Diaz caps staff's dazzling night in victory
Outfielder rips decisive single to back Reyes, set up Gonzalez
ATLANTA -- Putting words into action, Jo-Jo Reyes showed Tuesday that he has moved away from his past. Consequently, he provided Mike Gonzalez the opportunity to prove that he's healthy enough to resume the dominance he once possessed.
While producing one of the most impressive starts of his young career at Turner Field on Tuesday night, Reyes was denied the opportunity to notch his first win in more than 10 months. But with Matt Diaz's two-run single in the eighth inning and Gonzalez's perfect ninth, the young left-hander had every reason to do nothing but smile about the hard-earned 2-1 victory the Braves claimed against the Cardinals.
"That's the best ballgame that I've seen Jo-Jo throw," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "He looked exactly the way that [pitching coach] Roger [McDowell] has tried to make him look."
Proving that he's ended his days as a thrower and developed into a pitcher, Reyes limited a potent St. Louis lineup to one run over seven innings. But the effort was seemingly destined to be frustrating until Diaz averted a shutout by chopping Kyle McClellan's 3-2 pitch through the middle of the infield to plate the decisive runs.
"It was an 85-hopper up the middle, but it's a laser in the books," said Diaz, who came to the plate after McClellan loaded the bases with walks to Omar Infante, Chipper Jones and Jeff Francoeur.
Diaz's clutch single prevented Atlanta from suffering its third shutout loss in 11 games and also set the stage for Gonzalez, who needed 15 pitches to work his perfect ninth -- which included strikeouts of Colby Rasmus, Albert Pujols and Ryan Ludwick.
"That's the Gonzo that we remember with the Pirates and the Gonzo that we knew before the surgery," said Francoeur, referring to the fact that Gonzalez has just recently started showing the dominance he possessed before incurring the elbow problems that led to Tommy John elbow ligament reconstruction surgery in May 2007.
After falling behind Pujols with a 3-0 count, Gonzalez got the Cardinals slugger to look at back-to-back fastballs on the outside corner. With the crowd on its feet, the Braves' closer fed off the emotions and registered a called third strike on a slider.
"When the crowd is behind you, it's like you can run through a wall," said the highly emotional Gonzalez, who has recorded three strikeouts while limiting Pujols to one hit in seven career matchups between the two.
When Gonzalez, who has eight strikeouts during his current scoreless streak of 3 1/3 innings, ended the game with a strikeout of Ludwick, Atlanta was able to enjoy an evening that had been filled with prolonged offensive frustrations. Cardinals starter Kyle Lohse worked six scoreless innings, despite the fact that the Braves had produced two baserunners during each of the first three innings. Yunel Escobar's decision to run through third-base coach Brian Snitker's stop sign killed a third-inning threat, and Rick Ankiel's diving grab in left-center field denied pinch-hitter Greg Norton from tying the game in the seventh with a double.
But Atlanta, which has scored two runs or fewer in eight of its past 12 games, took advantage of an eighth-inning opportunity. After Infante drew a leadoff walk, the Braves had Escobar produce a sacrifice bunt, leaving the Cardinals with no choice but to issue Jones his fourth walk of the evening.
Francoeur's five-pitch walk set the stage for Diaz to at least temporarily suspend the frustrations that have mounted for the Braves' offense over the course of the past two weeks.
"I'm not a helmet thrower, but I was getting real close to chucking one earlier in the game," Diaz said.
Reyes, who was 0-8 with a 7.82 ERA in his previous 14 Major League appearances, could have exited this outing unscathed. The lone run he surrendered came in the first inning on Yadier Molina's two-out grounder that a diving Jones deflected into left field.
Jones' deflection on the sharp grounder likely prevented Escobar from at least keeping the ball in the infield. Consequently, Rasmus, who was hit with a pitch in front of a walk to Pujols, easily scored from second base.
"He's starting to get the idea that he's a pitcher and not a flamethrower," Cox said of Reyes. "It's a work in progress."
Reyes, who has likely at least provided the Braves more reason to delay top prospect Tommy Hanson's Major League debut, needed 47 pitches to complete his first two innings, which included five strikeouts. But in his final five innings, he proved more efficient, never needing more than 11 pitches to complete an inning.
After retiring 13 straight batters, Reyes surrendered a seventh-inning leadoff single to Molina. Two batters later, he ended his impressive outing by getting Khalil Greene to ground into a double play.
"That's the best I've ever seen him pitch," Francoeur said.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.