The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

April 18, 2013

Bats cooled in duel, Braves' streak snapped


Associated Press

— ATLANTA -- As the Braves rolled through this season's first two weeks with Major League Baseball's best record, they benefited from power, pitching and the ability to overcome a few late-inning deficits.

But they were unable to extend their late-inning magic as they bid adieu to their 10-game winning streak with Wednesday afternoon's 1-0 loss to the Royals at Turner Field.

"We have to be grateful and thankful for the start we've been blessed to get off to," second baseman Dan Uggla said. "This was just one of those games when we couldn't get it going. Should [haves], would [haves] and could [haves], you've got to leave those out on the field. We gave it everything we had. It just wasn't in the cards for us today."

While winning 12 of their previous 13 games and notching their first 10-game winning streak in exactly 10 years, the Braves had already triumphed in three games that they had been trailing after the start of the fifth inning.

So even after Royals starter Wade Davis scattered five hits over seven scoreless innings, there was reason to believe the Braves could rally like they did less than 24 hours earlier, when they had erased a 2-1 deficit by combining to hit four home runs in the seventh and eighth innings.

But Kelvin Herrara, who had surrendered three eighth-inning home runs on Tuesday, worked a scoreless eighth Wednesday and Royals closer Greg Holland struck out each of the three batters he faced in the ninth. Consequently, the Braves fell one win short of matching the Atlanta-best record the 1982 and '94 clubs had set through the season's first 14 games.

"We had some opportunities," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "It just seemed like Davis made some pitches when he had to make some pitches."

The Braves have scored at least six runs in half of their first 14 games this year. But they have been outscored by a combined 3-0 tally while suffering both of their losses in shutout fashion.

Jeff Francoeur's two-out, fourth-inning single proved to be enough for the Royals to hand Mike Minor just his second loss in a span of 10 starts dating back to Aug. 25. Minor, who has compiled a 2.00 ERA in his past 18 starts, was charged with the one earned run and five hits in six innings.

Minor retired the first six batters he faced and limited the Royals to one hit through the first three innings. But his outing was tarnished in the fourth, when he surrendered three singles and catcher Evan Gattis' indecisive reaction to Alcides Escobar's return to first base proved costly.

After opening the fourth with a single, Escobar aborted his attempt to steal second base and started to return toward the first-base bag. But instead of making an immediate throw to first that would have either retired Escobar or resulted in a rundown, Gattis hesitated, giving Escobar a chance to get back to the bag safely.

Gattis has impressed both defensively and offensively, hitting four home runs in the first 42 at-bats of his Major League career. But this was just the 10th start behind the plate for the 26-year-old rookie catcher, who is seemingly bound to endure growing pains.

"We talked about it in the dugout," Gonzalez said. "He's got to give it up a little bit sooner than he did. That's part of learning the speed of the game up here in the big leagues. That's a learning moment for him."

Lorenzo Cain and Francoeur notched consecutive two-out singles to plate Escobar with the game's only run.

"When I gave up that run, I wouldn't say it was stupid, but it was just a bad pitch," Minor said. "I was kind of [upset], because I knew it was going to be a close game just by the way the game was progressing. We weren't getting a lot of hard-hit balls. We weren't hitting [Davis] really well."

The Braves recorded just two singles through the first five innings against Davis and did not advance a runner to second base until Jason Heyward doubled with two outs in the sixth inning.

"That's a heck of a team they've got over there," Davis said. "Bullpen, starting, offense, defense -- everything over there is pretty good. So it was a good win for us to shut them down, and the bullpen to come through lights-out, too."

It appeared the Braves might rally in the seventh, when Davis surrendered a two-out single to Juan Francisco and then watched as Chris Johnson blooped an opposite-field double that landed along the foul line in shallow right field. But instead of having two on with two outs and Andrelton Simmons coming to the plate, third-base coach Brian Snitker's decision to have Francisco attempt to score from first base on the double led to the end of the frame.

Royals second baseman Chris Getz grabbed Johnson's double behind the tarp located down the right-field line and fired an accurate one-hop throw that easily beat Francisco to the plate.

"You've got to make plays," Gonzalez said. "The way the game is going, he's got to pick [the baseball] up and make a good throw to the plate, and [Royals catcher Salvador] Perez has got to make a good catch and make a tag. They did that. So I thought it was a good send."