DENVER – Eric Hinske tied a career high with four hits on Friday night, and the fourth one shook those still awake across Braves Nation.
The big man hit a tie-breaking, two-run homer in the 11th inning to lift the Braves to a 9-8 series-opening win at Coors Field — after they trailed by five runs in the first inning. Yes, the first inning.
Three hits and a go-ahead homer from Chipper Jones, four hits and a mammoth homer from Freddie Freeman, and another huge deficit overcome by the Braves, who out-hit the Rockies 19-4 after the first inning.
“It’s a good win to start off this road trip,” Hinske said after the first of a nine-game, three-city swing. “I’m happy. I’m smiling. To do something like that in extra innings is great. I’ve been playing for a while now and I’ve only had a couple of walk-off home runs, but this is just as cool.”
It was another wild night to end a dizzying week for the Bravos, who scored 24 runs in a pair of extra-inning wins Wednesday and Friday — both of them lasting exactly four hours, both won by reliever Chad Durbin, both featuring 19 hits by Atlanta — sandwiched around getting shut out on three hits Thursday.
The Rockies scored a run in the 11th against closer Craig Kimbrel, who got into trouble after issuing a leadoff walk.
Second baseman Dan Uggla made a nice play to stop Todd Helton’s groundout, which drove in a run to cut the lead to 9-8. Michael Cuddyer grounded out to end the game with a runner at second base and Kimbrel got his ninth save.
Tim Hudson’s Coors Field woes continued when he gave up five runs in the first inning on four hits and two walks. But he settled down and the Braves got their bats going at one of the most hitter-friendly ballparks that ever housed a major league team.
“Huddy had a slow start and we said to him in the dugout, ‘Just keep us right there and we’re going to score some runs,’” Hinske said. “He did a great job of giving us extra innings after the first. He battled, he did a great job, and we got some timely hits. Good team effort at the plate. Everybody was hitting the ball. Freeman was doing his thing, Chipper, everybody. It was cool.”
Jones, who went 3-for-5 to raise his average to .300, said, “We fall down 5-nothing and we know we’re not out of it. We’ve just got to keep chipping away. We got away with some no-no’s here tonight. You can’t walk people and make errors. Huddy walked a couple of guys in the first, and I made a costly error. But 19 hits cures a lot of ills.”
The win was only the second in five games for the Braves, who had dropped six of 11 since a 10-1 surge.
The Braves had a chance to win in the 10th after Michael Bourn’s leadoff double and a Jones walk put two on with none out. But Freeman lined out, Brian McCann grounded out, and Uggla struck out to end the inning.
Perhaps they just wanted to set the stage for the popular Hinske, who hit a towering homer off Edgmer Escalona that landed among the trees planted in the bullpen beyond right-center field.
It was his first homer of the season and the eighth four-hit game of his career for Hinske, who played left field Friday in place of a flu-stricken Martin Prado. Hinske went deep on a 2-and-0 fastball, after Tyler Pastornicky led off the inning with the rookie’s first career pinch hit, a single.
“I’m just trying to go up there and see the ball well, put a good swing on it,” said Hinske, who is 10-for-13 in his past three starts, with three extra-base hits and four RBIs. “I got a good pitch to hit there in the last inning and got it up in the air. The nice Colorado air, with the backspin on the ball it keeps going.
“It’s fun. I’m just having fun. My focus is doing something that day I’m playing to help the team win, and today I did that.”
Freeman hit a two-run tape-measure homer in the third inning and the Braves scored four runs in the fifth inning to take the lead. Freeman has a staggering seven homers and 13 RBIs in nine career games against the Rockies.
The extreme momentum shift might have stunned the crowd at many places, but Rockies fans have seen similar offensive binges and lead changes so many times over the years at their mile-high ballpark, where long balls fly longer and dink hits drop in the spacious outfield.
“This place is awesome,” said Jones, who has a .329 career average with 13 homers and 56 RBIs in 57 games at Coors Field. “I love it. I’ve always loved it. As long as your mechanics are good and you’re not trying to hit the ball five miles instead of two, you can put up some big numbers here. I say that in jest, that it’s a rollercoaster ride when we come in here. But those games are fun.”
The Braves’ six-hit fifth inning included McCann’s two-run single and Hinske’s RBI double, one of three hits for the veteran bench player whose bat has scorched with his increased playing time lately.
But the key hit was the first of the inning, a one-out single by Bourn, after he and manager Fredi Gonzalez argued that a bunt initially ruled fair – Bourn was tagged out by the catcher — should’ve been foul.
The third-base umpire agreed, Bourn’s at-bat continued, and he singled up the middle to a chorus of boos. That began a string of four consecutive singles, capped by McCann’s that chased starter Guillermo Moscoso from the game. The right-hander was charged with seven hits and six runs – and a blown 5-0 lead — in 4-1/3 innings.
Uggla also played a big part in the inning by hustling to first to avoid a potential inning-ending double play. Jason Heyward followed with a single before Hinske’s double gave the Braves the lead.
In three days the Braves erased deficits of six and four runs (in Wednesday’s 15-13 win against Philadelphia) and five runs, the two offensive outbursts sandwiched around a three-hit shutout throws against them Thursday by Philadelphia’s Joe Blanton.
Hudson retired 11 consecutive batters after Dexter Fowler’s two-run, two-out single in the first inning, a streak snapped by Jonathan Herrera’s game-tying home run in the fifth.
“It’s usually always crazy game here,” said Hudson, who gave up six hits and seven runs (six earned) in six innings, as his ERA climbed to 8.04 in five starts at Coors, where he’s 0-2. “I knew if I could hold them to five and put up some zeroes, keep us in the game, that we were going to have a chance to win.
“I have all the confidence in the world in our guys right now, offensively. I felt like it was just a matter of time before we would be able to strike for a few and get to the starter and knock him out. The guys started putting together real good at-bats.”
Jones put the Braves back ahead 7-6 with his solo homer in the sixth inning, his fifth home run in his 59th at-bat — and his fourth homer that’s given his team a lead.
Jones, who is retiring after the season, was asked if he’ll miss Coors Field.
“No,” he said, with feined disgust. “This place is a rollercoaster ride from start to finish. I told Helton over there at first base tonight, man, the twists and turns and just the ups and downs that go with playing here – I’m worn out after three games here. He plays 81 a year.”
Hudson couldn’t hold the lead for an inning, in large part because of nemesis Helton, who had a two-run single in the first inning and a leadoff double in the sixth. That made Helton a remarkable 11-for-13 against Hudson in games at Coors Field.
After a fielding error by Jones and a sacrifice bunt, Hudson walked Dexter Fowler to load the bases. Tyler Colvin grounded to second base and narrowly beat the relay to first to avoid the double play as Helton scored the tying run.
As much of a pain as Helton has been for Hudson, Freeman has been nearly unstoppable for the entire Rockies pitching staff. His four hits made him 17-for-37 (.459) against them, with more than twice as many homers (seven) against Colorado than against any other team. He has hit more than one-fourth of his 27 career homers against a non-division opponent the Braves face in only two series per season.
Freeman has three homers and six RBIs in five games against them at Coors Field, and has been even more productive against the Rockies in Atlanta.