After the surging Braves snapped the Blue Jays’ seven-game winning streak Tuesday, Anibal Sanchez was knocked around by a nemesis and outpitched by Toronto’s J.A. Happ in the finale of a brief two-game series.
Happ gave up two early homers to Kurt Suzuki and Peter Bourjos but nearly shut down the Braves the rest of the way in a 5-4 Toronto win Wednesday afternoon, earning the Blue Jays a split of an interleague series at Rogers Centre.
“Location-wise today, they didn’t give me the opportunity to get ahead in the count, especially the big guys,” Sanchez said after allowing five hits, four runs and four walks in five innings in his first loss in four decisions with the Braves.
He had a season-high seven strikeouts, but also needed a season-high 97 pitches to record 15 outs.
The Braves finally got Happ out of the game with one out in the ninth after consecutive singles from Freddie Freeman and Nick Markakis. They rallied for two runs in the inning on RBI singles from Suzuki and Ender Inciarte before Johan Camargo flied out to center with two on to end the game.
“I thought Ender would hit one out, and I thought Camargo might, quite honestly,” said manager Brian Snitker, who has grown so accustomed to late Braves rallies and best-in-the-majors two-out production. “When Nick and Freddie came up and got her going, then Zuke smokes one and it’s hey, we’re kind of OK right now. But it didn’t happen.”
Happ (9-3) limited the Braves to six hits and no walks in 8-1/3 innings and had eight strikeouts, staying unbeaten (4-0) in eight games against the Braves including seven starts.
“He’s always tough,” Markakis said of Happ, 35, a 12-year veteran expected to be among the most sought-after arms before next month’s trade deadline. “He’s got good life on his fastball and he pitches.
“He’s always been a thorn in the side. We got to him early but then he settled down and I think he retired 13 in a row or something like that. We made it interesting there at the end, but all you can do it tip your cap and move on.”
Two of four runs charged to Happ came in the ninth inning after he left with two on and one out. Suzuki greeted reliever Ryan Tepera with a sharp single off the glove of third baseman Yangeris Solarte to drive in a run and Inciarte added an infield hit to the right side hit before Camargo flied out to end the game.
Camargo had a grand slam, four hits and five RBIs in Tuesday’s 11-4 win over the Jays.
“With this lineup we always have a chance,” Markakis said. “You get a couple of guys on, anything can happen. Camargo put a good swing on it, just got under it a little bit and that’s how the ball bounces sometimes.”
Sanchez had a 1.93 ERA in seven games, including six starts before Wednesday, the ERA ranking as the fifth-lowest in the majors among pitchers with at least five starts. He was coming off his best outing of the season: seven scoreless innings in which he allowed four hits with no walks against the Padres on June 14 as he won his second consecutive start.
But he ran up against a recent nemesis in the Blue Jays, who had rocked him for at least eight hits and five runs in each of his previous three starts going back to July 2016, batting .414 off him in those games while totaling 29 hits, six homers and 17 runs against him in just 14-2/3 innings.
They kept it up Wednesday, when he gave up a two-run, two-out homer in the first inning to Kendrys Morales, who’s faced Sanchez more than anyone else on the Toronto roster.
“He might have been off a tick -- corners wide, east and west,” Snitker said. “But overall, he gave us a chance.”
The Braves answered with solo homers in the second inning from Suzuki and in the third from Peter Bourjos, a tying shot that was the first of the season for the backup outfielder.
But after Ozzie Albies followed Bourjos with a double, Happ retired the next 13 batters and 18 of the next 19, with Charlie Culberson the only Brave to reach base in that span on a two-out single in the seventh.
The Jays took the lead for good with two runs in the fourth inning, as Sanchez walked two of the first three batters before giving up a Randal Grichuk double and a sacrifice fly. He was ahead in the count 0-2 before walking Morales and ahead 1-2 before walking Russell Martin two batters later.
“I was a little bit off the strike zone,” said Sanchez, who fell to 0-3 with a 9.61 ERA in his past four starts against the Blue Jays including three at Rogers Centre, where he’s 0-4 with an 8.88 ERA in five career starts.