It had been 2-1/2 months since B.J. Upton hit a home run, and almost as long since Mike Minor gave up multiple homers.
Both streaks ended Saturday, the former helping offset the latter before the Braves pulled out a 5-4 win against the Marlins on Upton’s walk-off single with two out in the 11th inning at Turner Field.
Upton and Chris Johnson had four hits apiece for the Braves, each getting a big hit in the 11th as the Braves pushed their winning streak to six games. Coupled with the Nationals’ loss to the Mets, the Braves’ victory reduced their magic number to 13 to clinch the National League East title.
Any combination of Atlanta wins and Washington losses totaling 13 will give the Braves their first division crown since 2005.
Upton had been mired in a 4-f0r-42 slump with one RBI and 21 strikeouts, including strikeouts in his first two at-bats Saturday before he collected four consecutive hits including a two-run homer to tie in the sixth. His walk-off single came a 1-1 slider from right-hander Ryan Webb, which Upton drove the other way to right-center.
“It’s a start,” he said. “I’ve been working hard all year, and I’m finally starting to see some consistent results. Our season’s not over. Just going to keep playing, keep working hard and sticking with what I’m doing.”
With their league-leading 40th comeback win, the Braves improved to 12-5 in extra-innings games and raised their majors-best records to 83-52 overall and 49-18 at home. They’ve gotten to this point with plenty of production from team home-run leader Justin Upton, but little from his older brother, who was batting .186 before Saturday.
“The first couple of months of the season he’s had tough months,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “But nobody remembers when you did in April, May and June if everything goes well and we go where we want to go and he continues swinging the bat, that’s what he’s going to be remembered by.”
The Braves are 18-3 in their past 21 home games and have four left on a nine-game homestand, with the Mets due in next after Sunday’s series finale with the Marlins. Their 10th walk-off win was also the Braves’ 22nd win in their final at-bat, second-most in the majors.
After Johnson’s one-out single in the 11th, he advanced on Brian McCann’s groundout. Dan Uggla walked before B.J. Upton singled to right field to drive in pinch-runner Paul Janish with the winning run.
Upton had four hits Aug. 7 against Washington, and four hits Saturday. In between those four-hit games, he went 4-f0r-40. But the slender veteran has hit safely in his past four games, and hit several balls on the nose Saturday, including his opposite-field single to right-center that brought his teammates streaming out of the dugout to mob him.
“You just keep at it, keep grinding,” Upton said, when asked about remaining positive despite the season-long struggles and strikeouts in his first two at-bats Saturday. “My teammates have been behind me all year. They haven’t given up on me, and that’s a good part of it. I’ve had their support all year, and it’s meant a lot to me.”
The Braves were in position to win in the 10th, after Upton hit a leadoff single and advanced on Andrelton Simmons’ sacrifice bunt. But then pinch-hitter Justin Upton grounded out, and after Jordan Schafer was walked intentionally, pinch-hitter Gerald Laird struck out to end the inning.
The Braves went 3-for-11 with runners in scoring position and left 15 runners on base.
“I think at one point we had left a small village out there,” Gonzalez said. “In regulation it was like nine or 10 guys on base. We had some situations. You always think that way — we didn’t get that add-on run, those kinds of things are going to come back and haunt you. It didn’t today; our bullpen was really, really good.”
The Braves trailed 3-1 before Upton put a charge in a two-run homer to center in the sixth inning. It snapped a string of 142 homerless at-bats since he hit two June 15 against the Giants.
Minor gave up five hits — including homers by Justin Ruggiano and Mike Stanton — four runs and one walk with six strikeouts in seven innings. He got no decision and has a 5-1 record and 2.95 ERA in his past 10 starts, although the left-hander has allowed four runs three times in his past four starts and has a 5.40 ERA in that span.
“Shaky first inning,” Minor said. “I feel like after that it was pretty good. I made some bad pitches to Ruggiano and Stanton, and they took them the other way for home runs.”
Ruggiano homered on a full-count fastball with two out in the first inning, after Stanton walked.
Stanton started the fourth inning with an opposite-field homer on a 1-1 fastball away, his 18th. Stanton is 3-for-16 with three homers and eight walks against Minor, who got him out on a pop-up to end the sixth inning.
Before Saturday, Stanton had a .135 average and no homers in 12 games against the Braves this season, with 16 walks and 13 strikeouts. The homer was just the second for the Marlins slugger in 22 career games at Turner Field.
Minor retired the next nine batters before Ruggiano’s leadoff single in the seventh. One ground out later, Ruggiano scored on a Logan Morrison single to put the Marlins back in front, 4-3.
The Braves answered again with a run in the bottom of the inning on a pair of two-out hits by Johnson and McCann.
They had a chance to take a lead after loading the bases when Dan Uggla followed McCann with a walk and Upton reached on an infield single that ate up second baseman Ed Lucas. But the Braves left the bases full for the second time in three innings when Andrelton Simmons struck out.
Johnson had popped out with the bases loaded to end the fifth inning.
After Ruggiano’s two-run homer, the Braves but the lead in half in the bottom of the first on Freeman’s sacrifice fly. Jordan Schafer had reached on an error to start the inning, stole second base, and advanced on an Elliot Johnson sacrifice.
Elliot Johnson also made a couple of outstanding catches in left field in his first start at that position since the Braves got the utility man off waivers from Kansas City just over a week ago.
The Braves loaded the bases in the fifth, beginning with a one-out single by Minor, who has nine hits and six RBIs this season. Schafer reached on a sacrifice bunt when pitcher Jacob Turner made two errors — one fielding, one throwing – on the play to put runners on the corners with one out. Turner had three errors in the game.
After Schafer’s 17th stolen base, Elliot Johnson struck out with two in scoring position. Turner fell behind in the count 2-0 against Freeman before intentionally walking him, bringing up Chris Johnson with the bases loaded. He popped out to the second baseman to strand three with the Braves still trailing 3-1.
For the Braves, the scoring output was their highest since a 5-2 win at St. Louis on Sunday. They won the next four games while totaling just 10 runs, winning by scores of 2-0, 3-2 and 3-1 in a sweep against Cleveland, and 2-1 in Friday’s series opener against Miami.
The lackluster offense had been offset for the past week by superb pitching, with the Braves posting a 1.20 ERA and allowing only six runs during five consecutive wins before Saturday.