Braves rally to make Lowe a winner
LaRoche, Norton fuel decisive sixth in victory over Dodgers
ATLANTA -- While the two were affiliated together with the White Sox, former Braves player Mike Lum told Greg Norton that pinch-hitters should focus more on their amount of timely hits than their batting average.
With his batting average sitting at .120, Norton approached Braves hitting coach Terry Pendleton this week and talked about the frustrations that he's felt while walking into the clubhouse on a daily basis and finding it difficult to remember his most recent significant contribution. Based on his first impression, Adam LaRoche might have trouble understanding why Norton has been so frustrated the past couple of months.
LaRoche was able to fully savor his successful return to Atlanta courtesy of the go-ahead single that Norton delivered in the two-run sixth inning that allowed Derek Lowe and the Braves to claim a 4-3 win over the Dodgers at Turner Field on Saturday afternoon.
"I'm glad I was able to help out for the first time this year," said Norton, who had recorded just one RBI and four hits in his previous 26 at-bats. "It has been frustrating. I'm not going to lie about that."
What had been a sometimes frustrating week for the Braves ended in fine fashion, as they utilized LaRoche's two-hit performance and beat the Major League's most successful club with the assistance of two unlikely contributors.
After LaRoche began the sixth inning for the Braves (53-51) with a single and advanced to second base when Russell Martin's pickoff attempt sailed into right field, Diory Hernandez, who had just nine hits in his previous 70 at-bats, delivered a game-tying single to right field.
Dodgers starter Randy Wolf's troubles were extended when Norton delivered a first-pitch curveball into left field for the go-ahead single. With hits in his past two at-bats, the veteran pinch-hitter is now hoping to find the magic that helped him hit .323 during the second half of the 2008 season.
"You just want to pull your own weight," Norton said. "When you come in the clubhouse every day and feel like you haven't done anything, it's frustrating."
With their sixth-inning rally against Wolf (5-6), the Braves enabled Lowe (11-7) to prove victorious while making his first start against the Dodgers since ending a four-year association with them at the conclusion of last year's National League Championship Series. The veteran sinkerballer, who has won three straight starts and four consecutive decisions, allowed three runs and five hits in six innings.
"This was clearly the first time that I've faced a lot of these guys," Lowe said. "It was definitely good. You look at their lineup and there are zero holes."
Lowe's struggles against the Dodgers (64-40) were primarily limited to the fourth inning and Andre Ethier's sixth-inning leadoff homer. The Braves right-hander sandwiched a pair of walks around Ethier's fourth-inning single. Casey Blake followed with a sacrifice fly and James Loney capped the inning with an RBI single off Lowe's foot.
"When you really look at it, it was one hit and two walks," Lowe said. "Against a lineup like that, walks are going to hurt."
Wearing a Braves uniform for the first time in three years, LaRoche provided no indication that his travel woes had a debilitating effect. After learning that the Red Sox had traded him back to Atlanta on Friday afternoon, the 29-year-old first baseman found weather delaying his flight from Baltimore to Boston for three hours.
After packing his truck in Boston and getting just an hour or two of sleep, LaRoche found his Saturday morning flight to Atlanta grounded because of the bomb scare at New York's LaGuardia Airport. But he finally arrived at the stadium approximately 65 minutes before Lowe's first pitch and still managed to reach base safely in each of his first three plate appearances.
"I was a little tired out there, but coming back home kind of gave me a spark of energy," said LaRoche, who played his first three Major League seasons for the Braves (2004-2006).
Jones, who provided an RBI double in the third inning and a fifth-inning RBI single, was certainly among those who were glad to have LaRoche back in Atlanta, showing his soft hands at first base and capable bat at the plate.
"It's good to have him back in the family and hopefully here to stay," Jones said. "It was cool to walk up to him after the game was over, give him a big hug and welcome him back with a 'W.'"
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.