MIAMI – After more than an hour of reflection, Braves pitcher Tommy Hanson was still at a loss for words to explain how one of his most erratic performances ended in perhaps the most improbable win of his career.
Hanson allowed a career-high seven walks and seven stolen bases in five innings, but gave up just one run in a 7-1 win Wednesday afternoon at Marlins Park.
“Seven walks and seven stolen bases — to go out and pitch five innings and only give up one run, I have no idea how I did that,” Hanson said. “I don’t even know if that’s ever happened.”
It’s happened, but not in nearly a century. The Marlins were the first team since the 1914 St. Louis Browns to collect at least seven bases in a game and score just once, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
Juan Francisco went 3-for-4 with a mammoth homer and three RBIs, and Michael Bourn and Jason Heyward also homered for the Braves, who won the series 2-1 to finish 4-3 on a road trip that started with a series split at Washington.
The Marlins went 1-for-12 with runners in scoring position and scored only one run in the first three innings despite getting three doubles, four stolen bases and four walks.
In five innings we steal seven bases walk like seven times, three doubles and we only score once. You think about it and you check your head how that can happen.”
“For the first five innings we felt like we could score any time, any moment, and we didn’t,” Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen said. “I’ve never seen that before. That’s amazing.”
Francisco pulled a two-run homer an estimated 435 feet down the right-field line to put the Braves ahead 3-1 in the fourth inning, and Bourn added a two-run homer in the fifth to push the lead to 5-1 for Hanson.
“It was really weird,” said Hanson (11-4), who had seven strikeouts and allowed three hits while picking up his eighth win in 12 road starts, tied for the major league lead. “Definitely not ideal, but we got the win. That’s what counts.”
Heyward hit an opposite-field leadoff homer in the eighth inning, his 15th of the season. That’s one more than he hit last season and three below his rookie total in 2010. Heyward also doubled and scored the tying run in the fourth.
The seven stolen bases were the most by a major league team this season, and all came in Hanson’s five innings as the Marlins exploited his slow delivery. Hanson picked off Jose Reyes trying to steal third base in the third inning, the only Marlins base stealer who was caught all afternoon.
“I think if we were in Vegas it would have been a nice line — seven walks, seven stolen bases, seven strikeouts,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “That’s a good line in the slot machines, but it’s not something we want to do every fifth day. He got his 11th win not being real sharp….
“They’ve got some guys that can run. That’s the way [Hanson] has been forever. We try to speed him up every once in a while. It concerns me a little bit, but I go back to what my people from SABR [Society for American Baseball Research] say, that stolen bases do not equal runs, and today it came true. But it’s not really a good feeling when guys are running all over the basepaths.”
As if to underscore how ragged Hanson’s outing had been, Kris Medlen followed with three near-perfect innings, allowing just one walk with five strikeouts in 46 pitches.
“You get a lead like that, you just want to keep it going,” Medlen said. “You get a couple of scoreless innings out of the bullpen, why not get another one? We had a lead so I could just execute my pitches and pound the zone.”
It was such an impressive performance that Gonzalez said Medlen has once again thrust himself into consideration for a spot in the starting rotation if the Braves fail to acquire another starter before Tuesday’s now-waiver trade deadline.
The Braves pushed back struggling No. 5 starter Jair Jurrjens’ next start from Friday to Tuesday because of an off day in the schedule Thursday, and by then they could have a new starter to take that spot or go with Medlen.
Gonzalez and pitching coach Roger McDowell considered letting Medlen pitch the ninth inning, but decided against it because he also pitched an inning in Monday’s series opener.
“So we didn’t want to take him further than that,” Gonzalez said. “But [starting] is an option going forward. It all depends on how we come through the couple of games before that turn comes. Because he’s been terrific bridging that gap in the bullpen, getting us to [relievers Eric] O’Flaherty and [Craig] Kimbrel. But it’s an option, and we’re weighing it and thinking about it. We’ll see what happens the next two or three days.”
Medlen was sent to Triple-A on May 29 to build arm strength – get “stretched out” – for a possible move from the bullpen to the rotation. But two weeks later the Braves brought him back and opted to keep him in the bullpen. Jurrjens was brought up from Triple-A and re-inserted in the rotation, where he had three encouraging starts before things went awry in his past two.
“I just want to keep doing what they ask me to do, like I’ve done my entire career,” said Medlen, smiling and trying to avoid more discussions about the rotation possibility unless it actually happens. “We’re winning, so it feels good.”
But if he’s asked to start, how many innings could he pitch now?
“When I was down there [at Triple-A] I got up to 96 [pitches],” he said. “I haven’t done that in a while. It would probably take me a few starts if they felt like doing that. It hasn’t been brought up and I’m not really worried about it. I just want to keep bridging the bullpen, from the starters to the late-inning guys.”