ST. PETERSBURG -- It wasn't necessarily the fulfillment of what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object, but the Braves showcased their run-scoring ability on Friday against one of the best pitchers in the American League. They also notched another victory in their battle with Tampa Bay, improving to 16-6 all-time against the Rays.
Entering the contest tied for second in the Major Leagues with 207 runs with another National League club -- the Cardinals -- the Braves methodically chipped away at Tampa Bay starter James Shields, forcing him from the game after scoring four runs over six innings against the 30-year-old right-hander, who entered the game tied with four other pitchers with six wins. Atlanta then added a run off reliever J.P Howell on its way to a 5-3 victory at Tropicana Field.
Despite Michael Bourn coming up with a surprising 0-for-5 performance, Martin Prado, Freddie Freeman and Brian McCann picked up the slack -- combining for six hits, four RBIs and four runs -- as the Braves earned their 10th victory in their past 12 road games.
"It just shows where we are when Bourn can go 0-for-5 and we can still generate offense to beat a quality pitcher like Shields," said Chipper Jones, who went 1-for-3 despite suffering a left calf contusion in the third inning.
Aided by another superb outing by starter Tommy Hanson, who kept the Rays at bay by surrendering just two runs on six hits over seven innings, the Braves improved to 25-11 over their past 36 games. With the Nationals' loss to the Orioles, the Braves increased their lead in the NL East to 1 1/2 games.
After taking a 2-0 lead with a run in the first and a run in the second, Hanson allowed the Rays to catch up when Elliot Johnson drove home a run on a bunt single in the second and B.J. Upton scored on a sacrifice fly by Luke Scott in the third.
"I mixed my pitches better and made quality pitches," Hanson said when asked how he turned things around after the third inning.
Hanson also benefited from some timely defense, namely a play in the second when Jason Heyward sprinted all the way to just inside the right-field line to snare a potential run-producing double by Rich Thompson. With a run already in, the second out in the inning kept runners at first and second and allowed Hanson to end the threat by forcing Jose Molina into a groundout.
"Our defense has been superb all year, and it just allows us as pitchers to be comfortable about being aggressive in the zone," said Hanson, who threw a season-high 106 pitches.
Hanson is now 4-1 with a 3.12 ERA in his last six starts.
"I feel really good," said Hanson, who is 4-2 with 2.57 ERA on the road this season. "I think the biggest thing right now is my fastball command. When it's there, I'm throwing really well, everything else follows that. I threw a lot more changeups tonight and I felt really good with that, too. Hopefully, [I] just keep this thing going and keep going out and throwing the ball well."
The Braves gave Hanson enough cushion when Freeman doubled in Prado from second with two outs in the fifth off Shields and then scored two batters later on a single to right by McCann.
Prado padded the lead in the seventh with a solo homer to left off Howell.
"Tonight was just one of those games where you don't see these guys very often, so we watched a lot of video," said Prado, who extended his hitting streak to 10 games. "I'm glad I got that home run in that situation, because we know that Tampa [Bay] always bounces back."
The Rays put across an unearned run off Jonny Venters in the eighth, but Craig Kimbrel pitched a perfect ninth to preserve the win and notch his 12th save of the season.
All in all, the effort had Gonzalez praising his starter -- "gave us a great opportunity to win the ball game" --, his team defense -- "we made some nice plays defensively to keep us in the lead" --, and the return of Prado -- "swinging the bat like the Prado of two years ago when he was healthy and made the All-Star team."
Gonzalez, and the rest of the Braves, now must hope the giant-sized bruise on the lower part of Jones' left leg doesn't keep the future Hall of Famer out of too many games.
"It's not real pretty right now," Gonzalez said. "We'll check it tomorrow."
But as Jones said, this year's version of the Braves has learned how to battle through adversity, with guys picking each other up.
Chris Girandola is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.