Infante, Heyward provide muscle for Braves
Minor sets Atlanta rookie record for strikeouts with 12 in win
CHICAGO -- Before Lou Piniella could officially end his reign with the Cubs, Jason Heyward and the Braves said goodbye much like they had said hello five months ago, during their lopsided Opening Day victory in Atlanta.
By the time Heyward and Omar Infante had highlighted their four-hit games with multihomer performances Sunday afternoon at Wrigley Field, Mike Minor could fully savor the fact that he had just accomplished something that no other Braves rookie pitcher had done over the previous 47 years.
Fueled by Minor's record-setting 12-strikeout performance and the power that Heyward and Infante produced at the top of the lineup, the Braves ended Piniella's tenure in Chicago by matching the 16-5 score they had tallied during this year's Opening Day win over the Cubs.
"It's a good day to remember and a good day to forget," said Piniella, who announced Sunday morning that this would be his last game with the Cubs and quite possibly the final game of his managerial career.
Showing the power that was displayed when he utilized the first swing of his career to drill a three-run, first-inning homer on Opening Day, Heyward capped his first career multihomer game with a two-run blast in the ninth. It simply added to the damage that Infante had created by notching his fourth career multihomer game before the completion of the fourth inning.
"With Detroit, I had a couple of good games," Infante said with Martin Prado interpreting. "With the Braves, this was one of the most important that I've ever had."
Infante drilled the game's third pitch of the afternoon over the left-center-field wall, and then victimized Randy Wells again in the fourth with a three-run homer that landed nearly in the same spot. The second homer provided a lead that would be preserved by Minor, who utilized his changeup and curveball to erase the Atlanta rookie record that Tommy Hanson set last year with an 11-strikeout performance against the Giants.
With his 12 strikeouts, Minor matched the franchise rookie record set by George Brunet in 1960 and matched three years later by Bob Sadowski. Not bad, considering that this was just the third career start for the 22-year-old left-hander, who was taken with the seventh overall selection in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft.
"I thought he was just outstanding," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "He was pretty much dealing today."
While Minor's six-inning effort was certainly impressive, the most encouraging rookie-related development seemed to center around the return of Heyward's power. The 20-year-old All-Star outfielder had homered just once in his previous 59 games.
Along with his third-inning solo blast and two-run shot in the ninth, Heyward produced a pair of singles to give him his first career four-hit performance. The phenom drew a pair of walks in his other two plate appearances, scored four runs and matched the four RBIs contributed by Infante.
Heyward admitted that he's still bothered by the jammed right thumb that plagued him throughout June and sidelined him for the two weeks leading up to the All-Star break.
"It's most definitely not 100 percent," Heyward said. "But that's what this game is all about -- going out and finding a way to get it done."
Minor displayed his advanced maturity when he began having trouble commanding his fastball in the third inning. After he allowed a Marlon Byrd single and Aramis Ramirez's two-run, go-ahead homer in a span of three pitches, the young southpaw called catcher Brian McCann to the mound and told him he wanted to focus on utilizing his offspeed pitches.
"I think that's a testament to the amount of confidence that he has in himself to do that, especially in this park," Braves pitching coach Roger McDowell said in reference to Minor, who never recorded more than 11 strikeouts in any of his 24 Minor League starts.
On the way to allowing three earned runs and seven hits in six innings, Minor notched 10 of his strikeouts through the first four innings. His franchise-record-matching 12th strikeout came courtesy of his final pitch of the day -- a 1-2 curveball that missed Koyie Hill's bat.
"It was pretty fun," Minor said. "I was able to command my changeup, and the curveball that I had today, I was able to throw it for strikes and bury it."
Wells entered the game having allowed just three earned runs in the 19 innings that had encompassed his previous three career starts against the Braves. But once Infante delivered his seventh career leadoff homer, it was apparent that this might not be a memorable afternoon for Chicago's right-hander.
When Infante took Wells deep again in the fourth inning, he had his fifth homer in a span of 127 at-bats. The veteran utility man totaled just five homers in the 520 at-bats he combined for during the 2008 and '09 seasons.
"To get embarrassed like we did -- it's just stupid mistakes and being stubborn," Wells said. "A guy's swinging a hot bat and he hits fastballs, and I'm trying to sneak fastballs by him is stupid -- just dumb pitching."
Infante, who has batted .371 over his past 61 games, sparked a four-run seventh inning with a leadoff single and added another single in the five-run eighth inning that was highlighted by Derrek Lee's three-run double. This was Lee's first hit for the Braves since being acquired from the Cubs on Wednesday.
"Every time I go up there, I'm just trying to drive the ball," Infante said. "I go up there looking for a pitch that I can drive. Fortunately, I got a couple pitches up in the zone today."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.