Braves hustle past Cardinals
Atlanta uses big effort to end six-game losing skid
ST. LOUIS -- As his team struggled mightily over the past few weeks, Braves manager Bobby Cox has emphasized that his players would continue to provide maximum effort.
Those words became reality at Busch Stadium on Saturday afternoon, when the Braves showed great hustle and determination while claiming a hard-earned 8-4 win over the Cardinals.
"We deserved that win," said Atlanta third baseman Chipper Jones, who enjoyed a two-hit game that included a single in his team's game-tying two-run sixth inning. "Guys put up a great effort to battle at the plate and in the field."
Greg Norton's pinch-hit two-run single off Kyle McClellan with two outs in the eighth provided the difference for the Braves, who snapped a six-game losing streak and won for just the second time in 13 games. But Norton's hit was just one of the many highlights Cox's troops produced in the final two innings.
When a 49-minute rain delay halted play with two outs in the top of the ninth, it looked like the Braves actually might snap their skid of 27 straight one-run road losses. But thanks to Martin Prado's hustle and a 14-pitch at-bat by Kelly Johnson, Jeff Francoeur was able to provide some breathing room by coming through with a clutch bases-loaded hit.
"Prado, I thought just played a great game," Cox said of his temporary first baseman, who capped a three-hit performance by hustling down the first-base line to record a ninth-inning RBI single that came after Cardinals second baseman Felipe Lopez triple-pumped before throwing to first.
Similar to how the Braves felt all of their recent struggles snowballed on them during Friday night's 18-3 series-opening loss, Prado's grit had a snowball effect on the Cardinals. Johnson followed with a 14-pitch at-bat that concluded with a bases-loaded walk and included a span during he which he fouled off eight consecutive pitches from Russ Springer.
"In my mind, after every [foul ball] I was thinking, 'Why didn't I hit that?'" said Johnson, who entered the game hitting .175 with a .450 on-base percentage when he'd worked the count full.
Jones told Johnson it was "the at-bat of the year," and Francoeur, who was in the on-deck circle, had the opportunity to watch in amazement as his second baseman showed that he hadn't lost his focus despite his team's recent woes.
"They've been doing that, but they haven't gotten credit because we've been losing," Cox said when asked about Prado's hustle and Johnson's determined plate appearance. "We've been through [a lot] the last couple of weeks, and they haven't lost their focus or concentration."
Over the course of the season, none of the Braves have faced as much adversity as Francoeur, who took advantage of Johnson's walk by following with a two-run single. It gave Mike Gonzalez the comfort of working with a four-run lead and provided Francoeur just his fourth hit in 25 at-bats with the bases loaded this season.
"Kelly had a great at-bat, and Frenchy [Francoeur], too," Cox said. "It gave us a well-earned extra three runs. It gave us some breathing room with [Albert] Pujols possibly coming up in the [bottom of the inning]."
During the first two games of this series, Pujols has been retired just twice in eight at-bats. One of those outs came when Gregor Blanco dived to grab his sinking seventh-inning liner, and the other came when he lined out to Jones to end Saturday's game.
Pujols certainly proved to be the greatest nemesis for Braves starter Jorge Campillo, who allowed three earned runs and seven hits in five innings. The St. Louis first baseman got to Campillo for a two-run third-inning double and a fifth-inning leadoff homer that gave the Cardinals a 3-1 lead.
"It would have been really easy for us to lay down after we got down, 3-1, but we didn't," Francoeur said in reference to the fact that the Braves lost two late-inning leads to the Mets earlier this week and had surrendered 26 hits during Friday night's defeat.
Cardinals starter Kyle Lohse, who gave up three earned runs and eight hits in six innings, retired seven straight before allowing Yunel Escobar and Jones to begin the sixth inning with consecutive singles. A walk to Brian McCann loaded the bases, and Prado delivered a game-tying two-run single.
After Norton provided his clutch two-run single, the Cardinals plated a run in the bottom half of the inning with a pair of doubles in a span of three batters against Will Ohman. But Jeff Bennett and Gonzalez prevented additional damage by retiring the next two batters.
Because Gonzalez had thrown just one pitch, Cox brought his closer back out after the rain delay. When Gonzalez got Pujols to hit a liner directly at Jones, the Braves once again tasted victory and reaped the rewards of an impressive, determined effort.
"It's good to see the guys are putting out the effort to get the job done," Jones said.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.