Jason Heyward’s leadoff home run sparked a five-run first inning and the Braves shook off what has been a chilly September at the plate with a 7-1 win over the Phillies on Thursday night.
“It is good to get hits,” said Heyward, who had a career-high five, including three doubles. “Good to get on base and get the game going early. We are still playing for something.”
The win pulled the Braves even with the idle Cardinals at 94-65 for the best record in the National League with three games to play. The Braves won the season-series against the Cardinals and would win the NL’s No. 1 seed if the teams finish tied.
“It is a big spot,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “We’ll try to win (today) and keep guys healthy at the same time.”
Braves catcher Bryan McCann left the game in the second inning with an adductor strain. After the game, Gonzalez said he thinks McCann will be OK and wanted to avoid having something small get worse.
After scoring just three runs in a three-game series loss to the Brewers, the Braves entered Thursday averaging 3.3 runs per game in September. They surpassed that in just six batters against the Phillies when Chris Johnson doubled home Evan Gattis to give the Braves a 4-0 lead in the first.
Braves rookie David Hale (1-0) picked up his first win in his second career start, going six innings while giving up one run and striking out five. The right-hander, an east Cobb native and former Walker School standout, allowed six base runners in the first three innings, but settled down after that and cruised to the win.
In two starts since getting called up from Triple-A, Hale has given up one run in 11 innings.
“It is amazing, especially to (get my first win) at home,” Hale said. “I was a little more relaxed, but still nervous. I just kept the ball down and it turned out all right.”
Cloyd (2-7) had been struggling, surrendering 17 runs in 13 innings in his previous three September starts, and the right-hander did not see a turnaround against the Braves. He gave up seven runs on eight hits and did not retire any of the first four batters in the second inning before being pulled.
“It was just bad. I wasn’t executing any pitches and they were hitting the ball hard,” Cloyd said. “I wouldn’t say nothing was working, but everything was where they could hit it.”
The decisive first began with Heyward’s home run on Cloyd’s first pitch of the night. Elliot Johnson followed with a single, and Freddie Freeman doubled him home. Gattis then hit an RBI single, and scored on Chris Johnson’s double. Jordan Schafer brought in the final run of the frame with an RBI single.
Gattis ended Cloyd’s night with a two-run double in the second that scored Heyward and Elliot Johnson.
“Cloyd had a hard time with his first-pitch strikes and also had trouble with two strikes,” Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said. “They were still able to barrel balls up pretty good and before you know it, it was 7-0.”
Jimmy Rollins went 3-for-4 for the Phillies, who have lost seven of eight.
NOTES: Injured Braves starter Brandon Beachy had arthroscopic surgery on his right elbow Thursday. Gonzalez said Beachy should be ready to return by the first couple of weeks of spring training. ... Gonzalez is undecided on his fourth starter for the upcoming NLDS. He is choosing between Freddy Garcia and Paul Malhom. Gonzalez thought both pitchers pitched well this week and said it will be a tough decision. ... Injured Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard was at Turner Field, rejoining the team from Clearwater, Fla., where he had been rehabbing his left knee. Howard said it was important to him to finish the season with his teammates. “I just wanted to watch and cheer these guys on the rest of the way and hopefully try to end things on a good note and head into 2014 on a high.” ... The Braves have matched their 94 wins from 2012, when they earned a wild card spot.