LAWRENCEVILLE - If Friday was a warm up for All-Star Tim Wakefield, consider the Gwinnett Braves ready.
A night before the Class AAA team faces the All-Star knuckleballer on rehab assignment from the Boston Red Sox, they faced another knuckler in Pawtucket's Charlie Zink.
The righty Zink lasted just 41/3 innings against the Gwinnett bats, allowing six runs off six hits and throwing 92 pitches in the G-Braves' 7-6 win.
A Durham loss against Scranton/Wilke-Barre means the G-Braves now hold a two game lead for first place in the International League's South Division.
They earned that lead by taking a big lead against the minor-league Red Sox.
Brooks Conrad doubled in two runs as part of a three-run first as Gwinnett got good swings on Zink from the start.
"Overall I thought he pitched well," Conrad said of Zink. "We just got the big hits in the big situations."
Pitching coach Jamie Dismuke threw his best knuckler during batting practice and the results showed, but Conrad said for him it was more about seeing slower pitches.
"It wasn't moving nearly as much as (Zink's) was," he said.
Dismuke should get another chance to throw some today as the G-Braves prepare to face a major-league knuckleball.
Seeing knucklers two days in a row is a first for manager Dave Brundage.
"Never," he said. "Never in all my years have I faced a kuckleballer on consecutive days."
Gwinnett also stole four bases off Zink, who hit two batters to up his league-leading total to 26.
"We showed good patience tonight," Brundage said. "That is what you are supposed to do against a knuckleball guy."
While the G-Braves stayed patient and picked up runs, starter John Halama's sinker did its job. The lefty threw six innings in his fourth win, allowing one late run. Nine of his 12 outs came on infield ground balls and he struck out two.
"That's the thing I try to do," Halama said. "I try to get people out and get a lot of ground balls.
"I let my sinker work and watch them pound it into the ground."
Halama allowed his only run in the only inning where he did not get a ground-ball out. But he was pitching with a big lead, which let him relax, but didn't take away from the loss of a shutout.
"Overall I am not disappointed," he said. "I am not going to nit-pick, but I would have loved to get out there and throw a shutout."
Halama's strong performance and the G-Braves' bats set the team up for the win, even when the bullpen allowed five runs in the final two innings.
"That was uncharacteristic of our bullpen," Brundage said of a relief crew that has led the G-Braves to a 55-6 record when they lead after seven innings.
Buddy Carlyle allowed his first earned runs since coming to the G-Braves and Juan Perez gave up a three-run home run.
But the lead held.
"It was good to hang on, but once you get them down you want to keep them down," Brundage said.
SideBar: INSTANT REPLAY
G-Braves 7, Red Sox 6
What happened: Gwinnett scored three runs in the first and added four in the fifth before Pawtucket got a runner to third base. The two big innings led the way to the win in the opening game of the four-game series. Starter LHP John Halama got his fourth win allowing one run off four hits in six innings. He struck out two and walked two. Brooks Conrad led the G-Braves with three RBIs, both doubles. Pawtucket starter Charlie Zink lasted just 41/3 innings and gave up six of the G-Braves runs. He hit two batters, upping his league-leading total to 26.
Stat of the day: Buddy Carlyle allowed his first Class AAA earned run when he gave up an RBI double in the eighth inning. He had pitched 92/3 scoreless innings.
Bad luck: Brooks Conrad's sharp line out to first base turned into a double play when Pawtucket's Jeff Bailey snagged the ball standing next to the bag and Barbaro Canizares was doubled off with a short lead.
Pivotal moment: The G-Braves' three-run first inning off Charlie Zink set the tone for the game as the Gwinnett bats picked up three of the team's eight hits. Gwinnett is now 47-16 when scoring first.
Pain in the back: CF Gregor Blanco sat out his fourth straight game Friday with soreness in his back and side. He entered Thursday's game but did not bat. Blanco said the pain started earlier in the week, but is slowly getting better. He currently is on a seven-game hit streak, dating back to Aug. 1.
Quick change: The G-Braves had to scrap their new favorite red batting practice jerseys for Friday's games when the PawSox walked out of their clubhouse in their road reds. The game was delayed 11 minutes as the G-Braves switched to their home whites.
Worth noting: The first two batters of the game extended their own streaks for the G-Braves. Reid Gorecki upped his hitting streak to 10 games with a lead-off single and Wes Timmons took a knuckleball to his side to make it 46 straight games to reach base. Brandon Jones waited until the fifth inning to make it nine-straight games with a hit.
On deck: The G-Braves will face another knuckleballer tonight, but this one is a major league all-star. RHP Tim Wakefield will make a rehab start for Pawtucket against RHP Todd Redmond (7-6, 4.19 ERA) at 7 p.m.