Chipper steals show in Hanson's debut
Third baseman goes 4-for-4 in big right-hander's debut
ATLANTA -- This has certainly been a rough homestand for the Braves from an offensive perspective. But when they've managed to score runs, they've done so in a thrilling manner that has allowed them to claim dramatic victories.
Staring at the possibility that Chipper Jones' two-homer performance would go unrewarded at Turner Field on Sunday afternoon, the Braves produced a three-run eighth inning that enhanced Nate McLouth's comfort level and allowed them to claim an 8-7 win over the Brewers, who were bidding for a three-game series sweep.
"After losing the first two games of the series, to be able to come back in the eighth was important," said McLouth, whose game-tying RBI double put him in position to score on Yunel Escobar's game-winning single to left off Carlos Villanueva.
While being shut out during the first two games of this series, the Braves extended their scoreless streak to 22 innings and found themselves hoping that Tommy Hanson's much-anticipated Major League debut would help them salvage this series finale.
But as fate would have it, the Braves were the ones taking the sting out of the forgettable debut produced by Hanson, who was charged with seven runs -- six earned -- on six hits in six innings. The 7-5 deficit he faced upon his exit still existed when somebody not named Jones started providing offensive contributions.
Getting a chance to rest on his souvenir bat day, Brian McCann made his presence known with a pinch-hit RBI double in the eighth-inning that cut the deficit to one and put him in position to score when McLouth made his first significant Atlanta contribution with an opposite-field game-tying double.
McLouth, who admits he initially felt uncomfortable after being traded from the Pirates on Wednesday, then found himself racing toward the plate when Escobar delivered the decisive single that raised his batting average with runners in scoring position to .400 (22-for-55).
"Whenever I can produce for the team, I love it," Escobar said. "I feel like I'm here to make the Braves look good and by doing that, I'm going to look good, too."
Both of the wins the Braves have registered through the first five games of this homestand have been captured with late-inning heroics. During Tuesday's 6-5 win over the Cubs, they were held hitless through 6 2/3 innings and scoreless until producing a three-run eighth inning.
"These guys try as hard or harder than any team that I've ever had," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "We need to pick it up a notch, that's for sure. But it's not from a lack of effort or trying and they really, really want to win."
On the way to registering a career-best total of five RBIs for the 16th time, Jones snapped the 22-inning scoreless skid with a first-inning RBI triple and then added his two homers to provide Hanson with a pair of two-run leads that he'd squander while falling victim to Ryan Braun, who enjoyed his own two-homer performance.
After Jones victimized Brewers starter Manny Parra with a three-run fifth-inning homer, Hanson allowed the Brewers to reclaim the lead with a four-run sixth-inning that included two-run shots from both Braun and Mike Cameron.
"He was facing a hot team," Jones said. "That team is good. You've got some guys who work the counts and don't miss mistakes. When you fall behind or make mistakes, they're going to hit the ball hard somewhere."
Hanson proved perfect through the first three innings and didn't allow a hit until Braun directed a 1-0 fastball over the left-center-field wall. The 22-year-old right-hander, who is widely regarded as the games' top right-handed prospect, felt his middle-inning struggles were a result of his inability to consistently command his fastball.
"I think my command kind of got away from me a little bit," Hanson said. "The first three innings I felt good with everything. It was more so the fastball command the last three innings. I was leaving pitches up."
Jones, who left Saturday night's game because of dizziness, was obviously seeing straight while finishing a double short of the cycle during this series finale. He recorded hits during his first four at-bats and was denied a chance for the cycle when he was intentionally walked after the Braves had taken the lead in the eighth. Since spraining his big right toe on May 21, Jones had previously been in the lineup for just one game when the opposing team was starting a left-handed pitcher. But with hits during each of his past five at-bats against southpaws, it's pretty safe to say the veteran third baseman has regained his health.
And it's definitely safe to assume Jones and the rest of the Braves feel much better than they did on Saturday night, when they all had to face the dizzying reality that they'd been shutout for the fifth time in a span of 19 games.
"I didn't feel good last night," Jones said. "But I was able to bounce back."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.