NEW YORK – The Braves used to win against Johan Santana because his teams provided awful run support when he faced Atlanta. But these days they just beat the once-great Mets left-hander. And beat him badly.
The Braves scored nine runs in the first two innings and cruised to a 9-3 rout against the New York Mets and Santana on Saturday night at Citi Field, their 14th win in 17 games and seventh in a row against the Mets.
Kris Medlen (3-1) had seven strikeouts in a season-high 6-1/3 solid innings in his third start since moving from the Braves bullpen, and Freddie Freeman drove in five runs in the first two innings including a mammoth three-run homer.
“I don’t even know if that’s ever happened before,” Medlen said of pitching with a 9-0 lead after the Braves’ second inning. “That’s one thing you need as a starter, some run support. I got that.”
Michael Bourn added three hits for the Braves, who clinched their sixth consecutive series win.
“We just got the ball rolling early and we kept it going,” Bourn said. “We had a lot of good at-bats against [Santana]…. It wasn’t like he was making a lot of bad pitches. But we were able to put the bat on the ball, and we kept going. We were able to get a real good lead, which is always good for your pitcher. And Medlen stayed strong. He was mixing them up good and pitching with aggression.”
After limiting the Mets to five hits, one run and one walk, Medlen is 2-0 with a 1.62 ERA in three starts this season, and 7-0 with a 3.68 ERA in 17 starts going back to his move to the rotation during the 2010 season. That stint in the rotation ended when he tore an elbow ligament and had surgery that sidelined him until the final week of the 2011 season.
The Braves are 16-1 in Medlen’s 17 starts this season and in 2010, including 14 consecutive wins.
“Medlen was great,” said manager Fredi Gonzalez, whose surging Braves stayed 4-1/2 games behind equally hot National League East leader Washington. “If everybody [in the starting rotation] is pitching the way we’re pitching, it’s going to be a tough decision whether we stay with five or go with six [when Tommy Hanson comes off the disabled list]. Because all these guys are pitching. We’ve rattled off some pretty good starts looking back about three weeks now.”
Santana (6-8) was charged with eight runs and eight hits in 1-1/3 innings, equaling his April 17 start in Atlanta as the briefest of his career. After never lasting fewer than three innings in a start before this season, the former two-time American League Cy Young Award winner has been knocked out twice by the Braves before recording his fifth out.
“He had trouble with his change-up tonight early, and we got into some counts and got some pitches in the middle of the plate to hit,” Braves third baseman Chipper Jones said. “We bled a few in, but it was not typical Johan.”
Santana was 3-6 with a 2.14 ERA in his first 13 starts against the Braves, including five scoreless innings of two-hit ball this season on opening day. But in three starts against Atlanta since then, he’s 0-3 with a 21.13 ERA, with 18 earned runs and 20 hits allowed in 7-2/3 innings.
“It’s just one of those nights where I didn’t execute pitches the way they’re supposed to be executed,” said Santana, who returned from a DL stint for a sprained ankle. “But overall I felt fine. I didn’t feel anything in my ankle or my shoulder. I felt good. It’s just over three weeks not facing any hitters at this level and then trying to command all of your pitches, it wasn’t my best.”
The Braves started Saturday’s game with consecutive singles by Michael Bourn and Reed Johnson. Santana struck out Jason Heyward and Jones before Freeman hit a two-run double. Freeman leads the National League with 31 RBIs when batting with runners in scoring position and two outs, and his .403 average (21-for-52) in those situations is the league leader among hitters with at least 30 such at-bats.
“That’s my favorite,” Freeman said. “It really hurts the other team when you get a two-out ribbie. It’s something that I take a lot of pride in, and I’ve actually done a good job this year with that.”
Santana got out of the inning without further damage, but the Braves really went to work against him in the second inning. After a leadoff walk by Dan Uggla, the Braves got three consecutive singles from Paul Janish, Medlen and Bourn, the latter two driving in a run apiece for a 4-0 lead.
One out later, Heyward and Jones had RBI singles to chase Santana from the game.
“That’s probably the best fastball I’ve seen him have since early in the season,” Mets manager Terry Collins said. “Just balls in the middle of the plate. And, as I told him when I took him out: No disrespect to the Braves. They’ve got a very, very good club. But when they hit it, they hit it where nobody was standing. He didn’t have a ball hit at anybody.”
The first batter reliever Jeremy Hesler faced was Freeman, who launched a 3-1 fastball over the moon – or at least over the big apple beyond the center-field fence. The mammoth homer was estimated at 455 feet, just 10 feet shy of the Citi Field record set by Miami’s Giancarlo Stanton in 2011.
“I’m going to have to say, that’s as good as I can hit one there,” said Freeman, smiling. “I don’t know how far that went, but if you guys say like 400 I’m going to be upset.”
Ten of Freeman’s 14 home runs this season have come with runners on base, and he ranks among NL leaders with 74 RBIs.
“He’s taking the next step toward stardom,” Jones said. “I mean, he’s going to drive in 100 runs. That’s something that’s pretty big for guys in the middle of the lineup, especially young guys. Do it once and get some confidence, know that you can go out there and do it every year. Freddie’s a guy that, if he stays healthy, he can run off a few 100-RBI seasons in a row.”
Two of three runs runs from Freeman’s homer were added to Santana’s ledger, leaving him with one of the ugliest lines of his career: 1-1/3 innings, eight hits, eight runs, one walk, two strikeouts. He has not been the same dominant pitcher since shoulder surgery in September 2010, and the Mets may regret letting him push it in a couple of outings May 26 and June 1, the latter a no-hitter against St. Louis.
He pitched back-to-back shutouts in those games against San Diego and St. Louis, and totaled 134 pitches against the Cardinals. That’s 26 pitches more than he’s thrown in any other start this season, and 91 more than he lasted Friday in his first game back from a stint on the disabled list for a sprained ankle and shoulder fatigue.
Since his no-hitter Santana is 3-6 with a 7.98 ERA in nine starts, including 0-4 with a jaw-dropping 17.36 ERA in his past four, allowing 36 hits and 27 earned runs in 14 painful innings during those four games.
He went on the DL with an ankle injury that occurred when he was covering first base on a grounder by Johnson, then of the Cubs. Johnson stepped on Santana’s twisted ankle on the play, which came in the first of his three bad starts before he was DL’d.