August ends soon. Justin Upton will miss it.
The Braves left fielder continued with his torrid month Friday night, cracking a two-run homer in the sixth inning before delivering a two-out single in the seventh that resulted in two more runs as the Braves beat Miami 5-2 in the first game of a weekend series.
The victory was the Braves’ third straight and 10th in their last 14 games while the Marlins dropped to 2-5 on their current road trip. Closer Craig Kimbrel recorded his 40th save, but not without a nifty 3-6-3 double play for his first two outs.
Upton’s three RBIs (one run in the seventh was unearned) gave him 28 RBIs in 25 games this month, which has been the most productive one of his eight-year career. Eight of his 26 home runs — 31 percent — came come in August.
“I mean, guys in front of me have been getting on base and I’ve been fortunate enough to get some hits,” Upton said. “As far as run-producing, it’s probably been the best (month).”
Atlanta starter Ervin Santana, riding a six-game win streak at Turner Field, was not around to collect on the victory, forced out after six innings with a 104-pitch count. It was not his sharpest outing, but Santana still limited the Marlins to one run on five singles, despite four walks, while striking out seven. He departed with a 2-1 lead.
With a 2-2 score in the telling seventh inning, Jason Heyward, hitting just .154 against left-handers this year, put the Braves up 3-2 with a RBI single off lefty Mike Dunn. After Andrelton Simmons opened the inning with a perfect bunt down the third-base line, pinch-hitter Ramiro Pena singled off first baseman Garrett Jones’ glove, sending Simmons to third.
Facing a drawn-in infield, Heyward fouled off a pair of 2-2 pitches before serving a single through the left side, marking the second straight inning the Braves reclaimed the lead.
“You’re trying to put the ball in play, wherever it is, and not do too much,” Heyward said. “If you get a good pitch to hit, hit it hard somewhere. It wasn’t a big swing, it wasn’t a big hit. It was just something that got us a run.”
Manager Fredi Gonzalez called the single the key hit of the night.
“(Heyward) is sticking his nose in there against left-handed pitching,” Gonzalez said. “I don’t exactly know exactly where that pitch was but he hit the ball hard. It was hit hard where (Miami shortstop Adeiny) Hechavarria didn’t have a chance at it.”
With two outs and two on, Upton worked a count full against hard-throwing Sam Dyson before singling up the middle. Heyward scored on the play and Emilio Bonifacio raced home after center fielder Marcell Ozuna let the ball get by him, the unearned run make the lead 5-2. The Braves scored three times on a bunt and three singles.
“We’re going to have to do that if we’re going to win” Upton said. “Every night is not going to be a three-run homer. We’re going to have to find ways to scratch runs across and we did that tonight.”
No sooner had Santana departed after six than Marlins pinch-hitter Jordany Valdespin cracked an opposite-field home run off reliever David Carpenter for a 2-2 tie. The home run was just Valdespin’s third of the season, coming after Carpenter had allowed just one run in his previous 10 appearances.
“I know Carp has been doing really well for us this month and the last few times out, but everybody needs to be picked up sometimes,” Heyward said. “We picked each other up and it was a good feeling to do so.”
The Braves first claimed the lead in the sixth with the least- and most-expected candidates. Freddie Freeman, who entered the night hitting .059 against Miami this year and who had struck out in his previous two plate appearance, walked to lead off the inning.
Upton then sent a 91-mph Tom Koehler fastball into the stands in center field for a 2-1 lead. The home run was his 17th at Turner Field.
The Marlins only reached Santana in the sixth, following a pair of one-out singles by Casey McGehee and Jones. Ozuna then served a soft double that landed just inside the right field line, scoring McGehee from second. The Braves threw out Jones at the plate on a Heyward-to-Tommy La Stella relay but the 1-0 lead gave Miami the important first run against a team with well-profiled offensive shortcomings.
“You got a guy that’s a Gold Glover in right field and get that ball in as quick as he can, and La Stella too.” Gonzalez said. “It’s not easy. We made it look pretty easy but you got to get two throws off and then a tag at the plate without nobody dropping the ball or nobody throwing the ball anywhere. That was perfect to keep it just a one-run inning there.”
The game remained scoreless through the first five innings. The Braves advanced runners to second base in each of the first three but stranded all of them. The closest either team came to drawing early blood came in the fourth, when Jones flied out to the warning track in center to lead off the inning and Evan Gattis flied out to the warning track in left to open the bottom of the inning.
Santana worked into immediate trouble, walking the bases full with one out in a 32-pitch first inning. After a visit from pitching coach Roger McDowell, he promptly reversed course, striking out Jones on three pitches and inducing a soft line-out to right from Ozuna.
“It was just a normal visit,” Santana said of his talk with McDowell. He faced two batters over the minimum for the next four innings. “He talked to me (about) trying to be patient and not trying to be too fast and too quick with my front side and (I) was able to make that adjustment and get the quick outs.”
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