Jurrjens sparkles, and Braves' bats respond
Starter allows two hits in shutout as lineup pounds out 14
ATLANTA -- After concluding his All-Star experience earlier this week, Brian McCann said that he's never been this excited about the second half of a season. It will be easy for Jair Jurrjens to share this sense of optimism as long as McCann and the rest of the Braves' hitters are able to continue benefiting him with an abundance of offense.
With the law of averages holding true to form, Jurrjens is starting to receive the offensive support the Braves often denied him during the season's first half, and McCann is showing signs that the struggles he's encountered over the past month are slowly being erased by the form that has enabled him to gain four consecutive All-Star selections.
This combination didn't exactly prove comforting for the Mets during the Braves' 11-0 rout in front of a sellout crowd of 50,704 at Turner Field on Friday night.
Having now won back-to-back games coming out of the break, Atlanta notched its largest margin of victory of the season and matched a season best by surrendering just two hits.
"This was one of the best nights I've ever spent at this ballpark," said Braves manager Bobby Cox, whose team's dominant performance only heightened the excitement that he felt earlier in the day, when the Braves inducted Greg Maddux into their Hall of Fame and then retired his No. 31 jersey.
While pelting Mets starter Mike Pelfrey like a piñata, the Braves seemed to have their sights set on honoring Maddux by totaling 31 runs. But they settled for the more reasonable honor of allowing him to watch one of those shutout victories that he commonly experienced during his days in Atlanta.
"[Maddux] did a lot of great things for this city, and I think everyone wanted to celebrate with a bang to make it more special," said Jurrjens, who limited the Mets to two hits over six scoreless innings. Jurrjens also won successive starts for the first time since winning his first two outings of the year.
At 8-7, Jurrjens' record is at least above the .500 mark for the first time since June 15. But given that the 23-year-old right-hander has produced a 2.77 ERA, his season record isn't where it would be if he had consistently gained the offensive support the Braves have provided over the course of his past four starts.
After totaling five runs during the innings that Jurrjens pitched in his five June starts, the Braves have come out and totaled 25 runs while he's been on the mound during his first four July starts.
"It's fun to have some runs to pitch with," said Jurrjens, who has limited opponents to a .176 batting average this month. "It gives you a chance to make one mistake and still win. My defense really helped me out. [Yunel] Escobar made some difficult plays."
No longer battling the sore back that forced him out of the lineup for the final three games before the break, Escobar backed Jurrjens with a three-hit performance that began with an RBI single in the three-run first inning. The 26-year-old shortstop added two doubles, including one that scored a pair of runs in the four-run fifth inning.
While Escobar once again displayed his value to the lineup, McCann escaped from the slumber that had led to him hitting just .221 (15-for-68) during his previous 18 games. With his two-run, first-inning double and two-run, third-inning homer, the All-Star catcher matched the four RBIs that he'd totaled during his previous 11 games.
On their way to setting a season high with nine extra-base hits, the Braves saw Martin Prado begin the three-run third inning with a homer and spark the three-run first-inning with a double. Prado has hit .431 during his past 15 games.
"We swung the bats great tonight," McCann said. "JJ pitched a great ballgame. Things are starting to come together."
With 11 wins in their past 17 games, the Braves have shown signs of life and attempted to not to be affected by the reality that they still stand six games behind the division-leading Phillies, who have won 11 of the 12 games they've played since being swept out of Turner Field at the beginning of this month.
"The last two weeks of the first half, I knew we had a good team here," McCann said. "We let one slip away that last game in Colorado, but we didn't care. That was the mindset. We knew we would come back after the break and swing the bats and play good baseball."
As they walked toward the clubhouse together after this latest victory, pitching coach Roger McDowell turned to Cox and said that it was fitting that the Braves had thrown a shutout on a day reserved to honor Maddux.
Now, if Maddux could just stick around for a couple more months, the Braves might find a way to capture one of those division titles that he celebrated at the end of each of his 10 non-strike shortened seasons in Atlanta.
"It was just a great night all around, great baseball and a super crowd, almost 51,000," Cox said. "You won't see that too often, unless you're in the playoffs."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.