Braves 4, Marlins 3, 11 innings

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ATLANTA (AP)—The Atlanta Braves are starting to look more like themselves — rallying for improbable wins and closing in on .500.

The Braves came from behind for the third time in four games, this time beating the Florida Marlins 4-3 in 11 innings when Matt Diaz singled in the winning run Tuesday night.

Jeff Francoeur’s homer tied it in the ninth, barely clearing the center-field fence to ruin a brilliant performance by Dontrelle Willis. Diaz’s hit capped a two-run rally in the 11th after the Marlins scored a run in the top half.

“In years past, the Braves always found a way to win these sort of games,” said Francoeur, who extended his career-best hitting streak to 14 games. “Early on this season, we were losing a lot of one-run games. Now, we’re winning them. If we keep doing that, we’ll find ourselves back in the thick of things.”

Atlanta improved to 19-20 with its seventh win in nine games, taking full advantage of a favorable schedule. The last eight games have been against Florida and Washington, the two worst teams in the NL East.

The Braves can pull back to .500 for the first time since April 23 when John Smoltz pitches Wednesday against the Marlins. The 14-time division champions came into the night 5 1/2 games behind the first-place New York Mets.

Diaz homered off Willis in the fifth for Atlanta’s first run, then came through again in the 11th with a single up the middle after Andruw Jones doubled in the tying run.

This is Diaz’s first season with the Braves after stints with Kansas City and Tampa Bay, two of baseball’s worst teams.

“I hope this will help me fit in a little more,” he said. “I’m around guys now who are used to winning. I’ve played with the Royals and the Devils Rays. Sometimes, it feels like people are looking and you and thinking, ‘Does he know anything about winning?”’

The Marlins went ahead in the 11th, taking advantage of a defensive blunder by pitcher Macay McBride.

But McBride (1-0) wound up getting the win when the Braves scored twice in the bottom half. Chipper Jones led off with a walk against Joe Borowski (0-1) and came all the way around to score when Andruw Jones doubled to the wall in left-center.

After Francoeur grounded out, the Marlins walked Adam LaRoche intentionally to face Diaz, hoping for the double play. But he lined a single past the drawn-in fielders, allowing Andruw Jones to trot home from third with the winning run.

The Braves beat the Nationals 8-5 on Saturday when Francoeur hit a grand slam with two outs in the ninth. They did it to the Marlins on Monday, overcoming a 5-0 deficit to win 11-8.

Willis pitched well enough to end his four-game losing streak, but at least he pitched much better than his previous three starts: 14 2-3 innings, 30 hits and 21 earned runs, raising his ERA to 6.22.

“I felt good,” Willis said. “We just came up short. That’s the bottom line.”

The left-hander was making his second straight start against the Braves, who pounded him for 10 hits and seven runs in 2 2-3 innings last Thursday in Miami. This time, he gave only six hits in nine innings, but Diaz and Francoeur managed to clear the fence.

“Those two solo homers got him,” Florida manager Joe Girardi said. “He pitched his heart out.”

The Marlins put runners at first and third with one out in the 11th against McBride, who had a chance to get out of it when pinch-hitter Chris Aguila grounded to first. LaRoche fielded the ball and threw to second, trying to get started on an inning-ending double play.

But McBride failed to get over in time to cover first. Shortstop Edgar Renteria didn’t even attempt a to hold up on even attempting a relay throw.

On Sunday, LaRoche was outhustled to first on a play that led to four unearned runs in an 8-1 loss to Washington. This time, the Braves bailed themselves out.

Braves starter Tim Hudson struck out 10—just one off his career high—in six strong innings. His split-finger fastball was especially nasty, allowed him to escape jams in the third, fifth and sixth innings with Ks.

“I feel really good about the way I threw,” he said. “This is the groove I’ve been looking for over the last year.”

Hudson gave up a run-scoring groundout to Miguel Cabrera in the first, and Willis scored to make it 2-0 after leading off the fifth with a walk. Dan Uggla drove him home with a bad-hop single up the middle.

Notes

Hudson has reached 11 strikeouts four times in his career. … Florida CF Reggie Abercrombie had two stolen bases. … Diaz was awarded first base in the ninth on catcher’s interference in the ninth after making the apparent third out on a liner to left. The ground crew, which was coming out to smooth the infield, had to be sent off so the inning could be finished. … Florida SS Hanley Ramirez led off the game with a double and scored the first Florida run, but he left after straining his left shoulder while striking out in the ninth. He was listed as day to day.

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