Another young Braves pitcher learned Tuesday that it’s not easy pitching in front of so many family members and friends for the first time in a major league game, but Mike Soroka needn’t worry. His squad had his back.
Johan Camargo went 4-for-5 with five RBIs and hit a second-inning grand slam to get the Braves rolling early in an 11-4 win against the Blue Jays to open a two-game interleague series at Rogers Centre, the sixth win in seven games for the National League East leaders.
Charlie Culberson added a fourth-inning leadoff homer for the Braves, who began the day with the majors’ largest division lead (3-1/2 games) and improved their NL-best record to 43-29, a season-best 14 games over .500.
Soroka, a native Canadian from Calgary, didn’t have his usual pinpoint command and gave up eight hits, four runs and two walks with two strikeouts in 4-2/3 innings, matching his highs for hits and earned runs allowed in five major league starts. He gave up six doubles, including at least one in every inning he pitched and two in his fifth and final inning, when the Blue Jays scored twice to cut the lead to 8-4 before Peter Moylan entered and got a ground out to strand two runners.
Camargo, hitting in the ninth spot in the order, had a career-best four hits and raised his batting average 19 points to .240. After hitting his first grand slam off former Braves left-hander Jaime Garcia with two out in the second inning, Camargo added singles in the fourth and fifth innings, the latter driving in the final run of a three-run inning that pushed the lead to 8-2.
Camargo doubled in the eighth and scored when Ozzie Albies followed with a double, before the Jays finally retired him on a ninth-inning strikeout – after another would-be Camargo extra-base hit barely sailed foul in that final at-bat.
Garcia (2-6) retired the first five batters he faced, then gave up a two-out double to Kurt Suzuki in the second inning followed by consecutive walks for Culberson and Ender Inciarte to load the bases for Camargo. His mammoth upper-deck homer to left field was his seventh of the season and came on a 91-mph fastball over the middle of the plate on a 2-0 count, after Garcia had thrown seven consecutive balls, including a four-pitch walk to Inciarte.
Garcia left without recording an out in the fourth inning after the leadoff homer from Culberson and consecutive singles by Inciarte and Camargo. Garcia was charged with five hits, five runs and three walks in three-plus innings.
Culberson also made a spectacular catch in the first inning that likely prevented the Blue Jays from taking a 2-0 lead. With two runners in scoring position and two out, Kevin Pillar hit a fly to the warning track and Culberson caught it in full stride just before crashing into the wall with a thud that could be heard from the press box. He managed to hang on to the ball and, after spending perhaps 30 seconds on his back as teammates ran over to check on him, Culberson got to his feet and came off the field.
Soroka, the majors’ youngest pitcher at age 20, became the youngest Canadian-born pitcher ever to pitch in Canada. He grew up pulling for the Blue Jays and saw his first game at Rogers Centre when his dad won tickets in a raffle. He also pitched at the retractable-dome stadium in an amateur tournament run by the Blue Jays’ academy when he was 15.
But there were a lot more people (32,466) in the place Monday and the stakes were a lot higher, much as they were for Sean Newcomb last month when the Massachusetts pitched for the first time at Fenway Park and had his worst start of the season.
The Blue Jays had leadoff doubles against Soroka in the first, second and fourth innings, and a one-out double in the third. Randal Grichuk scored after his leadoff double in the second and Pillar after his leadoff double in the fourth, and the other two Toronto runs scored when Justin Smoak singled with one out in the fifth and the next two batters, Teoscar Hernandez and Yangervis Solarte, each doubled.
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