After playing a sloppy game from start to finish Tuesday, the Braves waited until extra innings to get ugly Wednesday in a wild and memorable second consecutive loss against San Francisco.
Brian McCann hit a tying two-run homer with two out in the 10th inning, but Braves reliever Chad Durbin gave up three-run homers by Brandon Crawford and Gregor Blanco in the 11th inning of a 9-4 Giants win at Turner Field.
Chipper Jones’ throwing error let in the go-ahead run in a two-run San Francisco 10th, and he made another throwing error in the 11th when he couldn’t set up properly on an aching knee.
Jones homered in the 11th inning for his 1,596th RBI, tying George Brett for the all-time lead among players whose primary position was third base. But he was in no mood to reflect on the accomplishment.
Asked if it was a bittersweet night, the veteran third baseman said, “It was bitter.”
Jones didn’t start because of his knee pain and didn’t enter the game until the seventh inning.
Juan Francisco, who started at third base, had a third-inning homer that accounted for the only scoring for the first nine innings for the Braves, who went 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position and lost for the second night in a row since a seven-game winning streak.
“We had some opportunities and we didn’t take advantage of them,” said manager Fredi Gonzalez, whose second-place Braves fell to 4-1/2 games behind NL East leader Washington. “Who would have thought that you had [Pablo] Sandoval and [Buster] Posey out of the [Giants] lineup in the eighth and nine innings, when they did some switching, and the guys who they put in there scored six runs. It’s just a tough day.”
Crawford had four homers in 508 career plate appearances before Wednesday, including one in 288 PAs this season. Ex-Brave Blanco had six homers in 1,133 career plate appearances before Wednesday.
The Braves need to win Thursday’s series finale to avoid being swept before going to Washington for an important weekend series.
“I don’t even know what to say,” said McCann, whose homer was the 150th of his career and fifth in eight games. “We played hard. That’s the positive I take out of every day we come here – this team gives it everything we’ve got on a daily basis. We show up ready to play. Tonight they got the better of us, but we’ll be back tomorrow and get after it.”
After Joaquin Arias hit a one-out triple in the Giants’ 10th, the Braves had reliever Anthony Varvaro intentionally walk Crawford to set up a potential double play. Justin Christian hit a chopped grounder to Jones, who bare-handed the ball and made an under-handed toss to McCann that sailed high over the catcher’s head and to the backstop, allowing the run to score.
“It takes too much time to come back and throw overhand [in that situation],” Jones said. “It’s one of those do-or-die plays. I knew the guy was fast. I possibly could have side-armed it, but he was running inside [the baseline], so it kind of takes the angle away from me. I figured I’d try to flip it as hard as I could. It turned out to be costly.
Series villain Melky Cabrera added an RBI single and the Giants had a 3-1 lead against the Braves, whose only hit with a runner in scoring position was McCann’s homer after Freddie Freeman’s two-out double in the 10th.
The Braves had a chance to win in the ninth. Dan Uggla drew a one-out walk against reliever Sergio Romo, the only non-strikeout plate appearance in five on the night for the slumping second baseman.
Jones followed with a grounder that second baseman Ryan Theriot bobbled, allowing Jones to reach base (although the stress of beating it out made his knee throb even more). Both runners advanced on a wild pitch before Sergio Romo struck out Paul Janish trying to check his swing.
Giants manager Bruce Bochy wasn’t going to have Romo face pinch-hitter Eric Hinske, who homered off him in the 2010 Division Series. So he brought in left-hander Javier Lopez, and the Braves countered with Tyler Pastornicky. With first base open, Lopez walked him intentionally to load the bases and bring up left-handed hitter Michael Bourn.
Bourn’s .315 average with runners in scoring position was the Braves’ second-best before Wednesday. He fouled off three consecutive pitches before striking out.
There was a 76-minute rain delay before the first pitch. That plus extra innings will make for a quick turnaround before the noon start in Wednesday’s series finale.
Mike Minor didn’t get a decision, but the Braves left-hander may have improved his job security by working out of a fifth-inning jam and pitching six innings of three-hit ball. He was perfect through four innings and gave up only one run on a sixth-inning homer by Cabrera, the ex-Braves outfielder whose antics in the series have drawn the ire of Atlanta fans and some players.
When reliever Eric O’Flaherty threw high-and-in and put Cabrera on his backside with two out in the eighth inning, fans cheered. And they were particularly pleased when Cabrera misplayed Heyward’s two-out fly ball in the bottom of the eighth, the ball skipping off his glove. But with Heyward at second, Freeman flied out to end the inning.
From Cabrera’s rude gesture to fans in the left-field bleachers on Tuesday to his slow home-run trot and apparent suggestion to Heyward that he try to advance to third base on a flyout Wednesday, Cabrera has reveled in a black-hat role. At a ballpark where, in 2010, he rarely played anywhere near as well for the Braves as he’s played in an All-Star season for San Francisco.
Fans weren’t the only ones who took offense.
“That’s Melky, and that’s why he’s not here anymore,” Jones said. “He got a little happy when Blanco hit the home run. It won’t be forgotten.”
Minor was perfect through four innings and matched Giants standout Ryan Vogelsong pitch-for-pitch through six. Minor gave up three hits, one run and two walks with seven strikeouts in six innings, the third time in his past seven starts that he’s allowed only one run. Minor has a respectable 3.82 ERA in that span allowing 30 hits and 21 walks with 34 strikeouts in 40 innings.
The Braves are considering possible trade options to upgrade their starting rotation before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, and if they make a deal it would presumably be to replace either Minor or Jair Jurrjens in the rotation. Jurrjens, after pitching well in his first three starts following a two-month demotion to Triple-A, was tagged for eight runs and eight hits in 3-1/3 innings of a 9-0 loss to the Giants Tuesday.
Vogelsong had his 14th consecutive quality start, allowing four hits and one run with two walks and seven strikeouts. He’s pitched at least six innings in all 17 starts this season.
Francisco, who started in place of Jones, homered to straightaway center field in the third inning for a 1-0 lead. Francisco also flied out to the warning track with two on to end the fourth.
The Braves wasted a scoring opportunity in the fourth after a leadoff single by Heyward and a walk by McCann. Uggla’s long slump continued when he struck out with two on for the second out before Francisco’s long flyout.
Uggla also struck out with Heyward at third base to end the sixth inning. Heyward drew a leadoff walk in the sixth and stole second base, his second steal of the night and 14th of the season. Freeman flied out and McCann grounded out before Uggla struck out.
Uggla has hit .113 with one homer and 39 strikeouts in 97 at-bats over his past 29 games, and .094 with 30 strikeouts in 64 at-bats in his past 20 home games.
“The good thing going here is he has some history of coming out of it and mental toughness,” Gonzalez said. “We’ll get through it with him.”