The Braves made sure they wouldn’t go winless against the Dodgers in 2014 by beating them Wednesday night, with Ervin Santana and Andrelton Simmons taking care of the essentials before Craig Kimbrel pulled out a bases-loaded escape in the ninth.
Simmons drove in two runs in his return to the lineup, and Santana struck out nine in six strong innings to extend two personal winning streaks and help the Braves snap their five-game skid against the Dodgers with a 3-2 win at Turner Field.
The win was just the third in 14 games for the Braves, who lost all five games against the Dodgers during that span.
Kimbrel made things interesting in the ninth inning, walking pinch-hitter Andre Ethier before Dee Gordon’s bunt single. Kimbrel struck out Yasiel Puig – his fourth strikeout of the game – before Adrian Gonzalez singled to left field and Justin Upton threw to second base instead of third, where they had a chance to get Ethier who had hesitated.
With the bases loaded, Kimbrel induced a 4-6-3 game-ending double-play grounder from Matt Kemp, and the Braves portion of a crowd of 33,299 could breath a collective sigh of relief.
Santana (12-6) won his fifth consecutive decision and sixth consecutive home start, allowing eight hits, two runs and two walks in six innings and improving to 7-1 in his past nine starts, including 5-0 with a 2.70 ERA in his past six.
He won a duel with Dodgers left-hander Hyun-Jin Ryu (13-6), who gave up three runs, six hits and two walks in 5 2/3 innings before leaving the game with a gluteus muscle strain.
The Braves improved to 3-3 on their 10-game homestand and can salvage a split of their four-game series with the Dodgers by winning Thursday afternoon’s finale, before the American League West-leading Oakland Athletics come to town.
Simmons, after missing six starts with a sprained ankle, drove in a run with a groundout in his first at-bat, and singled in the tying run his next time up in the fourth inning. Justin Upton’s fifth-inning single proved to be the game-winning RBI.
After striking out 99 times in their past nine games, including 23 times in the first two games of this series, Braves hitters tried some small ball in the second inning – and it worked. After Evan Gattis lined a double over the head of center fielder Puig to start the inning, Chris Johnson laid down a sacrifice bunt for just the third time in his career and second time this season.
Simmons’ grounder to second base trimmed the Dodgers’ lead to 2-1.
The Braves tied it with a run in the fourth on an Upton walk and a pair of two-out singles by Johnson and Simmons, who reached out to get a 1-0 changeup off the plate and poked it to right field.
The Braves, who’ve had considerable difficulty scoring runs without home runs, were on a run-manufacturing roll now and kept it going in the fifth when they scored without benefit of an extra-base hit. Jason Heyward had a one-out single and Freddie Freeman was hit by a pitch before Upton hit a two-out, opposite-field single through the right side for a 3-2 lead.
Santana improved to 6-0 with a 2.66 ERA in his past six home starts, and began in dominant fashion by striking out the side – Gordon, Puig, Gonzalez — in the first inning on 14 pitches. Puig struck out in all three plate appearances against Santana.
It was a matchup of two of the National League’s hottest pitchers, as Ryu entered with a 4-0 record and 1.91 ERA in his past five starts. The left-hander has been one of the league’s top road pitchers in 2014, with a 9-2 record and 2.61 ERA in 12 starts away from Dodgers Stadium before Wednesday.
On the other hand, Santana has done his best work at home, going 8-2 in 11 home starts before Wednesday and bringing that five-start home winning streak into his matchup with Ryu and a Dodgers team that’s dominated the Braves going back to October.
After no Dodger could touch him in the first inning, Santana didn’t miss many bats in the second. He gave up three consecutive hits to start the inning including Kemp’s leadoff double off the wall and Carl Crawford’s RBI single. Santana induced a double-play grounder by A.J. Ellis, but No. 8 hitter Miguel Rojas singled to drive in another run for a 2-0 lead.
Ryu followed with a two-out single, the fourth hit by a Dodgers starting pitcher in three games. Santana got out of the inning without further damage when Gordon grounded out to strand two runners. And then, he switched back to highly effective mode.
Santana struck out two in a perfect third inning and got Ryu to ground out with two runners on to end the fourth, after allowing a two-out double by Ellis and walking Rojas. He gave up a leadoff single to Gordon in the fifth, but struck out Kemp with Gordon at third base to end the inning.
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