MILWAUKEE – The last time Joel De La Cruz started a game, the Braves lost but he didn’t pitch badly. The same couldn’t be said of his performance Wednesday, when their four-game winning streak ended largely because of his particularly rough third inning against the Brewers.
Chris Carter hit a towering three-run homer in that four-run inning to erase the Braves’ early lead and send the Brewers to a 4-3 win at Miller Park, handing Atlanta just its fifth loss in 15 games and spoiling a two-homer night for Freddie Freeman.
De La Cruz left after four innings with a knee contusion, but X-rays were negative and he hopes to make his next start.
“Good ballgame, other than the three-run homer,” said Braves interim manager Brian Snitker. “That was about it, the story of the whole thing. You make a mistake to that big guy, he’s going to make you pay. That’s what he does.”
Freeman led off the fourth and eighth innings with homers, giving him 21 — the fourth time the Braves first baseman has hit more than 20 homers in six full seasons. He has two multi-homer games this year and eight in his career.
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Given their recent performance, Snitker and Freeman both said they were confident the Braves would come back and win after falling behind 4-1.
“Definitely,” Freeman said. “The bullpen came in and just kept it right there for us. We had our opportunities, we just weren’t able to get the big hit. But we came back into the game. The last two months that’s how we’ve been playing, we’re never out of it no matter how far we’re down early in the game.”
The Braves, who won the first two games of the four-game series, can still clinch their third consecutive series by winning Thursday’s finale.
De La Cruz (0-5) was charged with seven hits, four runs and two walks in four innings before exiting after being hit in the right knee by a comebacker to the mound on the last pitch he threw to end the fourth inning.
“I feel fortunate that it’s nothing serious and I hope to be back in three or four days, something along those lines,” the 27-year-old rookie said through a translator. “I was thinking it might be worse than it was, but thankfully that’s not the case.”
Three Braves relievers pitched four innings — two by Jose Ramirez — to run the bullpen’s scoreless innings streak to 15 and lower its August ERA to 1.31.
The Braves’ last loss before Wednesday was a 1-0 decision at St. Louis in the first game of a 10-game trip that’ll end with a three-game series at Washington. In the loss to the Cardinals, De La Cruz was charged with two hits, one run and five walks in 5 1/3 innings and the Braves were shut out on three hits.
They staked him to a 1-0 lead in the third inning Wednesday when A.J. Pierzynski doubled and scored on Ender Inciarte’s single. De La Cruz and the Braves wanted a shutdown inning in the bottom of the third and got something entirely different.
His trouble started with a leadoff bunt hit from Jonathan Villar, the first of three consecutive singles. Ryan Braun had the third of those hits drive in the tying run, and one out later Carter’s 26th home run opened up a three-run lead.
Carter pulverized a hanging 1-2 slider, driving it an estimated 442 feet. It hit a spot on the bottom of a large center-field scoreboard high above the field. De La Cruz got ahead in the count 0-2 on a couple of sinkers, then threw a sinker for a ball before Carter squared up the slider and watched it sail.
Asked if he would’ve done anything differently, De La Cruz said, “I would have thrown the fastball again, because I had a little bit of success before when I threw it both times and he didn’t hit it.”
Freeman led off the next inning with a homer of similar proportions, a ball that caromed off the scoreboard about 30 feet to the left of where Carter’s ball struck it. Freeman’s homer off Chase Anderson (7-10) was estimated at 436 feet.
His leadoff homer in the eighth – on the first pitch from reliever Corey Knebel — put him over 20 homers for the first time since Freeman hit 23 in 2013, which was his third straight 20-homer season to start his career.
But with bases empty both times, the Freeman long balls only reduced the lead to 4-3.
The Braves wasted their other scoring opportunities, failing to score after Freeman’s leadoff walk and Adonis Garcia’s two-out single in the sixth, and again after Jeff Francoeur’s pinch-hit leadoff walk and Inciarte’s one-out single in the seventh. Erick Aybar grounded into an inning-ending double play in the seventh.
“Frenchy had a great at-bat to get on there,” Snitker said. “When he did that I was thinking, OK, here we come.”