Alex Gonzalez Hit THe Game-Winning Solo Homer Tonight. Picture from earler game courest

Brooks Conrad Delivers as Braves Win Bullpen Battle

braves.0716It wasn’t pretty but we’ll take it. I wasn’t there and no one said it over the air but, I’m sure that thought went through a few folks mind as Brooks Conrad drove in Alex Gonzalez in bottom of the ninth to beat the Cards and prevent a  sweep. If Conrad is again the hero, the star today was Alex Gonzalez. Gonzalez crushed a two run homer to break up Jaime Garcia’s perfect game in the fifth, hit a sharp grounder Pujols couldn’t handle to plate another and continued to play sparkling defense before Ryan Theriot’s mistake put him on in the ninth.

Derek Lowe went five innings and Jaime Garcia six today but neither got a decision. Lowe had a shaky first allowing the seemingly rampant Cardinals a 3 run advantage before Garcia got to the mound. He settled down after that and didn’t allow a hit until the top of the fifth when the Cards mounted a short rally and scored again. Garcia was perfect through four but the bottom of the fifth went south in a hurry as the bottom half of the lineup scored three times highlighted by an Alex Gonzales two run home run and Brandon Hicks first major league hit to drive in a third run.  Scott Linebrink loaded the bases in the top of the sixth but appeared to have wiggled out of it with a 5-2-3 double play when Fredi Gonzales decided that he needed lefty specialist George Sherrill to get the Cards’ pitcher out. More on that later.

<a title="Eric O’Flaherty” href=””>Eric O’Flaherty pitched a spotless top of the seventh and the bottom half of the Braves lineup delivered again when Dan Uggla doubled, Alex Gonzalez sharply hit grounder hit Albert Pujols on the shin and scored Uggla. Joe Mather scored later on an Eric Hinske bloop single to left.  Cody Gearrin allowed the Cards to tie it up in the top of the eight but Jonny Venters pitched a scoreless ninth and after Ryan Theriot dropped a soft pop fly off the bat of Alex Gonzales setting the stage for Dirt Dawg Conrad to be a walk off hero again. He was last year’s player of the month for May, perhaps this marks the start of another month like that for him.

The Cardinals also picked up a couple of injuries today. David Freese has a broken hand after being hit by a pitch from Scott Linebrink in the 6th and Nick Punto was had hamstring pull early on. As a result they finished with Albert Pujols playing third base for the first time since 2002 and Mark Hamilton (who?) playing first. Jonny Venters got the win and Ryan Franklin – who must think he’s snake bit – took the loss. Any win I suppose is a good one at this point but we are still 5 1/2 games back before the Phillies play the Mets tonight and this team still has major questions to answer. Not least of those questions is, which is, what do we do with the bullpen?

I may be in the minority but I have no problem with Craig Kimbrel closing and Venters staying as the eighth inning guy. Kimbrel is just major nasty and will get better as the year goes on. Changing now may set him back farther than we can imagine. I still have no idea why we carry George Sherrill’s useless . . . err glove around with us. Right handed hitters and quality lefties hit him and his “experience” obviously has done nothing for the rest of the pen. Then there’s Scott Linebrink. I was originally ok with the trade that brought him over as unlike Sherrill he has been there and done that in the post season. The issue I always thought would have to be fixed is his tendency in recent years to give up the long ball. He hasn’t fixed that. In 9 1/3 innings including today’s outing he’s given up two homers; a grand slam to Carlos Ruiz on an 0-2 pitch (George Sherrill loaded those bases for that slam) and a solo shot to Casey Blake in a 1-1 count. Both cost us the lead and the game. Meanwhile Stephen Marek is at Gwinnett with a 2.61 ERA in 10 1/3 innings and no home runs allowed. Could he really be worse than either of these two dead weights?

Tags: Alex Gonzalez Brooks Conrad Cody Gearrin Dan Uggla Derek Lowe

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