DENVER – The Braves trailed 4-0 after one inning and 6-0 after two on Saturday night. So they had the Colorado Rockies right where they wanted them.
For the third time in four days, the Braves overcame a huge early deficit and won, scoring nine runs in the sixth and seventh innings of a 13-9 victory at Coors Field that assured a series win. They’ll go for a sweep in Sunday’s series finale.
Matt Diaz and Jason Heyward hit back-to-back homers off Jamie Moyer to start the sixth inning and ignite an offensive outburst from the Braves, who got three hits and five RBIs from Chipper Jones and showed again that falling behind by a wide margin only seems to light their fire, not get them down.
“We came out this year and bounced back after [losing] our first four games,” said Diaz, who had three of the Braves’ 14 hits. “Now you know that we can bounce back in the middle of a game. We prefer not to, but we know we can if we have to.
“It’s really fun. The offense is clicking right now. The pitching is still our strength, and as they start going deeper in games it really could be a fun stretch for us.”
Heyward said, “We kept chipping way and chipping away, then we got to deliver some big blows.”
The Braves overcame 6-0 and 12-8 deficits in a 15-13, 11-inning win against Philadelphia on Wednesday, and rallied after trailing 5-0 in the first inning to win 9-8 in 11 innings of Friday’s series opener with Colorado.
On Saturday, the outscored the Rockies 13-3 after the second inning. Manager Fredi Gonzalez said he didn’t take two aspirin the way he has during previous comebacks. Not that he’s getting used to it or anything.
“No, I’m not used to it,” he said, smiling. “Just numb.”
The Braves overcame the odds again, rallying for a win that reduced starter Mike Minor’s performance to a footnote. The left-hander got lit up for 10 hits and eight runs in five innings in his first start at Coors Field, including a first-inning grand slam by Michael Cuddyer and a long, two-run homer by Wilin Rosario.
“What’d we spot them, five runs yesterday and six today?” Gonzalez said. “That’s not good. But I think today Mike got a taste of Coors Field…. Hopefully this is a big step in his maturity and learning as a young pitcher.”
Minor discovered what so many other pitchers have before him about the high cost of pitches left high in the strike zone, at a ballpark known for double-digit runs and balls that sail in the thin mountain air.
“I’ve heard a lot of stories about it, and tonight was the first time I’ve thrown here,” Minor said. “Whenever the ball’s hit in the air, there’s always a chance [it’s going out]. Those balls tonight were no-doubters. I throw a lot of straight balls, four-seamers. Here, that’s not a good thing.”
The game was delayed for 69 minutes in the bottom of the eighth after a brief but strong storm that brought hail, heavy rain and high winds,
Yes, it was a memorable night.
Diaz hit his sixth-inning homer an estimated 422 feet, and Heyward followed by scorching his 455 feet over the center-field fence. The Braves scored five runs in the inning to tie, including a two-run single by Jones, whose five RBIs matched his career high that he’s now done 18 times.
One inning later, Heyward hit a mammoth fly ball down the right-field line that drew oohs and ahhs from the crowd, which waited for the umpire to rule fair or foul. It was ruled foul, but after the Braves asked for it to be reviewed, the umpires convened and decided to get another look in the replay room behind home plate.
The call was upheld.
“I’m probably the only one that had the best view from my bat to going out,” said Heyward, who was sure the call should have been fair ball. “I had it fair, going up and around the pole. But we just asked them [to review it]. If you can’t tell, you can’t tell.
“I looked at [a replay] during the rain delay. It was for sure, exactly what I thought – it went over and then kind of went behind it. That’s all right. We still scored, got on base, did our business, put up some more runs. Very important.”
Heyward drew a walk and one out later, pinch-hitter Martin Prado was hit by a pitch to load the bases. Michael Bourn walked to give the Braves their first lead, 9-8, and Jones followed with another two-run single as Braves fans in the crowd chanted “Let’s go, Chi-pper.”
Freddie Freeman added a sacrifice fly as the Braves pushed their lead to 12-8. At that point they had outscored the Rockies 12-2 since the second inning.
On Friday, the Braves out-hit the Rockies 19-4 after the first inning.
Jones had three hits in each of the three comeback wins in the past four days, totaling nine RBIs in those games. The Braves improved to 13-2 when their 40-year-old third baseman is in the starting lineup.
They are 4-9 when Jones isn’t in the lineup, including a 4-0 loss Thursday against Philadelphia when the Braves mustered three hits off Joe Blanton, who pitched a complete game.
It was a rare night when Jones wasn’t the oldest player on the field – and not by a long shot. The 49-year-old Moyer became the oldest pitcher in major league history to win a game when he beat San Diego on April 17.
The left-hander had a 3.06 ERA with one homer allowed in three home starts before Saturday, when he worked out of a few tight spots in the early innings before the Braves broke through.
The Braves got an unearned run when Carlos Gonzalez dropped Freeman’s fly ball in the third inning, and two runs in the fifth when Minor had a leadoff single – his fourth hit and first this season – and Jones doubles him in one out later. Brian McCann added an RBI single in the inning as the Braves cut the lead to 6-3.
Rosario, who had two homers, took Minor deep with a runner on in the fifth to push the lead back to five. But the Braves were just getting started, and their offense flowed after the Diaz and Heyward homers.
Moyer left after Tyler Pastornicky followed Heyward’s homer with a single.
Rockies reliever Esmil Rogers worked the next 1-1/3 innings and was charged with three hits, five runs and three walks.
Minor got his hit off Moyer, after the elder lefty singled off the rookie in the second inning. The hit was the 50th for Moyer, who got his first major league hit one and 126 days before Minor was born.
The Rockies had a runner on first with one out in the eighth when the game was delayed. Gonzalez wanted to rest left-hander Jonny Venters for another day because of a slightly sore shoulder, and Livan Hernandez entered the game after the delay.
He gave up a Troy Tulowitzki single before inducing a double-play grounder by Todd Helton to protect the 12-9 lead. Hernandez worked a perfect ninth inning with two strikeouts and notched the first save of his 17-year career, after 485 games including 474 starts.
“Maybe it’s going to be the last one,” Hernandez joked. “I’ve never been in this situation. I think [Eric] Hinske told me, ‘Hey, first save.’ I said, ‘oh, yeah, we’ve got a three-run lead.’ And I found out when I started giving five to everybody after the game, someone said, ‘Wow, first save.’
“It take me like, 400-something games. But it’s very nice.”
He was converted from starter to reliever upon signing with the Braves late in spring training after he was cut by Houston.
Atlanta added a run in the ninth when Bourn’s fly ball was dropped at the warning track by center fielder Tyler Colvin.