In wild home opener, Braves escape with win
Uggla's broken-bat hit lifts Atlanta; McCann enjoys big night
By Mark Bowman / MLB.com | 4/14/2012 12:58 AM ET
MIL@ATL: McCann's blast gives the Braves the lead
ATLANTA -- It might not have been the efficient home opener that harkened memories of the days of John Smoltz, Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine. But it certainly proved to be an exciting one as Brian McCann and Dan Uggla led an offensive eruption that allowed the Braves to kick off the home portion of their schedule in celebratory fashion.
Uggla's shattered-bat, two-run, eighth-inning single off Francisco Rodriguez allowed the Braves to regain a once-comfortable lead and provide Craig Kimbrel a chance to put the finishing touches on a 10-8 win over the Brewers in front of 50,635 fans at Turner Field on Friday night.
"It was just a great game all the way around," Uggla said. "Everybody picked each other up. The Brewers just battled until the last out. It was a fun game. The crowd was awesome."
This sold-out crowd experienced a wave of emotions. It saw Atlanta gain a five-run lead with a six-run fifth and then squander it while allowing Milwaukee to combine for five runs during the next two innings.
But playing in front of the home crowd for the first time since a 13-inning loss to the Phillies in last year's must-win regular-season finale, the Braves staged a decisive eighth against Rodriguez.
McCann set the stage for Uggla when he drilled a grounder into a defensive shift on the right side of the infield. The alignment denied him the first five-hit game of his career. But the ground ball put runners at second and third base for Uggla, who by muscling his shattered-bat single through the middle of the infield.
"We haven't been in a slugfest for quite some time," McCann said. "Tonight was that and we came out on the winning side. Guys put up some great at-bats today and made the pitchers work."
This was certainly not a good night for pitchers as the Braves chased Randy Wolf in the fifth and the Brewers sent Jair Jurrjens to the showers immediately after he had carried a five-run lead into the sixth. Jurrjens was denied his bid to become the first Braves starter to record an out in the sixth this year.
But after Eric O'Flaherty allowed three seventh-inning runs and Jason Heyward's long reach prevented Jonny Venters from allowing at least one more in the eighth, Kimbrel put an end to the madness with a scoreless ninth that gave the Braves a third consecutive win since starting season with four straight losses.
"I've been feeling like this since the start of Spring Training," McCann said. "I think this offense is very good. I think we're going to score a bunch of runs. We showed what we can do tonight."
Actually the Braves had not showed this kind of offensive potential while hitting just .188 (18-for-96) in their first six games of the season against left-handers. But this night proved different as they pounded Wolf for eight runs and nine hits in just 4 2/3 innings. The veteran southpaw has a 5.57 ERA in 27 career starts against Atlanta.
Wolf's primary nemesis was McCann, who gave the Braves an early lead with a two-out RBI double in the first. The six-time All-Star catcher singled ahead of Uggla's two-out RBI double in the third and then delivered his most significant contribution with a three-run home run in the six-run fifth.
Matt Diaz contributed to the fifth-inning uprising when he sent a first-pitch fastball over the left-center-field wall for a two-run homer.
McCann's first-inning double scored leadoff hitter Michael Bourn, who had not reached base in 15 plate appearances against left-handers before drawing a four-pitch walk. Bourn also sparked the fifth with a leadoff triple.
"You combine [McCann] being a very good hitter with me being a bad pitcher today and it's not a good combination," said Wolf, who has seen McCann hit .533 (8-for-15) against him.
Jurrjens needed just 66 pitches to complete the first five innings, and his only damage through this span came courtesy of back-to-back two-out homers to Alex Gonzalez and George Kottaras. But the right-hander exited after Corey Hart produced a two-run double with nobody out in the sixth.
Things got worse for the Braves when the Brewers began the seventh with three consecutive hits, including Ryan Braun's two-run single, off the suddenly mortal Eric O'Flaherty. After O'Flaherty cleared the bases with a double play, Hart tied the game with a solo home run that soared just a little higher than the two-run double he had hit off the top of the left-field wall one inning earlier.
O'Flaherty set a Major League record last year when he became the first pitcher to record a sub-1.00 ERA (0.98) with at least 70 appearances. These past few days have not been as enjoyable for the veteran left-handed reliever, who had worked 22 consecutive scoreless appearances before allowing a run against the Astros on Wednesday.
But by the end of the night, the pitching struggles were overshadowed by the contributions of Uggla and McCann, who gave a glimpse of his ability to be the guy the Braves can rely on as Chipper Jones nears his retirement.
"You can never say enough good things about Mac," Uggla said. "He steps up in big situations. He'll put the team on his back when he needs to. Tonight he was just unstoppable. They had to make a great play to get him out."