After squandering a pair of two-run leads on Saturday afternoon, the Braves overcame a short-lived one-run deficit with an action-packed seven-run eighth inning that provided them a decisive 11-5 win over the D-backs.
"We manufactured some runs, something a lot of people say we can't do," B.J. Upton said. "But we definitely have the players to do it. It just seems we are playing better and better baseball every day all around. That's kind of scary that we're just going to get better."
Through their first 81 games, the regular season's midpoint, the Braves own a 6 1/2-game lead in the NL East. They have played two games above .500 (34-32) in their past 66 games, and they entered Saturday having hit a Major League-low .224 with runners in scoring position.
But none of that seemed to matter as they recorded five hits and took advantage of having two batters hit in the eighth-inning uprising staged against Arizona's bullpen. Chris Johnson began the inning with a popout and capped the scoring with an RBI single. In between, Jason Heyward delivered a clutch one-out double that put Andrelton Simmons in position to score the decisive run with an alert baserunning decision.
After David Hernandez hit Reed Johnson and Simmons with pitches to put a pair of runners on with one out in the eighth, Heyward hit an opposite-field double to left field. Johnson scored easily on the play. Simmons raced home when he saw catcher Miguel Montero leave the plate to back up Jason Kubel's throw after it got away from third baseman Eric Chavez.
"I was bluffing at first, just to force a throw and maybe make him get ready to throw home, too, so then I saw the ball go away from the third baseman, and I noticed there was nobody [at the plate]," Simmons said. "The catcher was all the way back there, so I didn't think anybody was going to beat me to home plate."
By the time Brian McCann added a two-run double and Dan Uggla extended his recent success with an RBI double, the Braves had distanced themselves from the frustration felt when Montero had opened the eighth inning with the first home run allowed this year by Jordan Walden, who had surrendered just two hits in his previous 13 1/3 innings.
"We drew walks, we got some big hits, we got some sac flies early on," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "It was a good day offensively, it really was, and hopefully that can carry on for quite a while."
Freddie Freeman's two-run home run in the third inning accounted for the only damage D-backs starter Ian Kennedy had incurred until he walked three of the first four batters he faced in the fifth inning. With the bases loaded and one out, Arizona called upon Will Harris, who promptly walked Uggla. Upton followed with a sacrifice fly that gave Atlanta what proved to be its second short-lived two-run lead.
"If you realize how many runs that they scored without getting a hit, it just [stinks], you know?" Montero said.
While he was happy to see his teammates stage another successful late-inning rally, Braves starter Tim Hudson made it known that he was not happy to be removed after A.J. Pollock hit the righty's 100th pitch of the game over the center-field wall for a game-tying two-run home run in the sixth inning.
Hudson's frustration was rooted in the fact that his removal prevented him from ending a 10-start winless drought that extends back to May 10. The 15-year Major League veteran did not aid his cause by squandering both of the two-run leads he was given during the half-innings that followed.
"I would have liked the opportunity to have a decision," Hudson said. "A hundred pitches, to me is not really a magic number to take you out of the game. You work real hard the whole game. There's one pitch that a guy puts a good swing on, on a pitch away and ties the game up. Apparently you need 16 years in the big leagues to get that chance."
Hudson's troubles began when Paul Goldschmidt began Arizona's two-run fourth inning with an infield single. Montero scored Goldschmidt with a one-out double and then crossed the plate on Kubel's game-tying single to right field.
Hudson might have also escaped the sixth inning unscathed had Justin Upton not taken a step back before seeing Chavez's leadoff single fall in shallow left field. But all of the damage incurred during the fourth and sixth innings was overcome with the eighth-inning onslaught.
"We play 27 outs and we know with our lineup that anything can happen at any time," B.J. Upton said. "I think you kind of saw that today."