Jays cleanup hitter Vernon Wells.

Prado caught the in-between hop as it glanced up in the air after hitting the heel of his glove. In one motion, Prado gloved the ball in mid-air and made a strong off balance throw to get Wells by half a step at first and preserve the win for Kenshin Kawakami. 

This was a game that real baseball fans love. Excellent pitching, no major defensive lapses or bad baserunning mistakes. The game moved quickly as you saw an ace show why he's the best and another guy up to the task of matching him.

It had suspense at the end with the tying run on third. One pitcher got the win, and fortunately the other one didn't get the loss.

Roy Halladay's line of 7 IP, 0 R, 5 H, 1 BB, and 6 K was stellar despite the no decision. His ERA dropped after his 95-pitch performance to 2.52 to maintain his 8-1 record.

Kawakami was just a tad bit better. His line of 8 IP, 0 R, 3 H, 0 BB, and 7 K earned him the hard-fought victory. His ERA dropped a full run to 4.73 and is down more than two runs since the end of April. The win brings his record on the season to 3-5.

I'm sure it felt great for him, getting his first dominant performance since coming over from Japan. Japanese fans must have been reminded of years like 1998, when he went 14-6 with a 2.57 ERA and won the Rookie of the Year award.

For me, this was a game between my favorite team (Atlanta) and my second favorite team (Toronto). This is the one series each year where I have a tough time rooting for one team over another.

I'm sure it's an interesting one for managers Cito Gaston and Bobby Cox, who have had a friendship for more than 20 years and maintain ties to both organizations.

Gaston roomed with Hank Aaron when he came up with the Braves in 1967 and played with them for five seasons.

Bobby Cox managed the Blue Jays to their first division title in 1985 and gave Gaston his first major league coaching position. This is all besides the matchup in the 1992 World Series.

The 21,000 in attendance at Turner Field on Friday night really got a treat in witnessing two stellar pitching performances and a hard-fought win for the home team.

And even though the Blue Jays lost, they're still in first place with the Mets beating the Red Sox.

The pitching matchups favor the Braves this weekend as Derek Lowe (5-2, 3.58) faces Casey Janssen (NR) on Saturday, and Jair Jurrjens (4-2, 1.96) matches up against likely starter right-hander Scott Richmond (4-2, 3.64) on Sunday afternoon.


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