ATLANTA (AP)—The Atlanta Braves trailed going to the bottom of the ninth inning. They were in the same predicament heading to the bottom of the 11th.
That’s right where they like to be.
“We’ve been playing a lot of close games,” said Jones, who had gone 70 at-bats since his last homer on April 28. “It just seems like our offense is never out of the game.”
He’ll get no argument from the shellshocked Marlins, who squandered a 3-2 lead in the ninth and a 4-3 edge in the 11th—basically the same script as the previous night, when they blew leads in those two innings for a 4-3 loss. The Braves got the series started by overcoming a 5-0 deficit to win 11-8 on Monday.
“We’re playing a lot of baseball, that’s for darn sure,” manager Bobby Cox said.
Not that he’s complaining. Atlanta (20-20) won for the eighth time in 10 games, got to .500 for the first time since April 23 and closed to 4 1/2 games of the first-place New York Mets in the NL East.
The Braves were nine games back just 11 days ago, but they’ve taken advantage of the schedule to halve their deficit. Atlanta’s last nine games have been against Florida and Washington—the two worst teams in the division.
“This is an important stretch for us,” Jones said. “We’ve made some headway to get back into this thing.”
After Matt Treanor’s RBI single put the Marlins ahead in the 11th, Randy Messenger (0-3) didn’t even get an out in the bottom half. Marcus Giles led off with a single, Edgar Renteria worked for a walk and Jones followed with his third homer of the season, a no-doubt-about-it shot into the seats in right-center.
With two runners on, Jones was looking for a fastball on the first pitch. He got it from Messenger.
“I’ve struggled with guys in scoring position,” Jones said. “But when the other guy is struggling with his control, it’s the perfect situation to sit on a first-pitch fastball. I knew he didn’t want to walk me to get to Andruw (Jones).”
This was actually the fourth comeback win in five games for the Braves. Jeff Francoeur hit a walk-off grand slam to beat the Nationals 8-5 over the weekend.
Atlanta tied it up in the ninth when Chipper Jones hustled to beat out a relay throw with the Marlins trying to turn a game-ending double play. The throw was wide of first, but it appeared Jones would have been safe anyway. That allowed pinch-runner Pete Orr to score the tying run.
It looked like the Braves would win in the 10th when Adam LaRoche singled up the middle with pinch-runner Brian Jordan at second. But Reggie Abercrombie made a perfect one-hop throw home to nail Jordan.
The Marlins’ defense let them down in the 11th. They called a pitch-out with Renteria trying to bunt and had Giles caught halfway between first and second. But he managed to scramble back to first ahead of the throw.
“We let people up all the time,” Marlins manager Joe Girardi said. “It’s not always pitching. Half the time it’s our defense.”
Oscar Villareal (6-0) won it despite giving up the 11th-inning run.
John Smoltz blanked the young Marlins for seven innings, throwing 112 pitches. When he went back out in the eighth, Florida rallied against the 39-year-old pitcher. Dan Uggla had a sacrifice fly and Mike Jacobs hit a two-run single off reliever Mike Remlinger, with all three runs were charged to the starter.
Smoltz wound up throwing 130 pitches, his most since a 132-pitch outing against Colorado on Sept. 14, 1997. He was feeling a little better after his teammates rallied to win.
“That’s the only way I was going to sleep tonight,” he said. “I would have wandered in my yard all night.
Smoltz, who has undergone four elbow surgeries, insisted that he didn’t stay in too long.
“As long as I keep making the pitches I’m making, that’s the only thing I’m concerned about,” he said.
The Marlins went with a makeshift lineup that included fill-in starting pitcher Ricky Nolasco and shortstop Robert Andino, called up from Triple-A Albuquerque before the game with Hanley Ramirez bothered by a sore shoulder.
Of course, it’s a thin line between the majors and Triple A for this budget-conscious team. Florida’s most seasoned starter was catcher Miguel Olivo, with a little over two years of major league service. Smoltz, an 18-year veteran, had more big league experience than all of Florida’s starters combined.
The Braves scored a pair of unearned runs in the third after Nolasco made an errant throw to second base while trying to start a double play. Nolasco went 3 2-3 innings, giving up five hits and walking three.
Ramirez was used a pinch-runner in the 11th and scored the go-ahead run. But he won’t start Thursday’s series finale. … Yusmeiro Petit pitched three scoreless innings for Florida, but was denied his first big league win when the Braves rallied. … Marlins pitcher Dontrelle Willis had a pinch-hit single in the fifth. … Braves C Brian McCann, leading the NL in hitting, improved his average to .354 by going 2-for-4 with a sacrifice fly.