Coming into the series against the San Francisco Giants, Jason Heyward was mired in an early season slump that dropped the promising second year players batting average below .200.
Traveling north did wonders for Heyward, as the lefty went 7-for-12, helping contribute to the Braves sweep of the defending World Series Champion Giants.
While Heyward was contributing offensively, the pitching staff was making sure the resilient Giants did not mount a comeback, winning the first two games, 4-1 and 5-2, before needing extra innings to win the finale, 9-6, in 10 innings.
In game 1, the Braves first game at AT&T Park since game 2 of the 2010 NLDS, Tommy Hanson put any thought the Braves skid would prolong past two games, as the right-hander pitched 7 innings of three hit ball, allowing one run as he struck out 7 along the way.
Each of the Braves four runs came thanks to a third inning rally, sparked by walks to Nate McLouth to lead off the inning and Martin Prado with one out, bringing up Heyward.
And the youngster delivered, notching a single in his first at bat, bringing McLouth around. The next batter, Chipper Jones, delivered a double, scoring both Prado and Heyward before rookie Freddie Freeman’s single brought Chipper around.
With Saturday’s game being nationally broadcast on FOX, the Braves and Tim Hudson did not disappoint in getting their first true national appearance, roughing up Giant ace Tim Lincecum for 5 runs on 6 hits before the two-time Cy Young award winner headed to the showers.
The previous time the Braves saw Lincecum, the righty made the Atlanta offense look confused the entire night, striking out 14 in the first playoff start of his young career.
But this time was a lot different. Atlanta made Lincecum work, as the righty threw 110 pitches and walked 6 batters, including the first two of the game in Prado and Heyward.
After the Giants took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the 2nd, the Braves broke through against Lincecum, as McLouth scored on Prado’s single, tying the game.
In the 5th, the Braves manufactured a run again, as McLouth scored on another Prado single, once again getting moved to second base by a Hudson sacrifice, as he did in the 3rd.
When it came time to strike, the Braves did just that, as Alex Gonzalez led off the 7th with a double, his only hit of the series in 8 at bats, and scored on Prado’s groundout before Brian McCann brought McLouth and Heyward around after both reached base via walk.
As for Hudson, he was one out away from recording his first complete game of 2011, not to mention looking to put last Monday’s loss to the Dodgers behind him.
The veteran scattered 9 hits and gave up the two runs while striking out four. Getting the call again, Craig Kimbrel used 5 pitches to record his 5th save of the year.
Looking for the sweep, Brandon Beachy took the mound coming off an impressive performance in L.A. Tuesday night.
While Beachy did not shut the Giants offense down as he did the Dodgers, the result was the same, an Atlanta victory, this time in extra innings.
Getting things started was the birthday boy, Chipper, who stroked a two-run double in the top of the first, scoring Prado and Heyward as the Braves took a 2-0 lead.
It did not last long, as Buster Posey crushed a two-run shot, tying the game.
Not to be outdone, Jason Heyward strolled to the plate in the top of the 7th and crushed a Jeremy Affeldt offering to right center for a three-run shot, scoring Brandon Hicks and Prado.
The Giants took a 6-5 lead in the bottom half of the 7th, but Dan Uggla tied things up with his 5th home run of the season, his only hit in 11 at bats in the series.
Neither team was able to break through in the 9th, but the Braves, who have had success against Brian Wilson, broke through in the 10th, as Heyward and Chipper reached with consecutive singles before Uggla walked to load the bases.
With two outs, McLouth came up and ripped a single, scoring Chipper and Uggla before McCann’s single scored Hinske, giving Atlanta a 9-6 lead that Jonny Venters came in to lock down.
Beachy tossed 6 innings, giving up 3 hits and two runs as the rookie struck out 7 before handing the ball to the bullpen.
Aside from Jairo Asencio giving up 4 runs on 4 hits in 2/3 of an inning, the bullpen was flawless the entire series, as Scott Linebrink, Eric O’Flaherty and Venters worked the final 3 1/3 innings, with O’Flaherty getting his first win of the year and Venters notching his first save.
With San Francisco behind them, the Braves now turn their focus to San Diego, who is coming off a four-game sweep at the hands of the Philadelphia Phillies, and the final three games before heading home.
In Monday’s opener, Derek Lowe looks to bounce back from his rough start Wednesday, as he goes up against Dustin Moseley.
Game 2 pits Jair Jurrjens against Aaron Harang. Jurrjens has been impressive in his first two starts of the year, allowing one run in 13 innings, but Harang, a San Diego native, has been even more impressive, as he sits at 4-0 with a 1.88 ERA.
In the finale, Hanson goes opposite Mat Latos, who is 0-3 so far this year after a very impressive 2010, where the young right hander went 14-10 with a 2.92 ERA .
The Braves are now 4-3 on the 10-game road trip, and are looking to put a few more wins together before heading back to Turner Field, where the St. Louis Cardinals will be waiting.
Three keys to the series
- Continue to dominate the pitching battle
- The starting pitching combined to allow 5 runs against the Giants, and it will be needed even more so against a team looking to break out of a four-game funk
- Don’t think about home too soon
- Being over anxious to return to Atlanta will not do the Braves any good. They need to concentrate on the task at hand before returning home.
- Continue to be patient at the plate
- The Braves walked 16 times against the Giants, a very good number against one of the NL’s best pitching staffs.
Notes: In their first game against the Padres at Petco Park in 2010, the Braves lost 17-2.. Heyward recorded just 7 hits in his previous 14 games.. Chipper went 2-for-3 on his 39th birthday after sitting out Saturday with a problem in his non-surgically repaired knee.. Prado went 3-for-10.. Freeman went 3-for-13.. McLouth went 3-for-10.. It was the Braves first sweep of the season and the third series victory of the young season..