It was Andrelton Simmons whose would-be pop-fly single drew a questionable infield fly ruling in the Braves’ Wild Card game loss to St. Louis in October, when they had two runners on base and one out in the eighth, and the Cardinals led 6-3.
In the eighth inning Saturday, it was Simmons’ two-out, two-run double that lifted the Braves to a 2-0 win against the Cardinals in front of a crowd of 48,312 at Turner Field, clinching the first series between the teams since that controversial game in October.
“They’re a great team,” Simmons said. “They got us last year in a pretty big game, and we owe them some. It’s good to see the team beating them.”
Braves rookie Julio Teheran got no decision, but pitched brilliantly against the National League’s best lineup, allowing two hits and one walk with six strikeouts in seven innings and retiring 19 of the last 20 batters he faced.
“I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, and I got it in my mind to just work hard,” he said. “All my pitches were working good. The command I had today, that’s the best I’ve had this year.”
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Relievers Luis Avilan (3-0) and Craig Kimbrel pitched a perfect inning apiece to complete the two-hit shutout, with Kimbrel notching his 30th save to join John Smoltz as the only Braves pitchers with three 30-save seasons.
In the Braves’ 2-1 win in Friday’s series opener, Mike Minor allowed four hits, one run and one walk in seven innings.
“Very effective,” Cardinals third baseman David Freese said of the Braves’ starting pitchers. “It’s not about how hard you throw. It’s can you locate and mix your pitches? And the past two days they’ve done that extremely well and shut down a very good offense. They get on that mound and have an idea what they want to do.”
In two games, Braves pitchers allowed only six hits, one run and two walks with 15 strikeouts against a Cardinals team that began Saturday ranked first in the NL in batting average, runs, hits, on-base percentage and fewest strikeouts.
“I thought it might have been the best two games we’ve played all year back-to-back, and not just because we won them,” said manager Fredi Gonzalez, whose Braves improved their majors-leading home record to 33-15 and remained 8 1/2 games ahead of second-place Washington in the East Division standings.
“It was good pitching, and that’s what it’s all about. Julio was outstanding. So much that we had to think about pinch-hitting for him, but you’ve got to take a shot. The bullpen’s in pretty good shape there, and you’ve got to take a shot there.”
Teheran had thrown only 88 pitches and allowed but one runner to reach base in his last six innings when he was replaced by pinch-hitter Joey Terdoslavich after Simmons’ one-out single in the seventh.
“I wanted to stay in the game, but I know that’s the manager’s decision,” Teheran said. “It’s just good that we got a win.”
Terdoslavich doubled to put two Braves in scoring position. But after Cardinals starter Joe Kelly intentionally walked Jason Heyward to load the bases, Justin Upton grounded into a rally-killing double play on reliever Seth Maness’ first pitch.
Upton has hit .231 with four homers in 70 games since the end of April and has two extra-base hits (no homers) and six RBIs in his past 28 home games.
Facing Cardinals lefty Randy Choate in the eighth, Freddie Freeman walked and Brian McCann hit a one-out single. After Dan Uggla struck out, Chris Johnson walked to load the bases, and Simmons hit a 2-1 pitch to left center to drive in the only runs of the game.
Teheran is 7-5 with 2.45 ERA in past 17 starts, with 94 strikeouts and 19 walks in 110 innings. The Braves scored two or fewer runs while he was in 10 of those games, including all five losses.
“I told him after the game, I said, ‘You’re really good because that team over there is really good,’” said Johnson, who had two hits and is tied with St. Louis’ Yadier Molina for the NL batting lead at .332. “That lineup top to bottom is one of the best in baseball, and he shut them down for seven innings. He should be proud of himself. He’s an impressive kid.”