ST. LOUIS – What was supposed to be a challenging, three-city trip through Denver, Chicago and St. Louis turned out to be a joyride for the Braves, who just swept the defending World Series champion Cardinals on Sunday to finish out the trip 7-2.
The Braves worked their offensive game plan to perfection Sunday for a 7-4 win to complete their first three-game sweep at Busch Stadium since Sept. 11-13, 2009. They drove in all seven of their runs with two outs and chased starter Lance Lynn after six innings and 121 pitches.
“We’ve been doing it all year,” said Freddie Freeman, who went 2-for-4 with two doubles. “Go up there, get a good pitch to hit. If not, take it. (Lynn) was a little wild in the beginning, and we made him work.”
The game wasn’t as close as the score would indicate, but Allen Craig hit a three-run home run in the ninth inning off Cristhian Martinez, with the Cardinals down to their last strike of the game.
Tommy Hanson outpitched the next big thing to come out the Cardinals rotation – the rookie Lynn, who lost for the first time in seven starts this season. Lynn, now 6-1, watched his ERA climb from 1.40, third-best in the National League, to 1.81.
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Jason Heyward supplied the early firepower, driving in more runs in one bases-loaded swing (three) than Lynn had allowed in any of his first six starts. And Heyward’s three-run double in the third inning gave Hanson (4-3) the support he needed for his first win since April 27 against Pittsburgh.
Hanson had a season-high nine strikeouts through five innings and didn’t allow a run until the sixth inning. But Carlos Beltran revved up the Cardinals offense with a solo home run to right field to lead off the sixth and start a barrage of three straight hits to end Hanson’s day.
Relievers Chad Durbin and Eric O’Flaherty held the Cardinals there, as O’Flaherty came through with two strikeouts to work around an infield hit and leave the bases loaded.
“When the starter does a good job like that, the last thing you want to do is cash [runs] in,” O’Flaherty said. “Just stay positive and keep throwing strikes.”
Beltran homered three times in the series, including twice on Friday night, to give him 13 on the season and move him ahead of Dodger Matt Kemp (12) for the National League lead.
The Braves moved to 14-8 on the road this season, giving them the most road wins in the major leagues, ahead of the Texas Rangers (13). They’ll play the next four games at Turner Field, before heading back out for Tampa Bay and Cincinnati, starting Friday.
“We’re playing good all-around baseball,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “The constant is we’re swinging the bat pretty good.”
Hanson heads back to Atlanta feeling pretty good, after showing more life on his fastball than he had in recent starts. He spent more time in the 90-91 mph range on Sunday and touched 93, instead of dwelling so much around 88 and 89 mph. He commanded his fastball too which made his nasty array of offspeed pitches that much more effective.
Hanson righted himself after a wobbly start in the first inning. He walked the first two batters he faced and watched both move into scoring position on stolen bases. But Hanson struck out the heart of the Cardinals order – Beltran, Allen Craig and Lance Berkman – to strand runners at second and third and change the course of his day.
“The first two hitters I was feeling around in the zone,” Hanson said. “You’re not going to be successful doing that. Once I stopped doing that, I was OK.”
Offensively, Sunday played out like a microcosm of what’s been good about this Braves season. The Braves practiced patience at the plate, worked the big right-hander Lynn, and reaped the benefits of an improved approach from Heyward.
Heyward came to the plate with the bases loaded and two outs in the third inning, after a Prado single and back-to-back walks from Freddie Freeman and Dan Uggla. Heyward worked the count for 10 pitches, fouling off six of them, until he got one to his liking. Then Heyward rifled a 94 mph fastball into right field to clear the bases and give the Braves a 3-0 lead.
Lynn was at 81 pitches by the time he finished the third inning.
“It was a battle,” Heyward said of his 10-pitch at-bat. “I was trying to keep getting better timing with every pitch, hoping I’d get a pitch to hit and hit it. I know it took a lot out of him.”
Freeman went 2-for-4 with two doubles, a walk and two runs scored to move to 5-for-8 with three extra-base hits, two RBIs and four runs scored in his two Mother’s Day games. Freeman wore pink spikes for breast cancer awareness and in honor of his mother Rosemary who died of melanoma when Freeman was 10.
The Braves had only trailed for two innings in the series, after the cardinals went up 6-5 in the fifth inning on Friday night, before Dan Uggla tied it with a home run in the top of the seventh.