The Braves wanted to bring momentum established on their just-completed road trip back home with them and get things on the right track at SunTrust Park.
They did that with a six-run first inning Wednesday night that propelled them to an 8-4 win against the Blue Jays in a game that featured two benches-and-bullpens clearing incidents and an early exit by the Braves' best player, Freddie Freeman, after he was hit by a pitch.
But it was the potentially serious injury to Freeman that overshadowed anything else in the game. X-rays of the slugger’s left hand were inconclusive and he’ll have an MRI and CT scan on Thursday to determine if there is a broken bone or other damage.
“Pretty much worried about Freddie,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said, in a solemn tone normally heard from him after a particularly tough loss. He added quietly, “We swung the bats good again, played a good ball game.”
The Braves and their fans could only cringe and hope Freeman won’t have his thus-far sensational season derailed after being hit by a pitch from left-handed reliever Aaron Loup in the fifth inning. The National League home run leader had two stints on the disabled list for injuries to his left wrist in 2015.
The night was otherwise a success — and a testosterone-fueled exercise in agitation — for the Braves, who got a three-run homer from Kurt Suzuki in the first inning and cruised to their fifth win in six games and third straight against the Blue Jays. That included wins Monday and Tuesday in Toronto before the teams jetted south for two at SunTrust Park.
Braves starter Mike Foltynewicz hit the leadoff batter, Devon Travis, in the next inning after Freeman was hit. Blue Jays pitchers have hit seven Braves batters in the series including a Toronto franchise-record five in Monday’s game.
Tempers flared and both benches and bullpens emptied in the seventh inning when Toronto’s Kevin Pillar shouted at reliever Jason Motte after striking out to end the inning, Pillar apparently upset at being “quick pitched.” There was no shoving, no punches, just shouting before umpires sent everyone back from whence they came.
All parties returned to the home-plate area after Jose Bautista's solo eighth-inning homer against reliever Eric O'Flaherty. The Braves were upset when Bautista flipped his bat – the Jays trailed 8-3 before the homer – and first baseman Jace Peterson let Bautista know what he thought of the display as Bautista rounded first base.
Peterson declined to comment on the incident.
“I didn’t see it at the time, but I saw the video,” O’Flaherty said of the bat flip and subsequent stare from Bautista. “He looked at me, tried to make eye contact. It’s just tired. We’ve seen it from him, though.”
Catcher Suzuki also exchanged words after Bautista crossed the plate while staring at Suzuki.
“I saw (what happened) with Petey and then I just came in and he stepped on the plate and looked right at me like he was waiting for me to say something,” Suzuki said, “and I was like, ok (and said something.) He said something, I said something, and everybody came running.”
Bautista seemed almost cordial with Suzuki and had turned to go back to the Toronto dugout when players from both benches and dugouts raced onto the field. There was more shouting and a mass of players in close proximity around the home-plate area, but again no punches or shoving before the crowd was dispersed by the umpiring crew.
The teams play a fourth and final game in the home-and-home four-game stretch on Thursday night when the Braves’ Julio Teheran faces Marcus Stroman.
The Braves had lost eight of their previous nine home games, posting a 7.01 ERA in that span at SunTrust while hitting just .237 and being outscored 71-33 and out-homered 16-5. If they were going to beef up those numbers it didn’t figure to be Wednesday against Blue Jays starter Joe Biagini, who entered with a 2.28 ERA and hadn’t allowed an earned run in either of his two starts since moving from the bullpen.
The Braves scored six runs before Biagini recorded an out in the first inning, the outburst capped by Kurt Suzuki’s three-run homer after Nick Markakis’ two-run single.
Biagini had allowed neither an earned run nor a walk in either of his previous starts and the right-hander had totaled 24 strikeouts with just three walks in 27 2/3 innings including 14 relief appearances before Wednesday. Then he walked Freeman and Matt Kemp consecutively with none out in the first inning, Kemp getting an RBI for his bases-loaded walk.
This was after Ender Inciarte hit a leadoff single and Brandon Phillips reached on a fielder’s choice and throwing error by Biagini, his nightmare beginning.
With the bases still loaded following the Kemp bases-loaded walk, Markakis hit a two-run single that landed just out of Esquiel Carrera’s reach in the left-field corner for a 3-0 lead. Biagini still had not recorded an out when Suzuki put the cherry atop the Braves’ inning with a three-run homer to center for a 6-0 lead.
Five of six runs in the inning were earned against Biagini, who entered Wednesday with a 0.87 WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched) that was the fourth-lowest in the majors among those with at least 25 innings pitched, behind only Chris Sale (0.77), Ervin Santana (0.81) and Dallas Keuchel (0.86).
The Braves had outscored opponents 31-19 in their past five games before Wednesday 4-1, batting .301 with a .398 OBP and an unusual nine hit-by-pitches in that stretch including at least one in every game. Freeman made it six consecutive games they were hit at least once.
Foltynewicz (2-4) was charged with six hits and three runs in six innings, including Justin Smoak’s two-run homer in the fourth inning and a wild pitch to let in a run in the fifth.
“(Foltynewicz) didn’t have the best command that he wanted, but the guy goes out there and competes, man,” Suzuki said. “He gives you 100 percent every time, he competes and competes. Usually with that type of stuff, I’ll take that every day of the week. He showed that tonight, put us in a good spot to win.”