When the Braves jumped to a 3-0 lead in the first inning Wednesday on the strength of home runs from Brian McCann and Freddie Freeman, they had to feel good about their chances with Tim Hudson pitching.
After all, Hudson had a 126-3 career record (and 24 no-decisions) when given a lead of three runs.
Make that 25 no-decisions now for Hudson, but a win for the Braves, who got a combined five hits and seven RBIs from McCann and Freeman and scored five runs in their last three innings for a 10-7 win at Turner Field to end a difficult homestand on a positive note.
After the Cardinals rallied from a 5-0 deficit to tie the score in the sixth inning, the Braves scored three in the sixth and two more in the eighth for their second win in a row after an eight-game losing streak.
“It puts us back on track,” said McCann, who had a two-run homer in the first inning and two-run single in the sixth. “We had a little skid there. The good sign for us is putting up runs. That’s something that we weren’t really doing during that little stretch. So to be able to come out and score some runs was big for us.”
They were swept in four games at Cincinnati and in three home games by Washington before collecting their second series win against the Cardinals in under three weeks. The Braves are off Thursday before an important six-game trip to Washington and Miami that starts Friday against the Nationals.
Freeman went 3-for-5 with three RBIs in his first game wearing prescription sports glasses, after missing four games waiting for the glasses to arrive and for his eyes to heal from irritation caused by a dry-eye condition and his contact lenses.
“It’s good that we came out here and battled the World Champions like we did,” said Freeman, who followed McCann’s homer with a solo shot of his own two batters later, homering in his first professional at-bat in glasses. “To take five out of six from those guys on the season is pretty good.”
The Braves broke a 5-5 tie in the sixth on Jack Wilson’s RBI double, then McCann beat the defensive shift by hitting a ball through the hole in the left side of the infield for two more runs in the inning.
The Braves’ lead was again reduced to one run after the Cardinals scored two in the eighth off reliever Eric O’Flaherty, but the Braves loaded the bases in the bottom of the eighth on three walks before Dan Uggla’s sacrifice fly and Freeman’s single moved the lead back to three runs for closer Craig Kimbrel, who pitched a hitless ninth for his 15th save in 16 opportunities.
For the Braves, it was first time they scored more than one run in the first inning since May 11-12, when they twice got two runs in the first inning in back-to-back games against the Cardinals during a three-game sweep at St. Louis.
Hudson was charged with six hits and five runs in 5-2/3 innings, and 23 of his 73 pitches came in the sixth inning.
McCann and Freeman were also the first two Braves to homer in the same inning since May 5, when Matt Diaz and Jason Heyward hit back-to-back tape-measure homers off Jamie Moyer in the sixth inning at Colorado. Freeman went 3-f0r-5 with three RBIs, and McCann drove in four runs.
Freeman had been slowed for 2-1/2 weeks and eventually sidelined by his eye problems, including corneal abrasions that ultimately forced him to give up playing in contact lenses.
He was 9-for-60 with one homer in his past 16 games and hadn’t played in four games while waiting for the new glasses to be constructed and shipped to Atlanta. They arrived Wednesday morning.
He was thrilled with the results when he tried out the new specs in batting practice, and that carried over to the game when Freeman homered to straightaway center on a full-count pitch from Kyle Lohse for a 3-0 lead.
“He swung the bat just like before all the eye issues,” manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “That’s nice to see, and just right on time because today was an offensive day…. It was a shame we couldn’t get Huddy a win, but I like the way the guys battled and really looked like the offensive team that we were the first month and a half, or almost two months of the season.”
Freeman also had an RBI double on a two-out high pop fly in the third inning, when the ball was blown back by the wind and landed between left fielder Matt Holliday and shortstop Rafael Furcal.
“I was surprised by how I hadn’t played in a few days and was able to have a swing like that,” Freeman said. “I wasn’t really worried about the glasses; I knew they worked well. I did a lot of work before the game just to make sure I was able to stay through the ball and go to left-center. I was happy with the results.”
Uggla hustled to score from second on the Freeman’s bloop hit, and one walk later Jose Constanza singled to right field for a 5-0 Braves lead. Constanza had singles in each of his first three at-bats, giving him four hits in two games since arriving from Triple-A Gwinnett on Tuesday.
Hudson was perfect through three innings and had a 5-1 lead and only 50 pitches thrown through five innings. But he ran into a wall in the sixth, when he gave up three groundball singles and a run in a span of first four batters. After a two-out walk by Matt Adams loaded the bases, Tyler Greene hit the next pitch to left field to drive in two runs and cut the lead to 5-4.
That was all for Hudson, who got a standing ovation as he left the field. In came struggling reliever Jonny Venters, pitching before the eighth inning for just the fourth time all season but the second time in as many nights.
The first batter he faced, Daniel Descalso, hit a groundball single up the middle to drive in the tying run.
“I’m just glad we were able to come back and win,” said Hudson, who was charged with six hits, five runs and one walk in 5-2/3 innings. “It was a game that I thought we should have blown them out.
“It feels like the last couple of games every baserunner that I’ve had has scored somehow. Seems kind of hard to do, every single baserunner scores. But that’s kind of been the case the last couple of outings. Just got to do a better job making some better pitches when I get in a jam.”
The four-run inning had erased the Braves’ substantial lead, but they answered with three runs in the bottom of the sixth. The speedy Constanza led off by beating out an infield single, then went to second on a passed ball and scored the go-ahead run on Wilson’s opposite-field double.
With a runner at second and two outs, Martin Prado was walked intentionally to bring up McCann, who slapped a grounder through the left side to push the lead to 8-5.
McCann said having Freeman back batting fifth changed things.
“That was huge,” he said. “Getting him back in the lineup is a big deal, because you’re throwing another presence in the order that the pitcher has to make quality pitches to, and they can’t leave pitches out over the middle of the plate. That’s just going to help everybody around him.”