PHOENIX – For one night, at least, Justin Upton and Chris Johnson made sure that Arizona Diamondbacks general manager Kevin Towers’ worst fears were fully realized.
Upton and Johnson, the two players Towers dealt to the Braves in January, combined for seven hits including a pair of two-run homers in a 10-1 Atlanta win at Chase Field, the first game between the teams since the seven-player trade.
Upton went 4-for-5 and hit his majors-leading 13th home run, Mike Minor (5-2) worked out of trouble to limit Arizona to one run in 6-2/3 innings, and the Braves snapped a three-game losing skid and improved to 4-4 on a 10-game trip.
“Today was the Justin show,” said Johnson, who wasn’t surprised by how Upton rose to the occasion. “He’s a really, really good player. He was here for a long time. Any time you get traded, you want to come back to the place you got traded from and kind of show them what they’re missing a little bit, and I think that’s what was on his mind tonight.”
Brian McCann also drove in three runs and hit a long home run the Braves, his third in four games. But the night belonged to Upton, who was greeted with what sounded like a 50/50 split of boos and cheers at what was his home ballpark for six years, including two All-Star seasons.
“It was mixed,” said Upton, 25. “It is what it is, and I had fun with it.”
Johnson had a tie-breaking homer in the fifth inning and Upton homered in the four-run sixth, immediately after Arizona starter Wade Miley hit Upton’s brother, B.J., with a pitch.
If that wasn’t bad enough for the Diamondbacks, the Braves capitalized on a miscue by third baseman Martin Prado, the principle player Atlanta sent to Arizona in the seven-player deal, with pitcher Randall Delgado and three minor leaguers.
“I know it wasn’t the No. 1 thing on his list,” B.J. said of his brother. “But knowing him, it was probably on the back of his mind. I have a feeling when he heard a couple of little boos, it was definitely kind of on his mind.
“But I didn’t say anything to him. I just kind of let him go out and be himself, and that’s what you got.”
Evan Gattis reached on Prado’s throwing error to start the fifth inning. After Brian McCann walked, Dan Uggla’s sacrifice fly to the center-field warning track made the score 1-all.
Uggla is also a former Arizona prospect who went to the Marlins in the 2005 Rule 5 draft.
It was that kind of night for the D-backs. The Braves unloaded some pent-up frustrations after being outscored 23-4 while losing three in a row at San Francisco Friday through Sunday.
“Oh, man, yeah we needed that,” Uggla said. “Mikey (Minor) picked us up. And it was good to finally swing the bats…. After all the stuff Justin went through before the trade, seeing him come out and have the night he did – a homer, a double, four hits – that was awesome. Everybody was just ecstatic for him.”
Johnson followed Uggla’s sac fly by pulling a ball to the left-field seats. The third baseman had been 0-for-17 in May before getting three hits in his first three at-bats Monday, including an RBI double in the sixth inning.
“We’ve been fighting for wins on the whole road trip,” Justin Upton said, “and to come out here and put together some hits and get a win, that’s a nice feeling.”
Minor gave up eight hits including a first-inning homer by Paul Goldschmidt, but he settled in, made some key pitches and got plenty of defensive assistance while trimming his ERA to 2.75.
“I think everything was the defense,” Minor said. “We had the hitting, nice plays in the outfield, threw some guys out at the plate. Mac (McCann) threw a runner out. I gave up a lot of hits, so it wasn’t really about me, it was about everybody else.”
Justin Upton said during a news conference earlier Monday that all the attention focused on his first game back in Arizona would be bigger than the game itself. Then he made sure he was wrong in that assessment, while reminding Arizona fans – and Towers – what a dynamic player he is. The guy that Towers seemed so intent on trading.
After hitting 12 home runs in his first 23 games for the Braves, Upton went 15 games and 46 at-bats without hitting another before driving a full-count pitch from the left-hander Miley to a seating overhang above the center-field wall.
“I’ve been searching for that swing this month of May, so it was good to square one up,” said Upton, who as a Diamondback had a .307 career average, .389 OBP and 67 homers in 364 games at Chase Field. “It’s a great park to hit in. Good batter’s eye, you see the ball well. Obviously it’s a good place to see the ball and hit it.”
Despite going 2-1/2 weeks without a homer, Upton still leads the majors and became the first Brave since Andres Galarraga to hit at least 13 in the team’s first 38 games (Galarraga had 14).
Miley hit B.J. Upton with a pitch in the left shoulder to start the sixth, and Justin followed by taking Miley deep, making it the first time he had driven in his brother.
B.J. left the game an inning later with a contusion and was listed as day-to-day. He said he probably wouldn’t play Tuesday if the shoulder tightened up further overnight.
He had an impact on the game in the fourth inning when the center fielder caught Wil Nieves’ fly ball with runners on the corners and none out, and made a strong throw to the plate to complete a double play and keep Arizona’s lead at 1-0.
The runner he threw out? Prado.
The Braves improved to 11-2 in series openers, and also remained unbeaten (5-0) on Mondays, after not winning a Monday game last season until well after the All-Star break.
“We swung the bats up and down the lineup like we’re capable of doing,” manager Fredi Gonzalez said, “and we haven’t seen that very often in the (young) season.”