CHICAGO — Randall Delgado didn’t get a win with his strong performance Tuesday night, but the Braves made sure the rookie pitcher didn’t get a loss.
Dan Uggla drove in two runs with a tie-breaking, bases-loaded single in the eighth inning to propel the Braves to a 3-1 win against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field, their fourth in five games on a nine-game trip.
“Delgado’s been battling and throwing great,” Uggla said. “Tonight he really pitched his butt off and gave us a chance to win. I hate that we couldn’t get him a ‘w,’ but I’m sure he’ll be OK. He’s a great kid and just wants to win.”
Delgado took a shutout into the sixth inning in a duel with Cubs starter Ryan Dempster. Braves hitters fared better after reliever Kerry Wood entered in the eighth inning.
Michael Bourn led off the eighth with a single that extended his hitting streak to 12 games, and Martin Prado walked to put two on with none out.
Freddie Freeman hit a grounder and hustled to first to prevent a double play, and Brian McCann walked to load the bases with one out.
Uggla singled to left-center field to deflate Wrigley denizens in a crowd of 38,523. The Cubs won 5-1 in Monday’s series opener behind pitcher Jeff Samardzija.
“Samardzija was really good; Dempster was just as good,” Uggla said. “We got a few things going [in the eighth]. Got Mikey on, got a great at-bat by Prado, Freddie beating that double play out, Mac another great at-bat. Then I was just trying to get something in the air toward the middle of the field and ended up finding a hole. That’s what we needed.”
The Braves will send Tim Hudson to the mound against Cubs left-hander Paul Maholm on Wednesday afternoon in the rubber game of the series.
The Cubs threatened in the eighth against Jonny Venters, who gave up two singles before inducing a 4-6-3 double-play grounder by hot-hitting Bryan LaHair. The play featured a lightning-quick relay turn by shortstop Jack Wilson, a late-innings defensive replacement.
“It’s first and third and you’re staring at [Alfonso] Soriano in a two-run game in the eighth inning if we don’t turn that double play,” Gonzalez said. “Not many guys can do that. Wow…. Turned the game around.”
Craig Kimbrel worked a perfect ninth inning for his 10th save in 11 chances.
Delgado’s past two starts have been his best of the season, and he showed moxie working out of a couple of jams on a night when the wind blew out to right field. The ballpark can be treacherous for pitchers under those conditions.
Delgado gave up one run on five hits and three walks with five strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings. He gave up two runs in eight innings of Thursday’s loss to Philadelphia.
“Back-to-back outings for him that were exceptional,” Gonzalez said. “He goes from an eight-inning outing against Philly, got the loss, to coming in here and getting nothing. But he’s pitched terrific. Every game he’s pitched I think he’s learned something.”
The 22-year-old Panamanian relied plenty on his vaunted change-up.
“I think my curveball and fastball [worked well], too,” Delgado said. “Keeping it down in the zone – that was the key for my change-up today.”
He has a 1.98 ERA in his past two starts, with nine hits, three walks and 10 strikeouts in 13 2/3 innings. He also contributed with his bat Tuesday — a fifth-inning single, the second hit of his career.
“I think it’s come to be expected,” catcher Brian McCann said. “The guy is learning on the fly up here. He’s got all the pitches to be successful, he’s got poise, he holds runners – he does everything you want. And tonight he had everything going and he pitched a great game.”
The Braves broke a scoreless tie in the fifth after Jason Heyward led off with a triple to right field. Tyler Pastornicky followed with a sacrifice fly.
After LaHair’s leadoff walk in the Cubs’ second inning, Delgado retired the next three batters including two strikeouts.
After David DeJesus hit a two-out double in the third, Delgado struck out Tony Campana.
In the fourth, after Starlin Castro reached on an error by third baseman Chipper Jones and Soriano walked with one out. Delgado struck out the next two batters, Ian Stewart and Geovany Soto.
All five of his strikeouts were important.
“The change-up was as good tonight as I’ve caught it,” McCann said. “It almost acted like a split. That was kind of his pitch tonight, and he got ahead of everybody. And when you do those things and as a catcher you can go anywhere you want to go, both sides of the plate, the pitches kind of tell you where to go next. That’s what he did tonight. We were in a groove and he made all his pitches.”
The Cubs got their only run against Delgado in the sixth inning, after Campana’s leadoff single. He came around to score the tying run on Soriano’s double to the right-field corner on the eighth pitch, a sinker over the middle.
“We were trying to go sinker in,” McCann said. “And it was one of those situations where with a left-hander on deck we knew he’d bring [Eric] O’Flaherty in, and first base was open. Those are little things that he [Delgado] will learn. The last pitch was going to be a sinker in his hands, either for a ball or a broken bat. But it leaked over the middle.
“He pitched an unbelievable game. That pitch right there was supposed to be in, and really it was the only time all night that he missed a spot.”
Delgado said, “I tried to be perfect on the inside of the the strike zone, but I left the pitch right in the midde, a little bit up. And he hit it.”
It was Delgado’s 101st and final pitch. O’Flaherty was brought in to face Stewart and got him on a groundout to end the inning with the score 1-all.
Dempster allowed one run and six hits in seven innings, with one walk and seven strikeouts. It’s the only earned run he’s given up in his past three starts, during which he’s allowed 13 hits and four walks with 21 strikeouts in 21 innings.