Error opens door for Braves' rally
Francoeur reaches on Rangers' wild throw; Braves score three
ARLINGTON -- As Mike Gonzalez rocked back and forth before every pitch in a somewhat intimidating manner, he displayed that excitement he'd promised, and at the same time, provided the Braves a rare occasion actually to celebrate being the benefactor of a late-inning blunder.
It had been more than a year since Gonzalez had thrown a Major League pitch. But as he completed a perfect ninth to cap the 5-2 win the Braves claimed over the Rangers at Rangers Ballpark on Wednesday night, he looked like a confident closer, who had no concerns about his surgically-repaired left elbow.
During the eighth inning, before Omar Infante provided the Braves a lead with his ninth-inning RBI single off C.J. Wilson, Braves manager Bobby Cox had decided Gonzalez would get the ball whenever his team gained a lead.
Earlier in the day, when he activated Gonzalez from the disabled list, the veteran skipper was concerned that the left-handed reliever's heightened adrenaline level would lead to control problems. But as Gonzalez swayed back and forth with loose hips before throwing each of his 15 pitches, he showed nothing but controlled excitement.
"The better that I feel, the more that I rock," said Gonzalez, after converting his first save since May 11 of last year.
Since being swept out of Chicago, the Braves have actually started to prove they can win on the road. They've won four of their past six games and can complete this 10-game road trip with a 5-5 record with a win in Thursday's series finale against the Rangers. Entering this trip, they had won just seven of their 28 road games.
"Based on the teams that we've played and the amount of travel, going 5-5 would be great, and maybe it would give us confidence that we can win on the road," said Jeff Francoeur, who sparked the ninth-inning rally with a swinging bunt that Rangers closer Wilson fielded and threw into right field.
"We caught a break leading off the ninth and took advantage of it," said Chipper Jones, who homered in the first inning and enjoyed a 2-for-5 night that once again kept his batting average exactly at .400. "The guys came out and got the job done."
Wilson's miscue allowed Francoeur to race to second base with nobody out. Two batters later, Infante delivered his game-winning single to right-center field. He would score on a Gregor Blanco RBI triple that simply helped give Gonzalez some cushion.
"It was a great way to end a well-pitched game by [Jo-Jo] Reyes," said Cox, whose team had won just two of the previous eight games in which they were tied after eight innings. "He was dynamite again."
Looking to win consecutive starts for the first time in his young career, Reyes allowed two runs -- one earned -- and five hits in seven innings. The 23-year-old southpaw battled control problems, as he issued four walks and threw just 55 of his 102 pitches for strikes. Still, the only time his control hurt him was when he hit German Duran with an 0-2 fastball in the third inning. Duran stole second base, advanced to third on a wild pitch and then scored on a Gerald Laird RBI single.
Misfortune visited Reyes again in the sixth inning, when Marlon Byrd stole second base with two outs and then raced to third when Brian McCann's throw bounced past Kelly Johnson and into center field. When Byrd scored on a Brandon Boggs RBI single, the Braves' young hurler was in line for another no-decision. Despite posting a 2.80 ERA in his past five starts, he still is just 1-2 during that span.
"I kept the team close," said Reyes, who allowed three earned runs in the 15 innings he completed during this road trip. "It's a [win] for the team, and that's all that matters."
After Jones hit his 16th homer of the season, the Braves didn't do much more damage against Rangers starter Eric Hurley, who was making his second career Major League start. The 22-year-old right-hander rebounded, allowing just two runs and five hits in five innings. His other damage came in the third inning, when Yunel Escobar doubled with two outs and then came home on a Johnson single.
After Hurley exited with runners on first and second and nobody out in the sixth, the Braves didn't score. Francoeur, who has two hits in 18 at-bats with the bases loaded, struck out on three pitches against Frank Francisco. But three innings later, the Braves right fielder found a chance to at least give his team a chance to win.
Once Francoeur's hustle helped induce Wilson's errant throw and the Braves completed their three-run ninth, all eyes turned toward Gonzalez. With his parents and sisters in attendance, the left-handed reliever took advantage of the fact that Cox showed so much confidence.
It had been more than a year since Gonzalez had been on a Major League mound. But with his first pitch -- a 94-mph fastball that was called a strike against Boggs -- he showed his normal flair. Then, when he ended things by inducing Jarrod Saltalamacchia to fly out to center, he hugged McCann and felt fortunate that Cox had provided this chance, this soon.
"I definitely wanted the opportunity to do that at the end of the game," Gonzalez said. "That meant the world to me."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.