PITTSBURGH – Two weeks ago the Braves flew home Seattle after a miserable 0-8 road trip that left them two games over .500 and pretty much dead in the water, in the view of many. The Pittsburgh Pirates might have a hard time believing that today.
The Braves pounded the skidding Pirates for the second night in a row Tuesday, getting five RBIs from Justin Upton and a strong performance from pitcher Aaron Harang in an 11-3 rout at PNC Park, their fifth consecutive win and eighth in 12 games since that winless West Coast trip.
Upton extended his hitting streak to 10 games with a three-run homer in the third inning that gave the Braves a 4-0 lead, and Upton and Jason Heyward had two-run singles in a five-run eighth inning that pushed the lead to 8-1. Evan Gattis also hit his 19th home run for the Braves, a tape-measure shot with bases empty in the ninth.
Harang (10-7) retired nine of the first 10 batters and limited the Pirates to three runs and nine hits in 8 1/3 innings for his first win in eight starts since July 10. Three of the hits he allowed were in the ninth inning.
Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons left in the sixth inning with a sore hip and is questionable for Wednesday’s series finale.
Harang recorded his team-high 21st quality start and improved to 5-1 with a 3.09 ERA in his past 11 starts, a stretch that included four consecutive wins followed by five no decisions and a loss Thursday against the Dodgers in one of his few bad games this season.
The big right-hander is 4-0 in his past six road starts and allowed two earned runs or fewer in five of those games.
The formerly moribund Braves offense awoke last week and is now roaring, having produced five- and six-run innings in the first two games of a three-game series against a Pirates team that’s lost seven in a row and nine of 11. In Monday’s series opener, Heyward and Simmons hit consecutive homers to start the game and the Braves scored six in the first inning.
After outscoring Oakland 15-8 in a three-game sweep of the team that came to Atlanta with the best record in the majors, the Braves have scored 18 runs in two nights against the Pirates. This is the same Braves team that mustered a total of 18 runs in eight games on their historically bad winless trip that ended Aug. 6.
Pirates left-hander Francisco Liriano had a 2.43 ERA and .172 opponents’ average in his past 10 starts before Tuesday, when the Braves rocked him for 10 hits and nine runs (seven earned) in four innings. He faced four batters in the fifth and retired none of them, leaving the game after B.J. Upton’s bases-loaded single off the right-field wall.
Liriano had allowed just two runs and three hits in each of his previous two starts.
The Braves announced their arrival in Pittsburgh with a first-inning scoring blitz Monday, then eased into things a bit Tuesday, scoring the first run of the game in the second inning with some of their recently discovered small ball. Simmons singled with one out, stole second on a B.J. Upton strikeout, then scored on Harang’s single, the first RBI for the veteran pitcher since May 2012.
After consecutive singles by Phil Gosselin and Freddie Freeman in the third inning, Justin Upton smashed his 24th home run and the fourth in his 10-game hitting streak. Upton ranks third in the National League in home runs and RBIs (80).
B.J. Upton doubled to start the fourth inning, advanced on Harang’s sacrifice and scored on a Heyward single for a 5-0 lead. The Braves are 6-1 since Heyward moved back from the fifth spot in the order to leadoff.
The Pirates gave a crowd of 27,033 a glimmer of hope with a run in the fourth inning after Travis Snider’s leadoff double. But the Braves squelched any notion of a Pittsburgh rally by pouring it on the in the fifth. After Chris Johnson reached on an error to start the inning, Gattis singled and Simmons walked to load the bases.
B.J. Upton followed with an opposite-field fly off the wall near the right-field corner, a hit that could’ve cleared the bases if all Braves were running on the play. Gattis instead waited to tag up at second base, a mistake that clogged things up. No matter, Heyward followed one out later with a two-run single, and Justin Upton drove in two more with a single.
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