Five solo shots power Braves to 10th straight win
ATLANTA -- It looked like the Braves had finally found that ditch that all baseball teams are in danger of careening into. Oh well, the roll couldn't last forever, could it? After nine straight wins, the unlikely was bound to happen to blunt Atlanta's early-season charge to the top of the National League East. A random guy would hit a home run for the first time in 954 at bats, the Braves would make three errors, and that would be that, end of the streak.
But with the suddenness of a late afternoon summer shower, the Braves continued their early-season roll. Tied in the bottom of the eighth and facing one of the hardest throwers in baseball, Atlanta, the best team in baseball so far this season, erupted. Jason Heyward clobbered a solo home run off Kansas City's Kelvin Herrera. Justin Upton belted another pitch 20 rows deep in left field, and Dan Uggla hit what he called his "baby home run."
On a night when it seemed like the Braves might finally take a rest from their early season spree, they beat the Royals, 6-3, before a rollicking crowd of 26,400, who sounded more like 35,000, at Turner Field.
"These runs don't come too often, and you've got to ride the wave as long as you can ride it," Uggla said. "There is a great vibe in the clubhouse. We're going to keep going. We're going to keep riding it."
The Braves lead the Majors in team ERA, and pitching has clearly been the force behind the 12-1 start. There has been some power in the bats, but not a lot of efficiency. The Braves were hitting .258 coming into the game. They were hit-and-miss with strikeouts, Heyward and Uggla were scuffling and first baseman Freddie Freeman was out of the lineup with an injury. You wondered. What would happen if the club started to hit? Heyward was batting .095 when he belted his home run. Uggla was hitting .171 and still the Braves were winning.
"We're still kind starting the process of figuring it out as a collective team," Uggla said, which sounds ominous if you are the rest of the National League.
Heyward, to be sure, was not as dreadful at the plate as his sub-.100 average suggested. His hard-hit balls were landing in gloves as outs.
The shot Heyward hit in the eighth had no chance of landing in a glove. Herrera, who had struck out 11 in 5.1 innings and can hit 98-99-100 mph, threw a 98-mph fastball that was hit high and far to break the 2-2 tie.
"It reminds me of a similar start to a season I've had before," Heyward said. "You've just got to keep putting up good at-bats, hitting the ball hard. It felt great. It put us up."
Upton followed with his shot off a Herrera changeup and it was 4-2. It was his eighth homer of the season. Then came Uggla's home run and the crowd chanted and chopped with the fervor of the mid-90s crowds at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. The Braves lead the big leagues in home runs with 25, and there is a sense that they have not yet hit their stride at the plate.
"I've been around them now two months. You know the power is there," said manager Fredi Gonzalez. "It doesn't surprise me. It's nice to have that type of arsenal in your club; it's a game changer."
Lost in the bedlam of the eighth were the two home runs by third baseman Juan Francisco off Kansas City starter Jeremy Guthrie, who had not lost in 13 starts.
Francisco's home run in the seventh over the center-field fence tied the score, 2-2. It was a relief for him because his throwing error helped the Royals score an unearned run in the fourth and take a 2-1 lead off Atlanta starter Kris Medlen.
Medlen, who has the Braves' only loss this season, did not factor in the decision, but he pitched well enough to win. He went seven innings and gave up six hits and struck out five. Medlen threw 99 pitches, 73 for strikes
Chris Getz, the Royals second baseman and No. 8 hitter, homered in the top of the third. It was Getz's first homer in 954 at-bats, his first since 2009 when he hit one off Guthrie, then pitching for the Orioles. It tied the score at 1.
Jeff Francoeur, the former Brave, drove in a run in the fourth to make it 2-1 before Francisco clubbed his second home run in the seventh to tie it again.
Then came the home run barrage in the eighth, but unfortunately for the Braves it was not the end of the drama.
Reliever Luis Avilan came on to finish off the Royals in the top of the ninth, but with one out he collapsed in agony in front of the mound. Avilan had to be helped off the field.
"Obviously the way he fell down there, it doesn't look good. We think it's a hamstring," Gonzalez said.