The Atlanta Braves knew this week that they had allowed the Wild Card race to get just a little too close, and a red hot Alex Gonzalez has stepped up in recent days. Gonzalez kept swinging a hot bat Wednesday to lead the Braves over the Florida Marlins.
Gonzalez used three days off over the weekend to rest his back to his advantage. The Atlanta shortstop came to the plate in the seventh inning with one hit already off Ricky Nolasco, who had just given up an RBI safety squeeze single to Martin Prado that tied the game.
Nolasco worked Gonzalez into an 0-2 hole, but he then hung a belt-high curveball over the heart of the plate that Gonzalez deposited into the left field seats. The three-run homer gave the Braves their final 4-1 lead for Eric O'Flaherty, which Jonny Venters and Craig Kimbrel secured with their usual perfect eighth and ninth innings.
"I’m just going to try to do what I did in this series for the rest of the season, try to help my team," Gonzalez said.
The big seventh inning got Braves rookie Randall Delgado off the hook for the loss, though he put in a strong effort of five innings with one run allowed on a Greg Dobbs homer. That was one of just four hits he gave up. The one downside to Delgado's outing was a lack of efficiency. He threw 101 pitches in comparison to Nolasco's 95 through seven innings.
"i'm happy. They hit a lot of foul balls too. I was trying to keep it down in the zone and I think that helped. They just hit a few mistakes," Delgado said.
Although the St. Louis Cardinals beat the Pittsburgh Pirates, the win preserves Atlanta's 4.5 game lead in the Wild Card race and lowered their magic number to nine with 12 games remaining.
Though the Braves do play the Phillies in a three-game set to end the season, the Cardinals begin a four-game series with them Thursday. A dominating Phillies performance, coupled with a series win by the Braves, may all but seal Atlanta's playoff aspirations.
The Braves have a day off Thursday and begin the three-game home series against the New York Mets at 7:35 EDT Friday. Derek Lowe (9-14, 4.70 ERA) will open the series against New York's Chris Capuano (10-12, 4.49 ERA).
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