CINCINNATI – Randall Delgado had already given up two grand slams this season including one last weekend, and the Braves weren’t going to risk him giving up a third at the most homer-friendly ballpark in the National League.
After the Cincinnati Reds loaded the bases against Delgado with one out in the sixth inning Thursday, the Braves brought in Kris Medlen to face Devin Mesoraco. To say the move backfired would be a major understatement.
Mesoraco crushed the third pitch from Medlen, driving it into the second deck of the left-field seats for a grand slam that sent the Reds to a 6-3 win and series sweep of the Braves at Great American Ball Park, their first four-game sweep over Atlanta in more than 20 years.
The Reds have six-game winning streak, while the Braves have lost five out of six and seven out of 11 going into their much-anticipated weekend series with NL East leader Washington at Turner Field.
“Obviously I expected to go in there and throw one pitch and get out of it with a double play, but I fell behind and had to go at him,” said Medlen, who gave it up on a 2-and-0 fastball. “I feel bad for Randall. You hate to go in there and give up someone else’s runs with the bases loaded. But like I said, I fell behind and had to go after him.”
The last time the Braves were swept in a four-game series was in April 2009 at St. Louis, and the last time they were swept in a four-game series by the Reds was in April 1990 at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium.
They hit just .150 with eight runs in the series, and have hit .167 with 12 runs in their past six games.
Leadoff man Michael Bourn hit his third home run of the series for the Braves, but they lost five of their last six games and finished 2-5 on a trip that began on a promising note with a series win at Tampa Bay.
It took on a distinctly different feeling as the training room became increasingly crowded in Cincinnati and the Braves went down four nights in a row in a hail of home runs and with most of their own sluggers missing all or part of the series due to injuries or illness.
They’ve played a majors-leading 29 road games in their first 46, and now return to Atlanta for a six-game homestand starting Friday against the Nationals, who hold a one-game lead over the Braves.
“If we had been at full strength it might have been a little different outcome,” said backup catcher David Ross, who played the last three games in place of flu-ridden Brian McCann. “But it is what it is. You go through those things in a season. We’re anxious to get home; we’ve been on the road a lot.
“Get some rest in our own beds. We can’t be down on ourselves — we’ve got Washington coming to town.”
The Braves had a 2-1 lead after five innings without McCann, Chipper Jones or Freddie Freeman in the lineup, and things were going well until Delgado gave up two walks, a hit and wild pitch in a span of the four batters of the sixth.
“I just thought the inning unraveled a little bit on him,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “It just got out of hand. It’s a ough position to put Medlen in, with no wiggle room. He got a ball out over the plate and he hit it out for a home run.”
After Juan Francisco hit his second home run of the series for the Braves in the seventh inning, Drew Stubbs added leadoff homer off struggling reliever Jonny Venters in the bottom of the seventh to re-fortify the Reds’ lead.
Braves pitchers gave up 10 home runs in four games in the series.
“You don’t blame the park for anything,” Medlen said. “Our hitters are just as capable of hitting fly balls out of here, same as them. Can’t blame it on the park. It was a fastball down the middle and he hit it. He’s a big-league hitter.”
The Braves had six homers in the series, but only 13 other hits in four games.
“Well, most of our bats were in the dugout sitting with me, with Freeman and McCann and Chipper,” Gonzalez said.
Bourn’s two-run shot in the fifth inning gave the Braves a 2-1 lead. But the lead, the game and the series went up in flames in the bottom of the sixth, when Mesoraco tore into a 2-and-0 Medlen pitch for the 16th homer off Braves relievers this season, tied for the National League high.
Delgado (2-5) pitched well for the first five innings, allowing six hits, one walk and one run in that period. But he ran into a familiar source of trouble in the sixth – the leadoff walk. Brandon Phillips walked to start the inning, and Chris Heisey hit a one-run single to put runners on the corners.
After a mound conversation with the entire infield and pitching coach Roger McDowell, Delgado walked Todd Frazier to load the bases.
“It’s almost the same as the last start,” said Delgado, who gave up two walks and a single to set up Matt Joyce’s third-inning grand slam for Tampa Bay in Saturday’s 5-2 loss to the Rays. “We paid for both walks. I was trying to keep the game under control, but I couldn’t.”
Gonzalez called on Medlen at that point. The right-hander hadn’t given up a homer this season and had a 1.83 ERA in his past 15 appearances, but he fell behind in the count and left a 91-mph fastball over the middle of the plate. Mesoraco hammered it for his fifth homer this season and first major league grand slam.
The Braves were last swept in a four-game series in Cincinnati in 1980, but they’ve had plenty of frustrations in the Reds’ home park in recent years. The Braves have won just one of eight series at Great American Ball Park in the past seven seasons, and fell to 7-19 in that period at the stadium. They were swept in a three-game series in Cincinnati in 2009.
Bourn’s homer was his his fourth in 13 games, after hitting 13 homers in the first 749 games of his career.