Kenshin Kawakami came into the day trying not to become the first Braves pitcher to ever start a season losing his first ten decisions. On top of that he may have made his last start today with Jair Jurrjens set to return to the rotation next week. With his back against the wall, Kawakami came up with a stellar performance allowing two hits and one run over seven innings while striking out six.
For a while though it appeared that a great Kawakami performance might be wasted yet again. Diamondbacks starter Max Scherzer matched him pitch for pitch through five and two thirds. That was until Chipper Jones touched up Tigers reliever Joel Zumaya for a three run home run deep into the right center field stands giving the Braves a 3-1 lead.
Jones also received a rousing tribute between innings when he ran on the field only to realize that his teammates had remained behind in the dugout. Jones stood alone on the field while the fans treated him to a long ovation. An embarrassed Chipper finally tipped his hat in one of the best curtain calls I have ever seen.
The Braves added their fourth run in the eighth inning via an Eric Hinske double that scored Troy Glaus. Things got interesting in the ninth when the day after recording his 400th save, Billy Wagner wasn’t available to pitch due to a sore ankle. First Takashi Saito allowed a long home run to Miguel Cabrera making the score 4-2. Then after walking another batter Saito was lifted in favor of lefty Eric O’Flaherty. O’Flaherty didn’t help the situation any as he walked both of the batters that he faced allowing the Tigers to close the gap to 4-3.
Braves Manager Bobby Cox then turned to Peter Moylan with two outs and the bases loaded. Johnny Damon who spurned the Braves this past off season choosing to sign with the Tigers instead stepped up to the plate as a pinch hitter. Moylan ran the count to 3-2 and then controversy struck as Damon was punched out by home plate umpire Gary Cederstrom on a pitch that looked to be outside.
Outside or not the Braves will take it. The win combined with the Mets loss to the Twins earlier in the day extended the Braves lead in the division to a game and a half. They have now won 16 of their last 17 games at home and more importantly got Kenshin Kawakami his first victory of the season.
The Braves will send Tommy Hanson (7-4, 4.17) to the mound on Sunday in the series finale. The Tigers will counter with their ace Justin Verlander (8-5, 3.94). Both pitchers are coming off of rough outings. Verlander surrendered five earned runs in only two innings of work in his last outing against the New York Mets. Hanson allowed a season high nine runs in his last start against the Chicago White Sox. Sunday’s first pitch is scheduled for 1:35 PM ET.