Chipper joins Murphy in Braves lore
Slugger hits 398th homer; Francoeur a double shy of cycle
ATLANTA -- Never has a division title been won before the completion of May. But all of that doubt the Braves created during the first six weeks of the season has seemingly been replaced over the course of the past two days.
Nobody is going to declare the Braves to be the heavy favorites to win the National League East this year. But after getting battered by their offense and baffled by their starting pitchers this week in Atlanta, the Mets would understand why some people might predict that postseason baseball will return to Turner Field this year.
Not satisfied with Tuesday's doubleheader sweep, the Braves returned Wednesday to claim an 11-4 win over the Mets, who were the first to find out just how dangerous Jeff Francoeur can be when given a chance to rest one game on the bench.
When Francoeur didn't play in the second game of Tuesday's twin bill, he ended his Major League-long streak of playing in 370 consecutive games. After recording three hits, including his first homer since April 12, on Wednesday, the 24-year-old outfielder might prompt a mass of employees in Atlanta to take a rest on Thursday.
"Tonight was fun," said Francoeur, whose sixth-inning two-run homer ended a span of 133 consecutive homerless at-bats. "I was able to have fun for the first time in a while."
When Cox decided it was time to give Francoeur a rest, he didn't realize the benefits would factor so heavily into the 67th birthday gift his team gave him with Thursday's win. Along with Francoeur, the veteran skipper got to watch Mark Teixeira heat up with a three-hit game that provided support to the ever-steady Jair Jurrjens, who allowed one earned run over seven innings and won for the fourth time in five decisions.
"This is what we're hoping continues," said Teixeira, whose two three-hit games in the past three games are one more than he had in his first 41 games of the season. "We're pitching well and getting timely hits. I think that's the biggest thing is that we're getting timely hits. We hadn't been getting them the first part of the season."
During the first two days of this four-game series, the Braves have continued their home success, as they've now won 12 of their past 13 games at Turner Field. In addition, they've hit .337 (34-for-101) and seen their three starting pitchers surrender just 11 hits in 67 at-bats.
As for Mets starter Mike Pelfrey, he allowed eight hits in the 19 at-bats the Braves tallied off him in just four-plus innings on Wednesday. One of the final big blows he incurred came when Chipper Jones began the three-run fifth inning with his 12th homer of the season and the 398th of his career.
Jones is now tied with fellow Braves legend Dale Murphy for 45th place on Major League Baseball's all-time home run list. Given that Murphy was the first member of the Braves he met after being selected as the overall first selection in the 1990 First-Year Player Draft, the veteran third baseman views this step as a great honor.
"I've seen his jersey retired here and the man is an absolute god in the city of Atlanta," Jones said. "To tie him for career homers is probably the biggest milestone I've reached up until this point. Now I can always say I've hit as many homers as Dale Murphy."
Even though Jones, who leads the Majors with a .410 batting average, was forced to leave in the seventh inning after getting hit on the right shin with a Scott Schoeneweis breaking ball, there was still plenty for the Braves to enjoy.
Considering he's only a 22-year-old rookie, it's almost unfair to take for granted that Jurrjens limited the Mets to five hits and allowed just the one earned run in seven innings. In his past five starts, he has posted a 1.80 ERA and strengthened the confidence his teammates have in him.
"The way he's pitching is unbelievable," Francoeur said. "We feel confident every time he goes out there."
While beating the Mets for the sixth time in eight games this year, the Braves enjoyed the fact that Francoeur and Teixeira showed how capable this offense can be when the bats in the middle of the lineup click simultaneously.
"Teixeira is really starting to pound the ball now," Cox said of his switch-hitting first baseman, who has raised his batting average from .240 to .274 with 10 hits, including four doubles, in his past 18 at-bats.
While it was expected Teixeira would soon heat up, there might have been some concern about the fact that Francoeur had hit just .227 in his previous 24 games before being given a chance to rest his stressed mind during Tuesday's nightcap.
Some of the relief he found was visible with his third-inning RBI triple. When he skillfully directed an RBI single in the fifth inning, he didn't look like the frustrated swinger that he'd occasionally been during that past few weeks.
But the big blast came in the sixth inning when he directed Pedro Feliciano's first pitch 399 feet for a two-run homer. His previous home run had capped his two-homer game on April 12. While he said last week that he wasn't worried about his power numbers, his smile after this game proved he was happy that things are starting to seem normal again.
"He's struggled terribly for the last month or so and we've been kind of jokingly ribbing him about his lack of power lately," Jones said. "It was great to see. I think Bobby made a great call giving him a day off yesterday."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.