Jason Heyward has seen his career do a complete U-turn from 2011, and that continued Friday night when his home run in the 12 inning propelled the Atlanta Braves to a 9-7 win over the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium.
The last of the Braves' seven extra-base hits in the 12th inning of the first game of the series was enough to ruin Tony LaRussa's number being retired. Kyle McClellan, in his second inning of work, issued a dreaded lead-off walk to Chipper Jones on a full count. After taking the first pitch for a ball, Heyward deposited his fifth homer of the year into the left-center field seats.
It was the second of Heyward's two hits in six at-bats, pulling his average up to .264 in comparison to his .227 average he compiled last year while battling shoulder problems.
And that just capped off an already back-and-forth night; not all was smooth sailing for the Braves, as starting pitcher Mike Minor, though he struck out seven, gave up six runs on three homers to Matt Carpeneter and a back-to-back job to Carlos Beltran and Allen Craig in 4 2/3 innings.
That says nothing of the tumult weathered by the Cardinals to even force extra innings. The Braves scored two runs in the first inning off two separate passed balls by Yadier Molina. In the top of the third, Jaime Garcia gave up consecutive ground-rule doubles by Dan Uggla and Brian McCann plated another run, which was followed by an RBI-single by Chipper, who reached second on an error by Matt Holliday. Two batters later, Jones would score on another ground-rule double, this one by Tyler Pastornicky.
Uggla tied the game in the seventh inning when he took a 3-2 changeup Marc Rzepczynski out of the ballpark for his fifth home run. Mitchell Boggs would replace Rezepczynski in the eighth, only to give up a two-out RBI-single to Freddie Freeman to give the Braves a one-run lead.
That lead would be quickly surrendered by Jonny Venters in the eighth. After getting Holliday to groundout with a full count, Beltran ambushed the first pitch he saw for his 12th home run of the year and Venters' first blown save of 2012.
Livan Hernandez and his relief appearances in the 10th and 11th innings may have been just as vital as any homer the Braves hit. After giving up a double to Beltran to start the 10th, Hernandez intentionally walked Craig, but Molina laid down a sacrifice bunt to put runners at second and third with one out, so Hernandez gave Matt Carpenter a free pass to set up the double play. That double play was turned in a 6-4-3 fashion when David Freese bounced a 1-0 slider to Pastornicky to help the Braves escape the jam.
The Cardinals threatened in the 11th as well when Rafael Furcal got on base with a one-out single. After John Jay struck out, Holliday and Beltran walked to load the bases before Hernandez got Craig to pop out to Uggla.
The win kept Atlanta within half a game of the NL East-leading Washington Nationals, who beat the Cincinnatti Reds. The win was also the Braves' third extra-inning victory since their 15-13 win over the Philadelphia Phillies on May 2.
Brandon Beachy will be asked to secure the series against Adam Wainwright on Saturday at 7:15.
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