J-Up stings old club, but costly seventh dooms Braves

Harang, bullpen allow six-run seventh; Atlanta tallies three homers

J-Up stings old club, but costly seventh dooms Braves

PHOENIX -- Braves left fielder Justin Upton is getting used to the smattering of boos every time he steps up to the plate at Chase Field, the ballpark he used to call home when he played for the D-backs.

He knows the best way to stop them is simply to produce and that he did at a key moment on Sunday against rookie D-backs starter Chase Anderson.

Upton, a right-handed hitter, drilled a two-run, sixth-inning homer into the Arizona bullpen, giving his club a short-lived two-run lead in what turned out to be a 6-5 loss to the D-backs.

"Hey, man, everybody is entitled to their opinion," Upton said when asked about the jeers after his team lost for the fourth time in its last five games. "I am playing in Atlanta now so it is a blessing to get a chance to play with the guys over here, too. At the end of the day I can't hang my head. I'm happy where I'm at."

Veteran Braves starter Aaron Harang and a pair of relievers melted down in a six-run D-backs seventh inning that included two-run homers by rookie David Peralta and Paul Goldschmidt. Anderson pitched well enough to run his record to 5-0, all the victories coming in his five starts since being brought up from Double-A Mobile on May 6.

Upton, the No. 1 overall pick by the D-backs in the 2005 First-Year Player draft, was traded to the Braves along with Chris Johnson on Jan. 24, 2013. He has always hit well at Chase Field, and in the three-game series he had a pair of singles, the homer, three RBIs and two walks in 14 plate appearances.

"He's a good player," said Kirk Gibson, who had Upton on his club for the two and a half seasons he managed the D-backs before the trade. "We had to deal with him. We had a pretty good gameplan against him. Made a couple mistakes, he tagged us."

The two-out homer, coming on the heels of a Freddie Freeman single to give the Braves a 2-0 lead, was his 69th homer here to go along with 224 RBIs. Freeman also had an eighth-inning homer, his 10th. Upton's shot went out so fast that had the boo-birds blinked, they would have certainly missed it.

"It was a two-iron," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said about Upton's homer. "We touched on it earlier in the series, I love the kid. I hate for him to get booed here. He didn't leave. He got traded. He was an All-Star a couple of times. He's a terrific player and I'm sure he was terrific in the community.

"But he had a great series. I thought he gave us some good at-bats. He gave us a lead today with that two-run homer. I'm glad he's wearing an Atlanta Braves uniform."

Harang has filled in well for the Braves since signing as a free agent on March 26, and did so for most of the game again Sunday. He pitched in and out of trouble, blanking the D-backs through six innings, but blew that 2-0 advantage when Aaron Hill singled to open the seventh and Peralta hit a two-run homer, the first of his short Major League career.

Harang had walked six and allowed four hits, striking out four, when he was removed after walking Cody Ross with none out in the seventh.

"You've got to run him back out there," Gonzalez said, explaining the decision to keep Harang in the game for a total of 109 pitches. "He's got a two-hit shutout. You've been watching it. We get into the seventh and [the bullpen] can't bridge it. So we tried to run him back out there and let him get us through that seventh inning somehow. He had some walks, but you felt comfortable that he could maneuver through the lineup. That seventh inning just unraveled on us."

Left-hander Luis Avilan replaced Harang and immediately walked pinch-hitter Eric Chavez. Pinch-runners for both hitters eventually scored on a base hit by Chris Owings off David Hale, the third pitcher in the inning. Goldschmidt then hit his 12th homer, a jolt to deep left-center, as the D-backs sent 10 men to the plate.

But the Braves wouldn't give up.

Ramiro Pena hit Atlanta's third homer of the day in the ninth, a solo shot to pull the club within one, but Brad Ziegler retired the next three batters for his first save of the season. Of course, it was Upton standing in the on-deck, awaiting one more crack at the D-backs when Freeman struck out swinging to end it.

"We know the game is never over. We know what we are capable of doing. We can put good at-bats together. We made a run at it but came up short," said Upton, who came into the series hitting .380 at Turner Field and .194 on the road. "Personally, I am starting to try to turn things around. I had a rough couple of weeks."

Upton still calls the Phoenix area home. He spent the weekend staying in his new house in nearby Scottsdale, but won't be back again until the offseason.

"November, I hope," Upton said.

And he leaves town with just a tad of ambivalence.

"I shared five years here with them," Upton said, referring to the fans. "I enjoyed it. Obviously a lot of people didn't enjoy seeing me come back."

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.