The Braves turned to Ervin Santana Thursday night, looking for a return to some normalcy.
After the Braves were blown out in back-to-back losses to the Marlins, their worst two pitching performances of the year, Santana delivered a quality start to calm the nerves. But the Braves still couldn’t salvage the series.
The Marlins rallied with a two-run seventh off rookie reliever Ian Thomas and David Carpenter, to complete a three-game sweep of the Braves with a 5-4 win.
After the Braves got pounded for 18 runs on 28 hits in the first two games, it was a couple of bloop hits off Thomas and a single to beat the shift by Giancarlo Stanton off Carpenter that did the Braves in this time.
“When (they’re) going good, those things fall in, and when you’re not going good, those things get through,” said Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez. “Stanton hits a groundball that could have been a double play but we had him shifted over, which during the course of the first couple games of the series, he hit it right to Danny (Uggla) a couple times.”
The Braves lost for the first time in five starts by Santana, who gave up three runs in six innings, including a Garrett Jones home run, and left with a 4-3 lead.
The Braves were swept for the first time this season and for the first time since dropping three in a row in Philadelphia Sept. 6-8. They had followed that series up by winning three of four at Marlins Park. But this trip wasn’t nearly as fruitful.
The sweep here was a first for the Marlins against the Braves in Miami since 2006, when they won three in a row June 13-15. The Marlins moved to 12-4 at home this season compared to only 2-10 on the road.
“They kicked our butts the first couple nights,” said Chris Johnson, who went 3-for-3 with a walk. “They came up with timely hitting tonight and grinding one out. We’ll just have to regroup and go home and just kind of get back in it.”
Evan Gattis tried to offer a return to normalcy in his own unique way, sending a solo home run into the visiting bullpen in left field in the sixth inning to put the Braves ahead 4-3. Gattis had driven in the go-ahead runs in the Braves’ two victories against the Marlins last week at Turner Field, including the first walk-off home run of his career.
Gattis now has five home runs in 16 games for his career against the Marlins.
But that lead would only hold up for an inning as the Marlins answered with back-to-back softly-hit singles off the left-hander Thomas. Justin Upton made a diving attempt at Christian Yelich’s bloop up the left field line but couldn’t get there. And Stanton and Casey McGehee, followed with RBI singles off Carpenter.
“Just got to stay ahead, that’s the main thing,” said Thomas. “I fell behind a couple guys and come to a 3-2 count they’re in swing mode, and they’re going to put the ball in play.”
The Braves rallied again in the eighth, loading the bases on a leadoff double by Justin Upton and a couple of walks in extended at-bats by Johnson and Andrelton Simmons. But ultimately Marlins manager Mike Redmond’s move to bring in closer Steve Cishek with two outs in the eighth paid off. After the walk to Simmons, he got pinch-hitting Ramiro Pena to strike out to leave the bases loaded.
Cishek pitched through the ninth to record his 35th save in his last 36 opportunities.
After scoring just three runs in the first two games of this series, B.J. Upton got the Braves three runs on one swing in the second inning. He sent a 1-0 pitch over the left field fence for his second home run of the year. And he made an overturned call at first base all the bigger.
Jason Heyward had been called out on a head-first slide at first base, trying to beat out an infield chopper for a base hit. Upon replay review, though, umpires saw that pitcher Henderson Alvarez didn’t have the ball in his glove - it was in his right hand – when he attempted to tag Heyward out with his glove.
Two pitches later, the Braves had a 3-2 lead in the game. Santana had singled to lead off the third inning, helping his cause with his third hit in only 12 at-bats since joining the National League.
The Braves scored all four of their runs via the homer. Johnson tried to manufacture something, with three singles in his first three at-bats, shortly after news of his impending three-year contract extension with the Braves broke. But he never advanced past second base on the night.
“We had some opportunities,” Gonzalez said. “I liked the way these guys battled in the eighth inning and now we go out there tomorrow and stop this losing streak.”
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