Favorable matchups help Braves in win
Ankiel, Diaz continue success at plate against Mets' Santana
ATLANTA -- Given a chance to return home and reintroduce Matt Diaz to Johan Santana, the Braves managed to regain some of the confidence they had lost while squandering far too many scoring opportunities during their recently completed road trip.
Releasing some of the frustration they had brought back to Atlanta 24 hours earlier, the Braves generated a three-run first inning off Santana and then watched Tim Hudson and their strong bullpen put the finishing touches on Monday night's 4-1 win over the Mets at Turner Field.
"It was imperative, I think, that we got off to a good start [to this homestand]," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "We beat a real tough pitcher tonight in Santana."
After hitting just .190 (16-for-84) during the 3-6 road trip that concluded Sunday, the Braves certainly had little reason to think they were going to produce those early fireworks. They had scored just three runs in their previous two games combined, and Santana had not allowed more than three earned runs in any of his previous 10 starts against them.
But there was certainly little reason to be surprised about the fact that Diaz fueled this first-inning uprising with an RBI double. The left fielder added a third-inning double and then struck out in his final two at-bats to drop his career batting average against Santana to .533 (16-for-30).
"It's not one of those things I'm going to question," Diaz said. "I'm just going to roll with it. It's funny. There's guys that I feel a whole lot more comfortable against that I don't get hits off of. He keeps you off balance. How I looked the last two at-bats is how I feel every at-bat."
Rick Ankiel, who was acquired Saturday from the Royals, began his two-hit performance by introducing himself to his new hometown fans with a two-run single that capped the first-inning eruption against Santana.
"I had some good energy going, some good nerves," Ankiel said after playing his first home game for the Braves. "It felt good. It was fun."
Diaz enjoyed the opportunity to bat in the cleanup spot of the starting lineup for just the fourth time since joining the Braves in 2006. Although he doesn't expect too many opportunities, Cox may play the numbers yet and put him back in that role when his club opposes Santana again.
"There is something to it," Cox said. "Guys can hit certain guys. [Greg] Maddux had some guys he couldn't get out, believe it or not. Probably two or three in all of his years."
While moving three games in front of the idle Phillies in the National League East standings, the Braves gave Hudson an early lead and then saw him persevere through humid conditions. The veteran right-hander felt lucky to have limited the Mets one run and six hits in a 107-pitch, six-inning effort.
"They put some great at-bats on me all night," said Hudson, who is 4-0 with a 1.67 ERA in his past four starts against the Mets. "It was tough. It was a battle out there for six innings. They got my pitch count up. I feel fortunate to come out on top. It was one of those games where the results were better than I feel like I really did."
Like Diaz has habitually victimized Santana, Hudson has had his share of troubles against Carlos Beltran. After walking the Mets outfielder in his first two plate appearances, the Braves' ace incurred his only damage courtesy of Beltran's fifth-inning RBI double.
Beltran, who has hit .381 (24-for-63) with four homers in his career against Hudson, was standing in the on-deck circle when Billy Wagner notched his 25th save by getting Angel Pagan to look at a called third strike.
"You never want to spot Tim Hudson a 3-0 lead, just like I'm sure they don't want to spot Santana a 3-0 lead," Mets outfielder Jeff Francoeur said. "When they got those runs, it kind of gave Tim the confidence to go out there and pitch and not have to be perfect."
Chipper Jones' seventh-inning home run accounted for the only other run the Braves produced after the first inning. Still Santana, who was charged with four earned runs and nine hits in seven innings while striking out a season-high 11, was forced to leave yet another outing against Atlanta feeling frustrated.
Despite posting an impressive 2.31 ERA in his 11 starts against Atlanta, he has won just two of eight decisions. His teammates have produced two runs or fewer while he has still been in line for a decision in each of those outings.
"While we only put four runs up on the board, we did bum rush Santana there in the first inning," Jones said. "Guys came out and threw up big at-bats."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.