MIAMI – Dan Uggla hit a three-run homer in a four-run first inning against his old team, but for a while it looked like the Braves’ Monday blues were back when they frittered away most of a six-run lead at Marlins Park.
They have found all sorts of unusual ways to win recently and did again, building a 6-0 lead after 3-1/2 innings, then seeing Tim Hudson give most of it back before the Braves finished off a 7-5 series-opening win against Miami that moved them a half-game closer to NL East leader Washington.
Martin Prado went 4-for-4 with two RBIs for the Braves, who pushed their winning streak to four and got to five games behind the Nationals, who were off Monday after getting swept by the Braves in a three-game series that ended Sunday night in Atlanta.
“We got a six-run lead and kind of let them back in the game,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “Nevertheless, we won the ballgame. The bullpen did a terrific job. Prado had a great night offensively. Danny had the three-run homer, but to me Danny saved us defensively.”
The Nationals have lost five of nine and start a series against the Dodgers on Tuesday. The Braves have won 11 of 15 and opened a 7-1/2-game lead on second-place St. Louis in the wild-card standings, with the Dodgers a game behind the Cardinals.
There are only 14 games left on the Braves’ schedule, but they believe they still have a chance to catch the Nationals.
“We definitely want to win the division, because that one-game playoff is such a gamble,” Uggla said of the single-game playoff between the wild-card teams to determine which advances to a division series. “It’s one game deciding who’s going to go [to the division series]. It’s kind of scary. We’d rather automatically be in the NLDS and not have to worry about that one-game playoff.”
The win was just the fourth in 20 Monday games for the Braves and second in 11 road Mondays.
Craig Kimbrel struck out one in the ninth inning and collected his 37th save.
Hudson (15-6) lasted five innings and gave away most of a six-run lead in a four-run fourth, the latest in a string of big innings against the veteran. He was charged with 10 hits and four runs, and threw 81 pitches without recording a walk or strikeout.
“That’s kind of been the story most of the year for me,” Hudson said. “We get a big lead [tonight] and I’m not really trying to go to the corners with a big lead like that. You’ve got to tip your cap to those guys over there; they hit some pretty decent pitches.”
It was the fifth time in his past eight starts that he allowed at least four earned runs, including three times in five or fewer innings. He has a 4.56 ERA in that period.
Uggla capped a four-run first inning with a two-out homer that sailed over the Marlins bullpen beyond left field and landed in the bleachers seats above it.
He also hit two homers in a four-hit, five-RBI game here against Miami on June 6, the day before his epic slump started.
Uggla was benched three games Sept. 2-4 and told by manager Fredi Gonzalez that Gonzalez didn’t know how much playing time the second baseman would get in September. The Braves were going to play the matchups and use whatever lineup Gonzalez believed would give them the best chance to win any given day, with Prado playing plenty of second base.
But Gonzalez was encouraged by some of Uggla’s at-bats Sept. 5-6, and he got another start Sept. 7 and had a double and a homer in a 3-0 win at New York. He went 3-for-3 the next day and has stahyed in the lineup ever since.
The day after his two-homer game June 6 at Miami, Uggla began a 77-game stretch in which he hit .151 with seven homers and 90 strikeouts in 251 at-bats. But in 10 games since he’s 12-for-34 (.353) with three doubles, two homers and seven RBIs.
“He seems to be comfortable hitting down here,” Hudson said. “He’s really hurt his former team with the home run here. It’s great to see it. He’s a guy that we’re going to need to lean on some going into this last couple of weeks and in the playoffs. If we can get him hot, it’s going to very much help our offense.”
In addition to his homer Monday, Uggla beat out an infield single in the eighth inning and made a diving defensive stop.
“No matter what the batting average is, no matter how he’s doing, that’s the only way he plays,” Gonzalez said. “And that’s why you love him and stick with him. Because that’s the way he plays the game every single night. He brings it. He brings the intensity. He can separate the offense from the defense, and that’s why you stick with a guy like that as much as you can.”
Asked whether he was more proud of, the homer or the diving stop, Uggla didn’t hesitate: “Homer. You kidding me? Come on, now. Those have been few and far between this year, and it got us off to a good start and gave Huddy a little cushion. Yeah, definitely the homer.”
Hudson cruised until the fourth inning, when he allowed a run on three singles within the first four batters. Then he surrendered consecutive two-out triples by Bryan Petersen, who came in batting .241 with a .267 slugging percentage, and Gorkys Hernandez, a light-hitting former Braves prospect batting .157 with a .245 slugging percentage before Monday.
Petersen was 5-for-53 with one extra-base hit in his career against Atlanta before tripling to right to bring in the second and third runs of the inning. Hernandez had four extra-base in 103 at-bats all season before doubling in the third inning and then lining a ball far over the head of center fielder Michael Bourn in the fourth, driving in Petersen to cut the lead to 6-4.
They were two unlikely characters in an improbable turn of events against Hudson, who before Monday had a career record of 152-6 when his team scored four or more runs while he was in the game, and a 134-3 record in starts when provided with a lead of at least three runs. He raised those marks, but not without some uneasy moments.
“Four runs in the first is a pitcher’s dream,” Hudson said. “I just hate that I gave a big chunk to them right there in that fourth inning.”
The Marlins added another run in the seventh off reliever Cory Gearrin before the Braves pushed the lead back to two on Prado’s RBI single in the eighth.
Prado’s four-hit game matched his career high (done six times) and gave him an NL-leading 55 multi-hit games this season.