CHICAGO – The offensive eruption that carried the Braves to a sweep at Colorado was reduced to a fizzle Monday night at Wrigley Field, which made a couple of mistakes by Tommy Hanson especially costly.
Bryan LaHair and Ian Stewart hit consecutive homers off Hanson in the fourth inning and the Chicago Cubs went on to beat the Braves 5-1 to open a three-game series on a night fog rolled in and Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez was thrown out.
“I felt good,” said Hanson (3-3), who left trailing g 2-1 after six innings. “Obviously wasn’t good enough. The back-to-back homers didn’t help the cause, and that was all they needed.”
Braves reliever Eric O’Flaherty gave up a run in the heated seventh inning, and Geovany Soto added a two-run homer off Chad Durbin in the eighth to give the Cubs half as many homers in one night as they’d had in 16 home games all season.
When it was a 2-1 game, the Braves had two runners on with one out in the seventh and Eric Hinske lined out first base to start into a double play.
And with Atlanta trailing 3-1 in the eighth and had two runners in scoring position with one out, Carlos Marmol struck out Brian McCann and Dan Uggla to get out of the jam.
“Tommy did an excellent job; he really did,” Gonzalez said of Hanson, who gave up five hits, two runs and two walks in six innings. “He gave us a chance to win the ballgame. Gave up two solo home runs, a 2-1 ballgame when he left it. We had some chances in the seventh with ‘Ski at the plate. He hit a rocket to the first baseman and they doubled us off.
“Then they were able to add on some runs late, and that was the game.”
Jason Heyward’s second-inning homer was all the offense the Braves had in seven innings against Cubs starter Jeff Samardzija.
It was the fourth homer in 24 at-bats for Heyward at Wrigley Field, and Samardzija hit him with a pitch in the seventh.
Heyward declined to comment on whether he believed it was on purpose. Asked what he was thinking about after it happened, he said, “What was the score, 2-1? Try to score.”
After O’Flaherty hit the David DeJesus in the bottom of the seventh, rookie umpire Chris Conroy immediately turned to each bench to issue a warning that another incident would mean ejection. He didn’t have to wait — Gonzalez came out to question Conroy after the warning was issued, and Conroy tossed him.
“I just asked him for an explanation,” said Gonzalez, the first Brave ejected this season. “I asked him why would you think we’re throwing at people in a one-run game or they’re throwing at people in a one-run game, you know? It’s not like it’s a 10-run game or anything like that. It’s still a helluva game going on, and I’m talking to him like I’m talking to you, and I got thrown out of the game.
“That wasn’t why we lost the game. It was just kind of odd, that I got thrown out of a game for not even raising my voice. It might be his first ejection as a major league umpire, I don’t know. But I never raised my voice or said anything other than I just asked him what he was thinking about that.”
The Braves still had chance to tie in the top of the eighth. Trailing 3-1, they had two on with none out after Marmol walked the first two batters. Then hot-hitting Freddie Freeman lined out up the middle — the Cubs had the shortstop positioned perfectly — and Marmol struck out McCann (looking) and Dan Uggla (swinging).
Michael Bourn and Martin Prado were both in scoring position when McCann and Uggla struck out, having advanced on a stolen base and wild pitch.
The Braves racked up 29 runs and 42 hits in a three-game series sweep of the Rockies before coming to Chicago, where the Cubs hardly seemed like a formidable foe. They had dropped 12 of their past 20 games, and struggled to score runs all season at Wrigley Field.
But they found just enough power against Hanson and Durbin, and Samardzija (4-1) was a far tougher pitcher than any the Braves faced in Colorado. The hard-throwing right-hander, a former Notre Dame wide receiver, held the Braves to one run and five hits in seven innings, with two walks and seven strikeouts.
Samardzija is 2-0 with an 0.84 ERA in his past three starts with 23 strikeouts an six walks in 21-1/3 innings.
“He’s really, really good,” third baseman Chipper Jones said. “Obviously I’ve only faced him out of the bullpen [before today], but he’s got staying power. Good heater, a two-seamer and four-seamer. Cuts it sometimes. I didn’t really see any sliders but I saw a couple of splits. Command has always been kind of shaky for him, and it looks like he’s got the command thing down, or at least he did tonight. He was real tough.”
The Cubs had multiple homers in only one game at Wrigley Field this year before LaHair and Stewart both took Hanson deep in a three-pitch sequence to begin the fourth inning. It was the sixth homer in his past 12 games for LaHair, who led the major leagues with a .418 average against right-handed pitchers entering the game. Stewart is now 3-for-6 with two homers off Hanson.
Hanson was 2-0 with a 3.78 ERA in his previous three starts, but gave up eight hits and four runs in 3-2/3 innings Wednesday against Philadelphia, the game that saw the Braves came back to win after trailing 6-0 against Roy Halladay.
“I thought Tommy pitched great, other than the two mistakes right there in the fifth,” Jones said. “He was on top of everything. Throwing all his pitches for strikes. It was a tough environment to play the game in tonight, but it was a pretty well-played game.”