Justin time! Clutch homer stings Mets
Slugger's late jack helps Braves survive Kimbrel's hiccup
NEW YORK -- It proved to be much more interesting than desired after Ervin Santana extended the dominance of Atlanta's starting rotation with his latest gem, but Justin Upton's late-inning contributions allowed the Braves to overcome Craig Kimbrel's rocky return to the mound.
Upton's three-run home run off Jose Valverde in the top of the ninth proved to be enough for the Braves to claim a 7-5 win over the Mets despite the fact that Kimbrel allowed a pair of runs in the bottom half of the final inning on Saturday night at Citi Field.
"You never know how a game is going to go," Upton said. "You just have to continue to pitch, play defense, put together good at-bats and see what happens in the end. You just have to keep playing the game."
A three-run advantage was reduced when the Mets scored a pair of runs off David Carpenter in the eighth inning. When Upton pushed Atlanta's advantage back to four runs with his three-run shot to straightway center field in the ninth, it appeared Kimbrel was going to have plenty of breathing room while making his first appearance in a week.
But nothing came easy for Kimbrel as he battled the rust that had developed while he spent the early portion of this week dealing with a sore right shoulder. The usually dominant closer surrendered three hits, issued a walk and threw just 13 of his 24 pitches for strikes before being removed with two outs in the ninth.
After surrendering David Wright's RBI double and Chris Young's two-out RBI single, Kimbrel loaded the bases by walking Lucas Duda. This prompted the entry of Jordan Walden. Walden ended the game by getting Travis d'Arnaud to ground out to Andrelton Simmons, who made a nice backhand stop and throw to first base.
"I couldn't get the curveball over at first, and then I started throwing fastballs over the plate," Kimbrel said. "When you do that, it makes for a tough inning."
Kimbrel was visibly upset when he was removed the game. But after his club won for the seventh time in the past eight games, he apologized to Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez for his spirited on-field actions, which included him appearing to say, "You're taking me out?" Gonzalez did not seem bothered.
"That's what makes him good," Gonzalez said. "At that point of the game, he didn't care about his arm or anything other than finishing that inning. That's why Roger [McDowell] and I get the big bucks to take care of him and all of the guys."
The struggles experienced by Kimbrel and Carpenter came long after Freddie Freeman had continued to frustrate the Mets by producing a trio of hits and driving in his club's first three runs. Freeman's contributions aided Santana, who limited the damage during his seven-inning performance to a first-inning run. This marked the seventh straight game that a Braves starting pitcher allowed fewer than two runs .
"We always talk about the last couple of innings, and they almost overshadowed Santana's performance and how well he pitched," Gonzalez said. "It got a little crazy those last couple of innings."
Upton singled and eventually scored on Daisuke Matsuzaka's wild pitch in the eighth inning. One inning later, just before Upton homered for the fifth time in his past 33 at-bats, Valverde opted to issue a two-out intentional walk to Freeman, who has has batted .378 (34-for-90) with a 1.118 OPS over the past 23 games he has played against the Mets.
"The Mets always play us tough," Upton said. "Every time we play them, they scrap with us. Every run we can get is definitely important."
Santana was nowhere near as dominant as he was when he delivered eight scoreless innings against the Mets in his April 9 season debut, during which he began the game by throwing 20 straight strikes. The veteran hurler opened this latest start by issuing a a leadoff walk to Eric Young Jr., who stole second base and eventually scored when Wright sent a one-out single past a drawn-in Atlanta infield.
"It was a little bit difficult, but I made my pitches and I got out of jams," said Santana who allowed at least one runner to reach second base in four of his seven innings.
Wright's single accounted for the only damage incurred by Santana, who has allowed two earned runs in the 21 innings that have encompassed his first three starts. His contributions have proven valuable to the Atlanta's rotation, which has produced a Major League-best 1.46 ERA through this season's first 17 games.
"He uses the aggressiveness of the hitters," Gonzalez said. "He doesn't give in. He makes great pitches with his breaking pitches and secondary pitches. He commands those pitches and he doesn't give in."