MILWAUKEE – It had been nearly nine years since the Braves had a player hit three homers in a game, and when it happened Saturday it wasn’t even their best hitter and baseball’s top slugger over the past 12 months who did it.
Matt Kemp, take a bow.
Kemp hit three home runs Saturday to lead the suddenly surging and extremely streaky Braves to an 11-3 win against the Brewers at Miller Park, their fourth straight and the second night in a row the Braves have set a season-high for runs.
“It felt great, especially the way we were hitting the ball today,” said Kemp, who has played 12 games this season and had multi-homer games in two of them. “People are starting to go right now. That’s a good sign.”
The Braves had a season-high 20 hits Saturday and have amassed 36 runs and 55 hits during their four-game winning streak, after totaling just 20 runs and 50 hits over the previous seven games.
“Yeah, how do you explain it?” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “A week ago we were talking about having a hard time piercing the gap and all that. And it can change that quick.”
Kemp was the first Brave to hit three homers since Mark Teixeira on June 22, 2008 vs. Seattle. It was the 12th career multi-homer game of Kemp’s career but the first time he hit more than two in a game.
He has six home runs this season despite a stint on the 10-day disabled list for a hamstring strain.
The Braves got a quality start from Jaime Garcia (1-1) and multi-hit games from seven different players to pull away from the Brewers after the early innings, one night after Atlanta overcame a pair of four-run deficits to win 10-8 on Freddie Freeman’s two-run homer in the ninth inning.
Kemp was asked if Saturday felt like his night after his second homer. “I think it’s everybody’s night,” he said. “We had 20 hits and 11 runs, everybody was swinging the bat well. That’s a good sign for us. I think that win yesterday really got us going — that was a great team win for us and that right there can really get a team going.”
The veteran left fielder hit home runs off starter Jimmy Nelson with a runner on in the fifth inning, off left-hander Tommy Milone with bases empty in the seventh and off right-hander Jhan Marinez with a runner on in the eighth inning.
Kemp’s strength was even more evident from the fact that the first and third of his homers were opposite-field shots he muscled out on pitches inside.
“I’ve been saying since I got here that I’m glad I don’t have to face those two guys (Freeman and Kemp),” Gacia said, “and guys like Brandon Phillips, guys who are really some of the best hitters in the league. I’m excited to be on this side and hopefully we can continue to ride this and get some momentum going.”
Overshadowed along with Garcia on Saturday was the first multi-hit (and two-RBI) game of the season for Dansby Swanson including his second homer. Tyler Flowers had four hits to raise his average to .391 and Freeman and Nick Markakis added three hits apiece for the Braves.
“That’s how it’s supposed to be, guys pick up each other, when one guy doesn’t get the job done the next guy behind him gets it done,” Kemp said. “That’s what good teams do, so if we continue to do that I think we’ll be pretty successful.”
Garcia worked out of a jam in the first inning and went six innings, giving up three hits, two runs and five walks with three strikeouts in six innings. It was his first win in five starts for the Braves, who clinched their second consecutive series win. They are 4-3 on a three-city trip that ends Sunday.
The Braves’ winning streak followed a six-game losing streak, which came directly after a five-game winning streak that followed another five-game skid. Yes, it’s been a strange early season for the Braves (10-12).
Garcia snapped a career-high six-decision losing streak that spanned 13 games (10 starts) since late August when he was with the Cardinals. It was fitting it would come at Milwaukee — the lefty is 12-6 with a 2.88 ERA in 22 games (21 starts) against the Brewers, his most wins against any team. He’s 6-2 with a 3.71 ERA in nine starts at hitter-friendly Miller Park.
The way things started Saturday, it hardly seemed Garcia would stick around long enough to qualify for a win. He gave up a leadoff double to Jonathan Villar in the first inning, walked Eric Thames, hit Travis Shaw with a pitch to load the bases with one out, then walked Domingo Santana to bring in the first run of the game.
But just when Garcia seemed ripe for an early exit, he induced a double-play grounder from Hernandez Perez to get out of the inning without further damage. And from there he settled into a groove, recording 12 outs in a span of 12 batters, with Orlando Arcia’s second-inning double interrupting that stretch.
“Tyler did a good job tonight, lot of blocks (on pitches in the dirt) in tough situations,” Snitker said. “And Jaime just kept pitching and kept pitching, got the double play to get us out of that first inning. So it was big.”
Arcia moved to third on a ground-out before Swanson made a sensational inning-ending play to save a run, ranging to his right to field Villar’s grounder and throwing across his body and across the diamond for the out at first base.
Garcia cruised from there until the fifth inning, when the Brewers got a run on two walks, a single and a wild pitch.
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