Braves ride big inning to series-clinching win
Freeman, Heyward and Gattis enjoy a stellar day at the plate
ATLANTA -- It took just a turn or two through the batting order for the Braves to recapture their flair for the big inning, one day after the offense came up empty in a streak-snapping shutout.
The Braves used a four-run seventh to break open Sunday afternoon's rubber match with the Marlins to hand starter Mike Minor his team-leading 12th win of the year in a 9-4 victory.
After falling into an early 3-0 hole, the Braves responded on the strength of a three-hit afternoon by catcher Evan Gattis and right fielder Jason Heyward's fourth four-hit game of his career.
"It was one of those days. After yesterday, losing 1-0 on a wild pitch, and the way we started that game I kind of went like, 'Oh, it's going to be one of those days,'" said manager Fredi Gonzalez. "Might be the hottest day we've played so far here, but these guys battled. They're tough, they like to play, they like to compete."
After Joey Terdoslavich drew a leadoff walk to start the bottom of the seventh, Heyward singled to right to push the potential go-ahead run to third. B.J. Upton lined out to left, allowing Terdoslavich to tag and score the go-ahead run easily.
Two batters later, Gattis cranked a double high off the center-field wall, scoring Heyward with his second double of the afternoon. Chris Johnson followed that with a two-run, opposite-field double that crossed up Miami right fielder Giancarlo Stanton in the sun.
The four-run outburst came at the expense of Marlins relievers Dan Jennings and A.J. Ramos, members of a bullpen that had helped Saturday starter Nathan Eovaldi's sterling outing stand up, when the Braves had their 14-game winning streak snapped in a 1-0 loss.
"As an offense, when you get shut out, you want to come back and get things going again, and we were able to do that today," said first baseman Freddie Freeman. "Mikey pitched great. He battled through seven innings, and the bullpen came in and shut it down like they always do. And we were able to put up a couple big innings, get us a W and get us on the right side of the wins column."
Despite the final result, the Atlanta offense needed a few innings to shake the mini-slump brought on by Eovaldi's dominant stuff the night before. After leaving the bases loaded in the fourth inning, the Braves nearly squandered another opportunity with runners in scoring position in the fifth.
Minor led off the inning with a single to shallow center field and moved to second when Heyward laced a single of his own. Justin Upton stepped in and elected on his own to lay down a rare bunt on the first pitch he saw. The ball died in fair territory to the left of the batter's box, but Miami catcher Koyie Hill's throw beat Minor to third base, retiring the lead runner.
"I thought it was a great play," Gonzalez said of Upton's decision. "The guy was giving him the bunt there, and the ball just hit the dirt and kind of spun back to him a little bit."
To make matters worse, Upton pulled up with a cramp in his left hamstring after reaching first on the fielder's choice. He was replaced on the basepaths by his brother.
"With Freddie coming up next, the goal is to load the bases for him," Upton said. "They ended up getting an out out of it, but it's part of the game."
Freeman atoned for the unsuccessful bunt with his 14th home run of the season, a three-run shot to the opposite field. With the homer, Freeman improved his average to .358 (43-for-120) with 60 RBIs with runners in scoring position this season.
"The game got away on that pitch," said Marlins starter Henderson Alvarez. "I wanted to throw a fastball in, and it stayed middle-middle. He got his hands out and hit the ball well."
The Marlins jumped ahead with three runs in the second inning, thanks in part to a pair of shaky plays in the outfield by the Atlanta defense. With one run already on the board, Hill sent a shallow pop fly to right field on which second baseman Dan Uggla appeared to call off Heyward. But Uggla lost the ball in the sun, pushing Marisnick to third.
Alvarez stepped in and roped a sharp line drive to left field, just over the head of Justin Upton, who moved left before tracking back as the ball landed a few feet short of the warning track.
Minor, who had given up a total of five earned runs after the All-Star break heading into Sunday, allowed four runs on six hits and a walk over seven innings.
"I feel like I threw a lot better than the numbers showed," Minor said. "They battled, they had some good hits there, scored some runs early, had the big inning with three runs. But I felt a lot better than I did with the Nationals, it was just a different outcome."
Heyward's RBI single in the eighth brought home outfielder Jordan Schafer, who was making his first start since fouling a ball off his right ankle on June 26, to cap the scoring.
"The way [Heyward] plays the game, the way he goes after it every single day of the season, it's nice and refreshing to see," said Gonzalez.
The Braves improved their record against the young but pesky Marlins to 8-4 this season. They head into the upcoming home series with Philadelphia and Washington playing well enough to recapture the form they showed on the road during their recent unbeaten run. Atlanta hopes to send another emphatic message about the state of the National League East race.
"That's a lot of trust in our guys," said Freeman said. "One through eight, anybody can go over the fence and put runs together. We never panic. I think we lead the league in coming back, so I think that's just a testament to our team. One guy's going to get on, and we're going to get him over and get him in."