Laird, Cardinals rally past Braves, 3-2

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ATLANTA (AP)—The St. Louis Cardinals closed the first month of the season with thrilling back-to-back late-inning comebacks.

Gerald Laird’s(notes) ninth-inning triple capped a late rally to give the Cardinals a 3-2 win over the Atlanta Braves on Saturday.

Backed by rookie Brandon Beachy’s(notes) seven scoreless innings to start the game, the Braves led 2-0 before St. Louis began its comeback. David Freese(notes) tied the game with a two-run single in the eighth before Laird’s go-ahead triple drove in Matt Holliday(notes).

The Cardinals also rallied late in Friday night’s 5-3 win, tying the game in the ninth before winning in 11 innings.

“You like to win by 10 runs, but to come out and win two big games like this, coming back shows a lot,” Laird said.

The Cardinals have won four straight and 14 of their last 19 to move into first place in the NL Central.

Closer Craig Kimbrel(notes) (0-1), who had a blown save in Friday night’s loss, couldn’t hold a 2-2 tie in the ninth.

Holliday led off with a single to right, advanced to second on catcher Brian McCann’s(notes) passed ball, and scored on Laird’s one-out triple to left.

“We’ve been resilient, hanging in there,” said manager Tony La Russa. “These last two games have been exciting because the baseball has been so good.”

George Sherrill(notes), who took over for Kimbrel, struck out Lance Berkman(notes) with the bases loaded to end the ninth. Kimbrel gave up two hits and one run in one-third of an inning.

Right-hander Fernando Salas(notes) struck out two in the ninth for his second save. Salas walked Nate McLouth(notes) with two outs before ending the game on pinch-hitter Eric Hinske’s(notes) fly ball to left field.

“He’s the guy who was available today,” said La Russa of Salas.

Salas is one of four relievers to record saves in the Cardinals’ last five wins, joining Mitchell Boggs(notes), Eduardo Sanchez(notes) and Trever Miller(notes).

Braves shortstop Alex Gonzalez(notes) was ejected by home plate umpire Marvin Hudson for arguing a called third strike from Salas for the second out in the ninth. Manager Fredi Gonzalez picked up the argument and also was tossed.

Miguel Batista(notes) (2-1) escaped an eighth-inning jam. Jason Heyward(notes) hit a one-out double off the right-field wall. Batista walked Chipper Jones(notes) intentionally. Colby Rasmus(notes) ran down Brian McCann’s deep fly ball on the warning track in center field, and Freese snagged Dan Uggla’s(notes) line drive to end the inning.

Beachy gave up three hits and two runs in seven-plus innings.

“Oh man, what a really good-looking pitcher he is,” said La Russa of Beachy. “But our guy Jake Westbrook(notes) is certainly on his way as well.”

Westbrook, a Georgia native, gave up five hits and two runs in six innings. Westbrook walked three batters, leaving him with 19 walks over 30 1/3 innings.

“I was a little more erratic today,” Westbrook said. “I wasn’t quite as sharp.

“It’s a good feeling as a starting pitcher if you put up a quality start your odds are pretty good with our bats.”

Beachy didn’t allow a baserunner past first base until the eighth inning.

Daniel Descalso(notes) led off with a double. Beachy was pulled after he walked Tyler Green.

Nick Punto(notes) advanced the runners with a sacrifice against left-hander Jonny Venters(notes), who struck out pinch-hitter Berkman. Freese followed with a tying two-run single to right field.

Martin Prado(notes) had two doubles, including a two-run liner past Freese at third base that drove in Gonzalez and McLouth in the fifth.

Beachy retired the first 10 batters before giving up a single to Freese with one out in the fourth. Beachy ended the inning, leaving Freese on first base, on Albert Pujols’(notes) fly ball to left field and Holliday’s grounder to third base.

Notes: RF Jon Jay(notes) was 0-for-2 hitting leadoff for only the second time this season. … Jones said he is still experiencing discomfort in his right knee when swinging as a right-handed hitter. He’ll test the knee on Sunday when hitting from the right side against left-hander Jaime Garcia(notes). … Westbrook, born in Athens, Ga., lives about 90 minutes from Atlanta in Danielsville, Ga.

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