video thumbnail

ATL@NYM: McCann lifts a go-ahead sac fly in the 10th

NEW YORK -- Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez has not completely altered his approach to managing a game. But the manner in which he has utilized closer Craig Kimbrel over the past few days proves he is willing to try some unconventional approaches in an attempt to make sure this season ends much more pleasant than the last.

Gonzalez found himself breathing a sigh of relief on Sunday afternoon after Brian McCann's sacrifice fly provided the Braves a lead that Peter Moylan would not relinquish in a 3-2, 10-inning win over the Mets. Moylan's presence in this situation was a product of the fact that Gonzalez had taken a calculated risk by bringing Kimbrel in to pitch in the ninth inning of a tie game on the road.

"It's the first time I've done it, bringing in the closer on the road in a tie game," Gonzalez said. "We felt that with our pitching matchups later in the game, that was the game right there and we took advantage. Does it make my toes tingle, doing that? I don't know."

Gonzalez's body language and tone indicated that he has not suddenly converted to the school that preaches the need to use closers in these situations. But after weighing the variables of this specific situation, he felt it was best to make an early call to Kimbrel to face a dangerous portion -- left-handed sluggers Ike Davis and Lucas Duda and a pinch-hitter -- of the Mets' lineup.

Kimbrel responded by pitching around Davis' leadoff single. But because he had pitched four of the previous five days, he was unavailable to pitch the 10th inning. This prompted the entry of Moylan, who also pitched around a leadoff single before stranding a pair of runners and notching his first save since June 26, 2010.

"It's a smart move when you think about it," Moylan said. "They've got their [big] hitters coming up. Some people say the toughest inning to throw can be the seventh or eighth inning because you're coming up against their [key] guys. I thought it was a perfect move, and it worked out well for me, too."

Everything has been working out well for the Braves dating back to Wednesday night, when Gonzalez responded to the need to kill the Rockies' eighth-inning threat by giving Kimbrel a chance to notch the first multi-inning save of his career. That marked the start of a five-game winning streak for the Braves, who have won seven of their past eight games.

The Braves are going in a completely different direction than they were a year ago, when they went 9-18 in September and in the process lost the 9 1/2-game lead they owned in the National League Wild Card race.

"We're taking no game lightly, no lead lightly," McCann said. "We're going to play this thing strong throughout the rest of the way, hopefully into the postseason and beyond that, because we're a really good team."

This was a memorable weekend for McCann, who followed Saturday's four-hit game with another encouraging offensive showing that helped the Braves complete their second sweep of the Mets this year. The veteran catcher gave the Braves a brief lead with his sixth-inning solo homer off Chris Young and then delivered the decisive sacrifice fly in the 10th.

Martin Prado began the 10th inning with an infield single. Mets right-handed reliever Bobby Parnell issued a two-out walk to Dan Uggla to load the bases and set the stage for McCann, who lined his sacrifice fly to right field.

After recording just two RBIs and going without an extra-base hit in the previous 25 games he had played before Saturday, McCann drilled a pair of home runs and totaled six RBIs in the final two games of this three-game series.

The Braves also had reason to be thrilled by the tremendous strides made by Uggla, who went 6-for-11 with two doubles and a home run during the series. One week after being removed from the starting lineup for three games, he spent Sunday's series finale showing the hustle you might expect from a young prospect trying to make the team.

"If we get hot at the right time, this is going to be a scary team," McCann said.

Braves starting pitcher Tommy Hanson showed improved command with his fastball before seeing his outing end when he surrendered consecutive two-out doubles to Daniel Murphy and David Wright. The veteran right-hander retired the first 10 batters he faced and then saw the Mets take an early 1-0 lead with Davis' two-out single in the fourth inning.

Chipper Jones' bothersome left knee prevented him from starting his final regular-season game in New York. But he walked during a ninth-inning pinch-hit plate appearance and was replaced by pinch-runner Reed Johnson. Many of the Mets fans that booed him over the years cheered as Jones ran toward the dugout.

Like Gonzalez, Jones does not seem sold on the theory of using a closer in this situation on the road. But all the Braves were in agreement that this was the right time to take this calculated risk.

"Well, it worked out," Jones said. "It was unconventional. But obviously, we had gotten him up and gotten him hot and gotten him loose. You don't want to over-exhaust him down there in the bullpen. You might as well use him. It shows a little confidence in the depth of our bullpen."

MLB.com Comments