Braves suffer another shutout
Atlanta swept by Detroit, blanked for fourth time in five games
ATLANTA -- The Braves' first Interleague series of the season ended with a five-strikeout performance by Andruw Jones. The last series against an American League team culminated Sunday night, with Atlanta wondering when its offense would finally find some punch.
In between, Interleague Play for the Braves featured enough highlights, lowlights and drama to fill an entire season. The best that can be said now is that it is finally, mercifully, over.
A portion of the season Atlanta would probably like to forget ended with a 5-0 Detroit win at Turner Field before a national television audience. The Braves were shut out for the fourth time in five games, and a solo home run by Chipper Jones on Saturday accounts for the only run the Braves have scored since beating the Red Sox on Monday.
"You'd like to say it's all the pitching we've been facing, which has been outstanding," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "But you'd think with the percentages, you'd score more than one run in five games."
Since Jones' five-strikeout game on May 20, Chipper Jones has returned from the disabled list and starting pitcher John Smoltz has missed a start, then returned to the rotation after battling shoulder inflammation. Andruw Jones has slumped even further -- though he broke an 0-for-24 slump Sunday, his average sits at .199.
Chipper Jones and John Smoltz have sparred verbally through the media over the third baseman's durability, a one-day tiff that ended when the two cleared the air on Sunday. And the Braves have faced several of the AL's top pitchers, including a near win over Johan Santana and the Twins that the bullpen couldn't hold on June 14.
Now that the dust has settled on Interleague Play, the Braves can finally breathe a sigh of relief after enduring a stretch in which they lost 10 of 15 games and fell to 4 1/2 games behind the Mets in the National League East division race.
They will practically be rolling out the red carpet for the Nationals, who come to Atlanta on Monday, and are the first National League opponent the Braves will have faced since June 10.
"We need to do something," pitcher Chuck James said. "I think that's the way to look at it, that we need to turn the page on the American League and get back to some guys from the National League. Hopefully, that's what we need."
Tigers starting pitcher Andrew Miller has grown familiar with the National League, having made all four of his starts this season against the senior circuit.
On Sunday, he put scouting reports to good use once again, limiting Atlanta to four hits -- all singles -- and two walks in his six-plus innings. Atlanta got two runners into scoring position against Miller, but were unable to mount a rally and give its own starting pitcher, James, some momentum.
Miller was far short of dominating, but Atlanta's hitters often helped him by swinging early in the count. The 22-year-old lefty, who was pitching for North Carolina in the College World Series at this time last season, joins a list of pitchers who have shut down the Braves this week. The list includes Boston's Josh Beckett and Julian Tavarez and Detroit's Justin Verlander and Kenny Rogers.
During games against the AL, Atlanta also opposed strong hurlers such as Santana, C.C. Sabathia and Fausto Carmona.
"We do, to a point, half to tip our caps," left fielder Matt Diaz said. "But after a while, you get tired of tipping your cap. and you have to start looking in the mirror. I'll be doing that tonight, and I'm sure a lot of other guys will be, too."
James did his part by keeping Detroit's offense quiet through the first five innings. The lefty took advantage of the Tigers' free-swinging style by working the top half of the strike zone, a strategy that helped James record seven flyouts through three innings.
James said he didn't have his best velocity, but he stayed in the strike zone and cruised through four innings, first finding trouble in the fifth, when he didn't allow a run, but left runners on first and second.
"I didn't feel real well today," James said. "I didn't feel like I had a lot of life on my fastball, but I felt like today was one of the days I had my best control. I was able to hit my spots real well today."
Detroit's rally in the sixth started timidly, with Omar Infante laying down a bunt single that hugged the third-base line and Placido Polanco being hit by a pitch. James couldn't limit the damage. The next batter, Gary Sheffield, drove home the first run with a single, and Magglio Ordonez followed with a single to load the bases.
After a run-scoring walk to Carlos Guillen, James was relieved by Peter Moylan. But Moylan couldn't hold it, allowing two inherited runners to score on a single by Ivan Rodriguez. Atlanta finally escaped the inning with a flyout and a strikeout, leaving the bases loaded.
"They're a good hitting team," James said. "Really, the only bad pitch I made, I was trying to go in to [Polanco] and I hit him. Other than that, it was just a streak of bad luck. We figure Sheffield is going to pull the ball, so we play him over and he gets a little ball up the middle."
Atlanta had a runner reach scoring position in the seventh and eighth innings, but both were stranded at second. In the ninth, Jarrod Saltalamacchia hit a one-out single, but Chris Woodward followed by grounding into a game-ending double play.
"There will be a sense of familiarity," Diaz said of returning to games against NL teams. "It will be nice to come back to. There won't be as much video, not as many scouting reports, because you can actually picture the guy you're hitting against."
Jeff Lutz is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.