PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Another strong start from Mike Minor has the Atlanta Braves one step closer to erasing last year's debacle.
Freddie Freeman hit a three-run homer to back Minor and the Braves roughed up Roy Halladay to move closer to clinching a postseason berth with an 8-2 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies on Saturday.
The win, coupled with Milwaukee's 10-4 loss to Washington, reduced Atlanta's magic number for securing an NL wild-card playoff spot to three. The Braves were up 8½ games through Sept. 5 last year, but went 9-18 down the stretch and were overtaken by St. Louis on the final day of the season.
"I don't want to hear anything about it," manager Fredi Gonzalez said with a smile.
The Phillies fell four games behind the Cardinals for the NL's second wild-card spot with only 10 games remaining. The five-time defending NL East champions had won four in a row and 12 of 15 to get in the race. They also trail Milwaukee and the Los Angeles Dodgers in the wild-card standings.
Ryan Howard became the second-fastest player to reach 300 homers, but Halladay (10-8) picked the wrong time to have the second-shortest outing in his 376 career starts.
The two-time Cy Young Award winner lasted just 1 2-3 innings, allowing seven runs and five hits. Halladay's shortest start was on Sept. 10, 2006, for Toronto against the Los Angeles Angels, that was because of an injury. He recorded just two outs and left after getting hit on the elbow by a line drive off Garret Anderson's bat.
Halladay wasn't 100 percent for this start. He said he felt spasms behind his shoulder area on Thursday, but was cleared by doctors on Friday.
"I wish I could blame it on this, but I felt like I should compete," he said. "I just didn't do my job as a pitcher."
Minor (10-10) gave up two runs and two hits in six innings to win his fourth straight decision. The lefty has a 1.09 ERA in four starts this month.
"It's just experience and having a better game plan," he said. "You put things in your memory bank."
The Braves remained 5½ games behind the first-place Nationals, making it likely they'll have to settle for a wild-card berth. Considering last season's collapse, securing any playoff spot is quite the accomplishment. It would have been the biggest September meltdown in baseball history except that Boston blew a nine-game lead during the same month.
Howard connected for the fourth straight game, hitting a towering shot off the brick wall in straightaway center in the fourth. He reached No. 300 in his 1,093rd game. Hall of Famer Ralph Kiner hit his 300th homer in his 1,087th game.