Braves start off hot, then hold on late for win
Final out in series-opening victory vs. Reds confirmed by replay
ATLANTA -- Justin Upton provided another early power spark and Freddie Freeman once again showed his value extends far beyond what he provides with his bat. But Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez did not feel a sense of relief until an instant-replay review confirmed Craig Kimbrel had indeed escaped his latest jam.
The Braves essentially celebrated Friday night's 5-4 win over the Reds twice. They were relieved when Freeman used his long wingspan to secure Chris Johnson's throw while keeping his right foot on first base as he fell to the ground. But they did not exhale until a replay review confirmed first-base umpire Vic Carapazza's out call to end the game.
"I didn't know until I saw the replay on the board and I felt a little relieved," Gonzalez said. "But you just never know how they are going to come out from under the headset. I've seen plays where they had a better angle or another feed. But from the feeds I saw on the board, he was clearly out."
Reds manager Bryan Price agreed with the confirmation that concluded the first game in Major League history to end with a replay review. It certainly didn't look like this dramatic ending was in the cards when the Braves gained an early five-run advantage with the help of Upton's three-run, first-inning home run off Homer Bailey.
"We go out and get five runs early," Gonzalez said. "In the pit of your stomach, you're thinking this is a good-hitting club and we've got some opportunities and we haven't added on after the third. Sure enough, they got first and second with nobody out there in the ninth inning."
After experiencing his second straight disappointing outing on Monday, Kimbrel worked a perfect ninth inning in Wednesday's win over the Marlins. But the Braves' dominant closer was once again staring at trouble when he allowed the first two Reds he faced to reach safely. Two outs later, Joey Votto sent a chopper toward Johnson, who fired to first base and then watched Freeman save him with his game-ending stretch. If Freeman had not kept contact with the bag as he secured Johnson's throw, the Reds would have likely tied the game courtesy of Roger Bernadina, who was racing toward the plate as Freeman completed his stretch.
"The Reds guy [Votto] has gotten some accolades defensively," Gonzalez said. "But Freeman, I'll put him up there with him defensively. He doesn't get as much credit as he deserves."
With wins in 10 of their past 14 games, the Braves have improved their National League East-leading record to 15-7, matching the same mark they posted through last year's first 22 games. Much of this success has come courtesy of a starting rotation that had allowed more than two earned runs in just one of the previous 21 games.
Ervin Santana halted this dominant trend as he allowed the Reds four earned runs and nine hits over 6 2/3 innings. Santana had surrendered just two runs over his first three starts of the season, and it looked like he might produce another gem as he needed just 58 pitches to get through the first five innings in scoreless fashion.
Santana benefited from Jason Heyward's strong throw that denied Votto's bid to tag and score on Jay Bruce's flyout after the Reds had put runners on first and third with one out in the first inning. The Reds squandered their second double of the night in the second inning and did not crack the scoreboard until the sixth inning, which began with a Votto walk that was followed by a Brandon Phillips double.
"I didn't have my best stuff," said Santana, who saw his ERA rise from 0.86 to 1.95. "I didn't have my offspeed location until the third inning."
The Reds tallied a pair of runs in the sixth and two more in the seventh with the help of Billy Hamilton's two-out RBI double that ended Santana's night. Luis Avilan allowed the speedy Hamilton to score on Votto's single. But David Carpenter stopped the bleeding in the seventh and Jordan Walden worked a perfect eighth to extend the recent success of the Braves' bullpen, which has allowed just one earned run over 17 innings dating back to Sunday.
"They've done a great job," Upton said of the bullpen. "They've come in the game and gotten big outs when we needed them. We call them our backbone and they have done that as of late."
Freeman entered the game confident that he had overcome the vision problems that had plagued him as he had recorded one hit in his previous 17 at-bats. Along with providing the game-saving defensive gem he contributed three hits, including a third-inning leadoff single that put him in position to score on Evan Gattis' single.
But the big offensive blow came courtesy of Upton, who has now homered in the first inning of three of his past seven home starts. The surging Braves left fielder has batted .353 (18-for-51) with six home runs in his past 14 games.
"I'm just getting it going," Upton said. "Obviously it takes a little while to get going once the season starts. But I started to feel better and it's going well."