Vivlamore reporting from Turner Field.
Chipper Jones sure isn’t hitting like this is his final season.
The Braves third baseman had a two-run double in the third inning to spark a 4-1 victory over the Astros on Friday night.
Jones has has hit safely in 27 of the past 31 games. During the stretch, which began June 19, Jones has a .357 average (40-for-112) with 18 runs, 14 doubles, five home runs and 23 RBIs. Jones, who announced this would be his 19th and final season with the Braves, was honored before the game for recently becoming baseball’s all-time leader for RBIs by a third baseman. He added to that total with another key hit.
“I don’t think he’s human. I think he’s a machine,” Braves winning pitcher Tim Hudson said.
With the hit, Jones moved into sole possession of 65th place on the all-time hits list with 2,690.
The victory moved the Braves to a season-high 16 games over .500 (61-45). They have won nine of their past 10 games and 12 of 16.
The Astros dropped their fourth consecutive game and are 3-27 in the past 30 games. That includes a 10-45 road record this season. The Astros were 3-24 in July, with a .111 winning percentage being the fifth worst for a month in baseball history.
Hudson (11-4) continued a string of solid efforts by recording his 100th victory as a Brave. He won his fifth consecutive decision, and the Braves are 6-0 since he started the streak July 6 with a win at the Phillies. The Braves have won 14 of his 18 starts this season.
Hudson struggled with a 25-pitch first inning, allowing runners on first and second with a walk and hit batter. However he struck out J.D. Martinez to end the threat and improved to 5-0 in seven career starts against the Astros. The strikeout started a run where Hudson retired 20 of the next 26 batters until he was relieved with one out in the eighth inning.
Hudson worked 7 1/3 innings and allowed four hits, an unearned run and two walks while striking out three. He threw 116 pitches, 72 for strikes. Craig Kimbrel pitched a perfect ninth, all strikeouts, for his 31st save, tying him for the National League lead.
“A lot of my games this year I’ve been pretty efficient,” Hudson said. “There are going to be times when I go five or six innings and have 110 pitches. Tonight was a game where I was able, almost from a conditioning standpoint, to get up there and work and try to make some pitches with a high pitch count for a change. Obviously, I want to have as many low pitch count games as I can but at some point later this year, probably in games that mean something, I’m going to have to make some pitches when I’m tired. That was a good test.”
After failing to score in the first inning, despite loading the bases and forcing Astros starter Armando Galarraga to throw 33 pitches, the Braves struck with a three-run third inning.
Martin Prado began with rally with a one-out double and Jason Heyward followed with a walk. Jones then drove them both in with his 17th double of the season, a shot to right field. Later in the inning, Dan Uggla popped up to shortstop in what figured to be the final out of the inning. However, Marwin Gonzalez lost the ball in the dusk sky allowing Jones to score. Uggla was credited with a double.
Prado, who went 2-for-3 after a day of rest Thursday, drove in a run in the fourth inning with another double, scoring Michael Bourn who reached on a fielder’s choice. Prado exchanged words with Galaragga, who was slow to the plate all night, in the sixth inning. Prado eventually walked to load the bases and Galarraga was replaced with a chorus of boos from the Turner Field crowd.
“It was a misunderstanding,” Prado said. “He was trying to do his thing. I heard something that I probably couldn’t understand because I was so locked in my at-bat. I’m a good friend with him. It is what it is. When we play between those lines we were just battling. He was just trying to get me out. I was trying to get a hit in that situation. Nothing major.”
The Astros managed an unearned run in the sixth inning on a throwing error by Uggla.
The Braves won despite only six hits but added eight walks off Astros pitchers. They left 10 men on base.
“I thought it was one of those crazy games where we kept letting them hang around and hang around,” manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “I thought it was going to come around and bite us a little bit. … We were patient with [Galarraga. He wiggled out of a few jams himself. We could have used a couple more runs but didn’t get them.”
- Chris Vivlamore