Braves win fourth straight on Simmons' walk-off hit
B.J. Upton hits tying homer in sixth; Minor solid in no-decision
ATLANTA -- It has been hard for many to understand how the Braves have had so much success while Jason Heyward, Dan Uggla and B.J. Upton have all hit below .200 through the first two months of the season.
But as this past week has progressed, there has at least been some reason to wonder how good the Braves could actually be if Heyward, Uggla and Upton continue to build on their recent success.
Upton drilled a game-tying sixth-inning home run and Uggla capped a two-hit performance with a 10th-inning leadof walk that put him in position to score on Andrelton Simmons' walk-off double in Tuesday night's 5-4 win over the Pirates at Turner Field.
"We're a good all-around ballclub," Upton said. "I think the power overshadows everything else. We have the ability to beat you in any way. We've shown that the last couple of games. Some guys are working some good [at-bats] and getting some little things done."
Uggla walked against Mark Melancon to begin the decisive 10th and took second base when Reed Johnson was hit by a pitch. That set the stage for Simmons to drill his game-winning double to the right-center-field gap.
Simmons, who has batted .356 during his career-high 10-game hitting streak, said he had never previously recorded a walk-off hit at any level of his playing career. His teammates mobbed him in front of second base. After getting doused with water by Kris Medlen, Simmons was carried by Heyward for a few steps back toward the dugout.
"It was a nice feeling," Simmons said. "It was weird seeing everybody run and chase me down. It's kind of an awkward feeling. I didn't know what to do. I think [Jason Heyward] carried me a little bit. He showed me where I had to go. I was kind of lost."
The Braves have won four consecutive games and still lead the Nationals by seven games in the National League East standings. Two of Atlanta's wins during this four-game winning streak have come in walk-off fashion.
This latest thrilling victory came with the assistance of the four scoreless innings Luis Avilan, Jordan Walden, Craig Kimbrel and Anthony Varvaro combined to complete after Braves starting pitcher Mike Minor concluded his six-inning effort.
"It was a good team win," manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "There was a lot of good stuff, pitching-wise, and also offensively."
Before the Majors' top two bullpens did battle, the Braves struggled to solve Pirates starter Jeff Locke, who was once a promising prospect in their organization.
Four years and one day after being traded by the Braves in the deal that brought Nate McLouth from Pittsburgh to Atlanta, Locke had reason to be pleased with the outing he produced against his former organization. The only runs Locke surrendered before exiting in the sixth inning were scored courtesy of Freddie Freeman's opposite-field two-run double that skipped over the third-base bag and went to left field with two outs in the third inning.
Locke's impressive effort ended when Uggla hit his 103rd pitch of the night to left field for a two-out single in the sixth. Instead of having his young left-handed starter face Upton, manager Clint Hurdle chose to go with right-handed reliever Ryan Reid, who made his Major League debut on Monday.
Upton looked at the first two fastballs he saw and then deposited Reid's third one over the center-field wall. The game-tying two-run shot was Upton's sixth home run of the season and second in his past three games. After completing a two-hit performance with a walk-off single in Saturday's win over the Nationals, Upton homered in his first at-bat on Sunday. While his batting average still rests at .154, he is starting to show the potential the Braves saw when they gave him a franchise-record $75.25 million contract in November.
"I've always been confident," Upton said. "Going up to the plate, I felt like I was going to get a hit every time. Obviously, it wasn't happening. I'm just starting to see some results and that's a good thing."
Upton's homer took the potential of a tough-luck loss away from Minor, who allowed two earned runs and two unearned runs while scattering four hits over six innings. Minor surrendered solo home runs to Gaby Sanchez and his former Vanderbilt teammate, Pedro Alvarez. Minor was also harmed by an Uggla error that led to two runs in the third inning.
Uggla's inability to cleanly handle Clint Barmes' chopper to begin the third extended the inning long enough for Jordy Mercer and Andrew McCutchen to produce consecutive two-out doubles.
"I felt I did a really good job tonight of attacking hitters and getting strike one and strike two," Minor said. "Then I would make a bad pitch when I had them in my count."