Offense aids an inspired pitching effort
Braves score three runs in sixth; relievers toss 4 2/3 scoreless
PHILADELPHIA -- This was a game the Braves had to win and also one that seemed destined to prolong the misery that had followed them over the course of the past two weeks. But within a span of three hours, they were reminded that hits can come in bunches and that Kris Medlen is a determined young man.
Instead of fretting about the fact that he entered this spot start in place of the injured Jair Jurrjens without the benefit of throwing more than 44 pitches in any of his previous 12 relief appearances this year, Medlen proved strong into the fifth inning and gave the Braves a chance to benefit from a sudden sixth-inning eruption that carried them to a 4-1 win over the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park on Saturday afternoon.
"It was a big win, probably the biggest win of the year for us," Braves third baseman Chipper Jones said. "It was a game that at least on paper didn't look good for us. But Med gutted out 4 2/3 or whatever he threw and was one pitch from not giving up a run. The bullpen was excellent."
When Matt Diaz completed Billy Wagner's perfect ninth with a sliding catch in left field, the Braves won for the second time in their past 12 road games and had the opportunity to further appreciate the efforts of a bullpen that recorded two big outs against Ryan Howard and an offense that quickly produced four quick hits against Joe Blanton in the decisive sixth inning.
"It's no secret we're struggling with the bats," said Eric Hinske, who took advantage of his first outfield start of the season. "Today was big. Guys were swinging the bats well. We had a big inning where we put up a crooked number. It hasn't happened a lot lately for us. So hopefully this is the start of things to come."
After being limited to just seven hits in their previous 23 innings, the Braves tallied four hits within the first five at-bats they recorded against Blanton in the sixth. Chipper Jones and Brian McCann began the frame with consecutive singles and Hinske fueled the sudden uprising with a game-tying, one-out double off the right-field wall.
Melky Cabrera, who had been hitless in his previous 14 at-bats during this road trip, followed with an opposite-field single to give the Braves a lead that they would extend when Omar Infante delivered a deep sacrifice fly to center field.
Through the first nine pitches they saw in the sixth inning, the Braves doubled their hit total (2) during Friday night's series opener and scored more runs (3) than they had combined for during their previous two games.
"Winning brings happiness," Hinske said. "Winning is a cure for everything. It was a big win for us. If we score runs, we're going to be tough. We've got a good bullpen and our starters are all nasty. We know that. We need to find a way to score runs and we did that today."
Attempting to follow the lead of Jamie Moyer, who opened this three-game series with a two-hit shutout, Blanton kept the Braves hitless until Medlen began the fifth with his first Major League hit -- a clean single to left.
"That was the coolest part," Medlen said. "I got to talk to Ryan Howard at first base."
After Medlen managed to allow just one run despite allowing nine hits in 4 2/3 innings, Howard had multiple chances to prolong his career-long dominance of the Braves. But the Phillies first baseman grounded into an inning-ending double play against Eric O'Flaherty in the fifth inning and then hit a lazy fly ball to right against Jonny Venters to end the seventh with runners at second and third base.
"We had to win a game, so we did the best that we could to piece it all together out of the bullpen today," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "It wasn't perfect, but it turned out pretty good."
With his two left-handed middle relievers coming up big against Howard, Cox was able to further appreciate the effort provided by Medlen, who matched his previous season-high pitch total (44) through the first two innings. The 24-year-old versatile reliever surrendered a two-out RBI single to Shane Victorino in the second inning. But two innings later with runners at second and third and two outs, he got Victorino to hit a harmless grounder to second baseman Martin Prado.
"You're not going to find too many starting pitchers who are excited about not going five, but with the predicament, yeah, it was fine," Medlen said. "I gave up [nine] hits. I made my pitches when I had to."
With this victory, the Braves rose to the occasion when they needed it most and amid windy conditions that weren't conducive for any offense, especially one that had hit just .212 during the previous 12 road games.
"It was a tough day to hit," Jones said. "Every other pitch the wind is blowing sand and trash in your face. It was a miserable day to hit. I know that it wasn't easy to throw strikes either. The wind was blowing. It would knock you over if you weren't braced. We got it done."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.