As disorienting a trip as the Braves took to Minute Maid Park, where even manager Fredi Gonzalez had to correct himself when he first started writing out his lineup without a designated hitter Tuesday, the Braves managed to get their bearings on an otherwise rocky road trip so far.
After dropping back-to-back games to close out the series in Washington, the Braves used a pair of home runs from the Upton brothers and some solid work by Aaron Harang to hang on for a 3-2 win in their first game in Houston in two years.
Both B.J. and Justin Upton hit solo home runs to become the third pair of brothers in major league history to homer as teammates in the same game four times. Tuesday was the first time for the Uptons since they did it three times last April.
“Both of those runs were big for us and ended up being the deciding factors,” said Justin Upton, who launched a ball just shy of the railroad track atop the left field wall. “It’s always special when you homer on the same night, but for it to get us a win too was really nice.”
The Astros got the tying run to third base with two outs in both the seventh and eighth innings, but Anthony Varvaro and Jordan Walden both got the big outs they needed to hold the Braves’ lead. A Ramiro Pena error in the ninth left work for Craig Kimbrel, but he nailed down his 22nd save by striking out George Springer to strand the tying run at second.
That kind of damage control was reminiscent of what Harang did earlier in the night. He worked out of a first-and-third nobody out jam in the third inning with a couple of ground balls, the second of which Andrelton Simmons and Tommy La Stella turned for a double play.
Harang allowed a solo home run to George Springer in the first inning and an RBI single to Jonathan Villar in the fourth but those were his only runs allowed in six innings of work.
Harang, now 6-6 with a 3.78 ERA, bounced back from allowing nine runs in five innings his last time out against the Phillies. He struggled with his command early Tuesday but made a mid-game adjustment on a suggestion from pitching coach Roger McDowell. And after throwing 82 pitches over the first four innings, Harang needed only 18 pitches over his final two.
“I was drifting towards the plate a little bit there in the middle of the game, so I was pulling a lot of balls, missing a lot of pitches arm side,” Harang said. “Roger came in and told me I needed to stay back a little bit longer. We worked on it this past week in the bullpen, and it totally changed how the fifth and sixth inning went.”
Gonzalez was impressed by how Harang made the adjustment on the fly, without panicking about his early lack of control.
“You could see the veteran in him,” Gonzalez said. “He didn’t have his good stuff early on he didn’t give in. He kept making his pitches, kept us in the game, and then all of a sudden, in the fifth and sixth inning, his command got a lot better.”
Harang has been getting an average of only 2.1 runs of support per game. The Braves topped that by the fourth inning, after Chris Johnson drove in a run with a two-out double against his former team and both the Uptons got cranking.
Gonzalez had said he had a good feeling about it when he penciled in B.J. Upton in the leadoff spot for the first time this season Tuesday afternoon. Much of the Braves fanbase might have thought he was crazy, but his struggling center fielder needed two at-bats in the leadoff spot to give Gonzalez a little validation.
B.J. Upton launched a solo home run to left field to give the Braves a 2-1 lead in the third inning and his brother a few ideas. Justin Upton followed suit in the fourth, taking aim at the train that roams the top of the left field wall, with his 15th home run of the year, to give the Braves a 3-1 lead.
The Upton brothers homered in the same game for the fourth time in the past two years, tying a major league record for brothers who are teammates, along with the Jason and Jeremy Giambi and Vladimir and Wilton Guerrero.
“To tie a record like that is definitely pretty cool,” B.J. Upton said.
“We knew we were close but yeah that’s cool. It’s cool to say you did it and hopefully - we’re not going to try to break it - but hopefully we do.”