For seven innings Friday night, it looked as if the Braves’ Friday good fortunes and Chipper Jones’ hot bat wouldn’t be enough to offset the left arm of Dodgers pitcher Chris Capuano.
But the bottom of the batting order started a two-out, two-run rally in the eighth inning rally to tie, and the Braves pulled out a 4-3 win on Juan Francisco’s pinch-hit single with two out in the 11th inning of a series opener at Turner Field.
“Down two runs we came back and battled, tied the ballgame — a lot of great things going on today,” said manager Fredi Gonzalez, whose Braves won their fourth in a row since dropping the opener of a seven-game homestand.
David Ross and Paul Janish had consecutive two-out singles before Francisco lashed an opposite-field hit to left off Jamey Wright, sending a charge through a chopping and chanting crowd of 33,093 and starting a celebration on the field as teammates raced from the dugout to mob Francisco.
“Going into extra innings you’re on the edge of your seat, anything can happen,” said Janish, who had three hits including another two-out hit to start the eighth-inning rally. “The biggest thing is to win games like that, because they’re so emotionally involved. It’s kind of a kick in the pants if you don’t find a way to win them. It’s definitely a sign – good teams tend to find a way to win those games.”
Jason Heyward’s two-out single in the eighth drove in the tying run for the Braves, who collected their 18th win in 23 games and raised their Friday record to a stunning 17-2.
“We were able to hang in there and get some runners home late, and put up some tough at-bats against their pitchers out of the bullpen,” Heyward said after the Braves improved to 6-1 in extra-inning games.
The usual pull-hitting Francisco’s rare hit to left gave them their ninth walkoff win and the Braves moved to a season-high 21 games over .500 (70-49).
“We string a couple together and then Juan – that was huge coming off the bench, and being able to stick a ball in the outfield with two outs right there,” Janish said. “You really can’t say enough about that.”
Francisco, is 14-for-31 (.451) with 10 RBIs in his past 16 games, split between pinch-hitting and backup third-base duties.
“He’s been getting some playing time and he’s swinging the bat,” Gonzalez said. “A hell of an at-bat there.”
The Braves had a prime opportunity to win in the 10th, after Michael Bourn singled with one out, stole second and went to third on catcher Matt Treanor’s throwing error. But Martin Prado struck out, and after Heyward walked and stole second, Jones flied out to end the inning.
Many in the crowd had naturally expected more magic at that moment from Jones, who second-inning homer was his third in two nights.
Andre Ethier’s towering two-run homer off Braves starter Tommy Hanson in the sixth inning gave the Dodgers a 2-1 lead, and they added a run in the seventh on a pair of doubles including a two-out hit by Shane Victorino.
Jones led off the second inning with his 467th career homer, but the Braves managed only four other hits (all singles) against Capuano, who was charged with three runs – two after he left the game — and one walk with eight strikeouts. He got no decision and has a 1.81 ERA in his past nine starts against the Braves.
“When J-Hey tied it up for us, he gave us that spark to come back,” Ross said. “Because we’d been pretty dormant other than Chipper’s home run.”
The Braves’ offense awakened in the eighth, beginning with singles by Janish and pinch-hitter Reed Johnson. They had two in scoring position after Bourn’s sacrifice bunt off Capuano, and Prado got one runner in with a groundout to second base against reliever Ronald Belisario to cut the lead to 3-2.
Next up was Heyward, who was 6-for-63 with 23 strikeouts in his career against the Dodgers before coming through with his tying single to left-center. He was fully aware of his struggles against the Dodgers.
“This is my first year swinging the bat decent out there in L.A,” said Heyward, who had one hit in each of the Braves’ three games at Dodger Stadium in late April. “That’s the thing, I’ve only hit one home run in Philly and that’s one of the smallest ballparks. Same with Cincinnati. But time goes on and you get wiser with more at-bats. Same thing with two-out RBI situations, clutch situations and whatnot. You just want to keep improving.
“Last week the way the game ended in New York, it ended with me at the plate with two outs, a chance for an RBI to tie the game. And here we go again tonight, it was another chance, and it happened. So you just want to be patient with yourself and don’t over-think it, just relax and take what you can from each situation.”
Hanson started strong before getting knocked around late in his 6-2/3-inning outing. It was his first start since July 30, after a stint on the 15-day disabled list for a strained back. Hanson was charged with seven hits, three runs and two walks.
“He battled and got right to 100 pitches,” Gonzalez said. “That was a very promising outing.”
It was the beginning of what amounts to a two-week pitching competition for Hanson and other Braves starters. The team is temporarily going with a six-man starting rotation with the intention of scaling it back to five at the end of the month.
Hanson didn’t allow a hit until Hanley Ramirez’s two-out double in the fourth inning, and Ethier was out trying to score from first base on the play when left fielder Prado and relay man Janish both made strong throws.
The Dodgers started the fifth with consecutive singles by James Loney and Luis Cruz, but Hanson worked out of that tight spot with a groundout, a line-out and a Victorino strikeout with two in scoring position.
There would be no escape for Hanson in the next inning. Mark Ellis led off the sixth with a double that skipped off Jones’ glove. One out later, Ethier connected with Hanson’s first-pitch slider and launched it high and long, the ball landing about 15 rows backin the right-field bleachers.
“Besides the ball to Ethier, I thought I threw pretty good,” said Hanson, adding that his back felt fine. “I was happy with how I threw, but know I can throw better.”
Before Friday, Hanson was 7-1 in 11 starts since the beginning of June, despite a 4.71 ERA with 12 homers and 28 walks allowed in 65 innings. He had benefited from an average of more than six support runs per nine innings pitched in that period, and the Braves scored five or more runs while he was in the game in seven of those 11 starts.
Braves hitters found the going a lot tougher for most of the night against Capuano, although they eventually found a crack with the hits by Janish and newcomer Johnson, who has been just the bench contributor the Braves hoped he’d be when they got him from the Cubs in the same July 30 deal that brought starting pitcher Paul Maholm to Atlanta.
“I haven’t been swinging the bat as bad as maybe it looks like,” said Janish, who had a .210 average before Friday. “I’ve been hitting the ball hard at people, and having decent at-bats and just not getting the results. On a night like tonight, when we really couldn’t get much going offensively, to be able to come up with some key hits at key times, that’s obviously a good thing.”
Gonzalez said of Janish: “I know him and Walk [hitting coach Greg Walker] have worked hard to get a swing where he’s not an out. And he’s not by any means. And like we always say, he’s not here to win a batting title, he’s here to help us win on defense. And he’s done that. Whatever we get offensively out of him is a plus.”