MILWAUKEE – Bases loaded, none out in the 12th inning of a tie game. The Braves’ Gordon Beckham needed to put the ball in play, preferably in the outfield and fairly deep.
He did that and then some.
Beckham’s sacrifice fly to the center-field warning track drove in the decisive run in a 4-3 series-opening win against the Brewers Monday night at Miller Park. It was the ninth win in 13 games for the Braves, who got homers from Nick Markakis and A.J. Pierzynski and another solid performance from Rob Whalen in his second major league start.
“(Beckham) put a good swing on that ball, knocked the heck out of it,” said Braves interim manager Brian Snitker, whose squad is 24-24 since mid-June. “Almost a great catch in center field, but exactly what you need to do, get the ball in the air right there
The Braves, who had loaded the bases in the 12th against Carlos Torres — a veteran they released in the spring — had a chance to do more damage in the inning when Beckham’s fly ball was dropped by center fielder Keon Broxton, allowing Beckham to reach first and the bases to remain loaded.
A.J. Pierzynski, who homered earlier, grounded to first base to start a 3-2-3 double play against former Braves reliever Blaine Boyer, and Chase d’Arnaud popped out to end the inning.
Broxton singled against closer Jim Johnson with out in the 12th and stole second, but Johnson struck out Martin Maldonado and induced a game-ending ground out by Ramon Flores to convert a seventh consecutive save in his past eight appearances.
“We’re in a good spot, for sure,” Beckham said. “When you get (hard-throwing rookie Mauricio) Cabrera and Jim coming out (in innings) eight and nine now, it’s more of a lockdown situation than it was at the beginning of the year. There’s some good things happening. Things are turning around a little bit.”
After giving up four runs in five innings to win his major league debut Wednesday against the Pirates, Whalen pitched better and longer and got no decision, working six innings and allowing five hits and three runs including a two-run homer by Martin Maldonado in the fifth inning for a 3-3 tie.
After giving up four runs in the opening inning of his first start, Whalen has allowed six hits, four runs and three walks with 11 strikeouts in his past 10 innings. He only walked one and struck out seven Monday, after issuing four walks against the Pirates.
“He did his job,” Braves left fielder Matt Kemp, who had two hits and drew a leadoff walk to start the 12th-inning raly. “The first game he threw he just had one bad inning. But he kept us in the game, made his pitches, kept us in there.”
“I pitched with a lot more confidence today,” said Whalen, who also got his first major league hit, a fifth-inning single “I wasn’t as nervous and jittery going into today, just was more relaxed and trying to be as aggressive as possible in the strike zone.”
Whalen paid a price for his only walk Monday, to Chris Carter to start the fifth inning. One out later, Maldonado homered and a two-run lead was gone.
Brewers counterpart Zach Davies was 4-0 with a 1.97 ERA in his past five starts before Monday, allowing two earned runs or fewer in each of those games and no homers in that span. Against the Braves, he gave up three runs and eight hits/
Ender Inciarte extended his career-best hitting streak to 19 games for the Braves with a fifth-inning single, and revived Erick Aybar extended his streak to 13 games with an eighth-inning single.
Markakis snapped Davies’ homerless streak with a solo shot in the second inning for the game’s first run, and had a ground-rule double in the 12th after Kemp’s leadoff walk. Markakis has five homers in his past 27 games and has hit .306 with 31 RBIs in 57 games since June 5.
The Brewers answered with a run in the bottom of the second when Hernan Perez hit a one-out single, stole second and scored on Keon Broxton’s two-out single.
Whalen struck out the other three batters he faced in the second inning, and struck out Jonathan Villar to start the third, giving him six strikeouts in the first 10 batters he faced, including Villar twice.
The Braves reclaimed the lead with a run in the fourth on Kemp’s single, after a one-out double by Freddie Freeman that featured a creative slide by Freeman to avoid the tag going into second base, then a full extension of his long arm to reach for the base and avoid the tag again after over-sliding the base. He inadvertenly cleated the second-base umpire on the slide, slowing Freeman’s momentum and preventing him from sliding too far past the base to be able to reach back.