CHICAGO – After Chris Johnson’s three-run homer in the third inning pushed the Braves’ lead to 7-0, it looked as if Julio Teheran and Co. might breeze through an easy afternoon at Wrigley Field in the last game before the All-Star break.
Ah, but anything can happen when a breeze is swirling at the 100-year-old ballyard on Chicago’s North Side, and the Braves gave manager Fredi Gonzalez a little more late-innings consternation than he hoped for before he headed to Minneapolis with three Braves All-Stars – including Teheran — for Tuesday’s Midsummer Classic.
But after the Braves’ 10-2 lead was whittled to a three-run margin by the Cubs’ five unanswered runs in the seventh and eighth innings, Craig Kimbrel pitched a perfect ninth inning to close out a 10-7 win that gave the Braves a series victory and 52-43 record at the break.
They are tied with Washington atop the National League East standings, and for all their inconsistencies through the season’s figurative first half, the Braves are only two games behind their record through 95 games last season (54-41) on the way to winning the division title.
Teheran (9-6) bounced back from a bad start at New York last week to pitch seven solid innings, allowing seven hits, four runs and two walks with six strikeouts. All of the runs against the Braves ace came on a pair of two-run homers by Arismendy Alcantara – the first of the top prospect’s career – in the sixth inning and Chris Coghlan in the seventh.
Teheran also had an RBI groundout on a chopper to third in the three-run second inning.
Rookie Tommy La Stella had a two-out, three-run double in the seventh inning, Gerald Laird had a two-run double and a big defensive play, and Johnson had three hits including his three-run homer that gave him seven RBIs on three homers in consecutive wins — as many homers as he had hit all season before the series.
Johnson is 17-for-36 (.472) with four homers and 11 RBIs in his past nine games against the Cubs and has a .351 career average with eight homers and 25 RBIs in 40 games against them, including seven homers and 19 RBIs in 24 games at Wrigley Field.
The Braves got seven runs on seven hits and three walks in six innings against Cubs left-hander Travis Wood (7-8), who began the day with a 3.08 ERA and .214 opponents’ average in eight home starts.
After cutting the Braves’ lead to 7-4 on two homers against Teheran, the Cubs scored three runs against Braves relievers in the eighth, beginning with an erratic appearance by left-hander Luis Avilan to complete his erratic first half. Avilan gave up a leadoff single to Anthony Rizzo, then walked Starlin Castro and Luis Valbuena to load the bases with none out.
Gonzalez brought in Shae Simmons, who got a strikeout before the hard-throwing rookie walked a batter to bring in a run, the second bases-loaded walk he issued in the series.
Jordan Walden replaced Simmons and the Braves recorded the second out when a bounced pitch got away from Laird and the veteran backup catcher retrieved it and made an off-balance toss to Walden, who tagged Castro sliding home. Walden gave up a two-run double to John Baker before getting the third out.
Kimbrel retired the side in the ninth on a strikeout and two fly outs for his 29th save in 33 chances. Left fielder Justin Upton recorded the second out on a nice leaping catch, hanging onto the ball after crashing into the unpadded, ivy-covered brick wall.
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