If the Braves were feeling a bit hung over after returning to Atlanta on the heels of playing 10 games in 10 days, it sure did show, as the Braves lost 2 of 3 to the St. Louis Cardinals after winning 5 of 6 to end the West Coast swing.
It began with Derek Lowe, Sunday’s starter getting arrested Thursday night for drunk driving and continued when the MLB levied a fine and suspension on pitching coach Roger McDowell.
The rest of the squad knew it still had to go to work amid the distraction created.
Friday’s opener got off to a good start, as Jason Heyward homered with one out before Dan Uggla’s double scored Chipper Jones.
Given two runs, starter Tim Hudson was able to get through the first four innings unscathed, but ran into a bit of trouble in the top of the 4th, as the Cardinals tied the game.
Hudson went 6 innings, giving up the two runs on 6 hits, striking out three and walking two, before making way for the bullpen.
After Nate McLouth gave the Braves a one-run lead with his first home run of the year, Fredi Gonzalez called on rookie Craig Kimbrel to lock down the game.
But Kimbrel proved unable to earn the save that night, giving up consecutive singles to open the inning before a sacrifice fly tied the game.
Both squads battled before the Cardinals grabbed two runs off recent call up Cory Gearrin, as the St. Louis bullpen was able to shut the Braves down and take the opener.
In the middle game, Brandon Beachy and Jake Westbrook went toe-to-toe on the mound, as neither gave up a run through four until Martin Prado’s two-out, 2-RBI double in the bottom of the 5th put the Braves on the scoreboard.
After throwing 7 scoreless innings, Beachy made his way back out for the 8th inning, but did not record an out, giving up a leadoff double before walking a batter, ending his day.
The bullpen was unable to hold the lead, as Jonny Venters gave up a two-out single that plated both runs.
Beachy finished going 7-plus, giving up the two runs on three hits, striking out 5 and walking one.
Given a chance to redeem himself, Kimbrel was given the ball and asked to hold the lead, but gave up a leadoff single to Matt Holliday before Gerald Laird’s triple gave the Cardinals a one-run lead.
The Braves had one last chance after McLouth walked with two outs, but Eric Hinske flied out to left, ending any chance at some 9th inning magic, something the fans got use to seeing in 2010.
In Sunday’s finale, Lowe looked to redeem himself after disappointing the organization and its fans, but quickly fell behind, giving up one-out doubles to Holliday and Lance Berkman as the Cardinals went up 3-0.
The Cardinals extended their lead to 4-0 before the Braves got on the board.
Alex Gonzalez crushed an off speed offering from St. Louis starter Jaime Garcia, sending it into the left field seats and bringing Brian McCann around to score.
Lowe finished the day throwing 6 innings, giving up the 4 runs on 6 hits, striking out 5 and walking two in another disappointing start.
Over his past three starts, the sinkerballer has thrown 14 innings, allowing 11 runs on 20 hits while striking out 18.
But the Braves were not done there, as Brandon Hicks first MLB-hit and RBI scored recent call up Joe Mather, bringing the Braves within one.
An error by Albert Pujols on a Gonzalez ground ball scored Uggla from second, allowing the Braves to tie the game before Prado’s RBI single to right scored Mather, giving Atlanta a 5-4 lead.
The lead was short lived, yet again, as Gearrin did not close the Cardinals out, allowing them to tie the game.
Heading into the bottom of the 9th, the Braves were in a familiar situation, as four of their first 28 games went into extra innings.
But this time, there was that magic at Turner Field Braves fans had been waiting patiently for, and it came from a face familiar with late inning heroics.
Gonzalez reached on an error for the second consecutive at bat and took second on a sacrifice bunt.
With one out, Brooks Conrad strolled to the plate, looking to put an end to the series with a little flavor of his own.
And Conrad did just that, taking a Ryan Franklin offering back up the box into center field that brought Gonzalez around for the winning run.
If the series against St. Louis proved anything, it is that no team can be taken lightly.
But the Braves proved to be resilient, as they showed in all three games, and got off to a good May start after a 13-15 April.
Next up for the Braves come the Milwaukee Brewers, who dropped 2 of 3 in Houston and were shut out in Sunday’s finale.
The Braves remember what the Brewers did during the second series of the year, taking 3 of 4 from Atlanta and limiting the Braves offense to 8 runs.
But the first month is now behind both teams, as both are looking to compete for the division crown in two very tough divisions.
The Braves saw something different in the Brewers the last time in Nyjer Morgan, and know what to expect after having seen them so recently.
In Monday’s opener, Jair Jurrjens goes opposite Yovanni Gallardo.
The Braves saw Gallardo in the second game of the series in Milwaukee, and were shut down, held to two hits over 9 innings.
But the Brewers did not see Jurrjens, who is coming off a complete game victory over San Diego last Tuesday.
In game two, Tommy Hanson and Marco Estrada take the ball for their clubs.
Estrada earned his lone win in his start against the Braves up in Milwaukee, but Hanson is coming off consecutive strong starts in San Francisco and San Diego.
In those two starts, Hanson combined to go 14 innings, giving up one run on 7 hits and striking out 17, as he took the victory in both.
In game three, Hudson gets the start against Zack Greinke, making his first start of the season after sitting out the first month.
Hudson did not see the Brewers in April, but has pitched well over his past two starts, going 14 2/3 innings and allowing 4 runs on 15 hits after a rocky outing in Los Angeles.
In Thursday’s finale, Brandon Beachy takes the mound for Atlanta as Shaun Marcum takes the ball for Milwaukee.
Marcum gave up two runs on 5 hits in 6 innings when he saw the Braves in April.
For Beachy, he saw the Brewers in his first start of the year, going 6 innings and giving up one run on four hits, as the righty struck out 7.
Three keys to the series
- Take advantage of injuries
- With Morgan on the DL and Greinke and Corey Hart set to return Tuesday and Wednesday, the Brewers are vulnerable in spots, which can help the Braves in more ways than one
- The top of the order must get going
- Prado, Heyward and Chipper went a combined 8-for-36 against the Cardinals. If the Braves hope to have any success against a good Milwaukee pitching staff, these three will need to set the table for the rest of the order
- Ride the magic through May
- As seen in 2010, May was a magical month. With Conrad’s walk-off single in Sunday’s finale, the magic is still at Turner Field, where the Braves have 18 home games in the month.
Notes: Fredi and Alex Gonzalez were both ejected in the bottom of the 9th inning of Saturday’s game for arguing balls and strikes.. After a productive road trip, Freddie Freeman went 0-for-8 on the homestand..