Talk about picking yourself up and dusting yourself off.
On a trip that started with a series split in Washington to fall out of first place and was nearing a close with Saturday’s day-night doubleheader against a Phillies team that just swept them at home, the Braves responded with a sweep of their own.
The Braves won the day game 10-3, and the night cap 5-1 to go up 3-0 in the weekend series and reclaim at least a share of first place with the Nationals.
“It’s a long day, definitely and it’s not something you look forward to, playing two in one day,” said Chris Johnson, who went 3-for-4 in Game 2 and drove in the go-ahead run with a two-out single. “But to come out with two wins, you can’t complain at all.”
The Braves did all this on a day when they weren’t sure what they would get from their cleanup hitter and primary catcher Evan Gattis, who left Friday’s game with back spasms. About 1 p.m. they decided to fly catching prospect Christian Bethancourt up from Triple-A Gwinnett just in time to make his first major league start behind the plate Saturday night.
It helped that the Braves got the starting pitching they needed, closer Craig Kimbrel never broke a sweat, and Tommy La Stella swung his way out of a slump.
“The first day catching, it was exciting,” Bethancourt said. “I was looking forward to that day for a long time, and it finally got here, and I think it went pretty well.”
Bethancourt responded with his major league hit on an infield single, which just sort of fit with the theme of the day.
Somewhere over the course of these two games, and the latter part of this trip, the Braves became run-manufacturing fiends. They scored 15 runs Saturday and only one – Ryan Doumit’s solo shot in the eighth inning of Game 2 – came via the home run.
Jordan Schafer led off the second game with an infield hit, stole second and scored on a Justin Upton single. The Braves scored three more with five straight two-out hits in the sixth inning, featuring a two-run double by La Stella.
“We hit some balls in the gap with people on base,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “We kept the line moving, which is something we’ve always been preaching about and it’s nice to see it.”
La Stella, who broke an 0-for-23 in the first game with a bases-clearing triple, doubled twice in the night cap. Bethancourt followed with a ground ball to the hole off left-hander Mario Hollands, which shortstop Jimmy Rollins pocketed long enough to throw toward the Braves dugout as a keepsake.
On a day when you’re always concerned about conserving pitching, the Braves got 6 2/3 innings from Ervin Santana, and 10 runs in Game 1 so they could save their bullpen for Game 2.
Then David Hale went five innings in a spot start in Game 2, allowing one run, on 74 pitches, which was the best-case scenario as far as the Braves were concerned.
“David Hale gave us everything he had,” Gonzalez said. “So much so that we were thinking about running him back out there (in the sixth)…To go through a doubleheader and use as minimal a number of pitchers as we used, you’ve got to feel pretty good about our club right now.”
Santana rediscovered a little of his “Magic” in the first game, the nickname he introduced to his teammates early this spring that fit with the dominant pitching he brought to an injury-riddled Braves rotation.
He limited the Phillies to two runs in 6 2/3 innings and then sat back and watched the Braves break the game open with a five-run eighth to help snap his three-game losing streak.
“It’s about time,” said Santana, smiling, who hadn’t won since May 31 in Miami.
His batterymate Gerald Laird had just said before the game that Santana’s been battling, the Braves just needed to score him some runs. He got them in spades on Saturday.
Justin Upton had two of his four hits in Game 1, and drove in three runs. La Stella hit a bases-clearing triple to snap an 0-for-23 streak with his first major league triple to fuel the five-run eighth.
The 10 runs matched the Braves biggest offensive output since their 13-10 win June 10 in the light air of Colorado. Freddie Freeman scored four runs in the game without getting a hit – only the 10th player to do that since 1975. He drew three walks and reached on an error.
The Braves got their offense going in the first game with a little help from Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard. His errors on back-to-back plays in the fourth helped the Braves score their first two runs off Roberto Hernandez. Upton didn’t need much help to get their next two off him in the sixth. He smoked a ball off the Gulf sign in left center field for a two-run double, giving the Braves a 4-2 lead.
Johnson, who has been double-play prone this season, broke through with the bases loaded and one out in the eighth inning to drive in the first of five runs off left-handed reliever Antonio Bastardo. He grounded a single just out of the reach of shortstop Ronny Cedeno into left field.
La Stella followed with his slump buster, with two strikes against him from Bastardo.
“I over-swung on that one fastball that I swung through, so I was really conscious of slowing myself down and making sure that I put something in play and at least get a sac fly,” La Stella said. “…I put a good swing on the ball earlier in the game and it got caught out in left field so it was good to put another on and have something fall for me.”
Santana gave up two extra-base hits in the first two innings that led to two runs. But after giving up a seeing-eye RBI single to pitcher Roberto Hernandez, he retired the next nine batters he faced. Santana coaxed 10 groundouts and two flyouts to keep his pitch count low and was still at only 78 pitches through six innings.
He left two runners in scoring position after a two-out Ben Revere double in the seventh, but Luis Avilan got pinch-hitter John Mayberry Jr. to ground out to end the inning.
“It was a great effort by Santana, went 6 2/3 innings, gave up two runs early and kept it right there,” Gonzalez said. “That’s what we were looking for, that kind of outing, to save the bullpen, and you’re thinking about playing the next game.”
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