- David O'Brien The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
The last time the Braves opened a game with six consecutive hits, they went on to win a World Series. That was 1995, when they did the six-hit first-inning thing on opening day against the Giants.
The Braves pulled off the feat Friday night in a 7-2 win against the Phillies at SunTrust Park, where Kurt “The Improbable” Suzuki had his third two-homer game of the season including a two-run shot during the first-inning hit frenzy that gave the Braves 5-0 lead.
“It was great,” Suzuki said of the opening flurry of hits, with his homer being the fifth of the six straight off Ben Liveyly to start the first inning. “Hitting’s contagious. You stand on deck and you see guys start banging, barreling out balls, you want to get up there and start hitting too, and I think it gets you all riled up and ready to go.”
It was the opener of the final series of the season at SunTrust Park, between two teams that were a combined 55 games out of first place and 46 games under .500 when the night began. So there’s that.
But it was nonetheless enjoyable for the Braves and rookie pitcher Sean Newcomb, who was staked to a 5-0 lead in the first inning, had one of the better performances of his fledgling career — despite having to rely almost entirely on his fastball early — and left to a warm ovation from a crowd of 33,702.
“Going out there and knowing you have some room to work with definitely makes it easier,” said Newcomb, who did’t allow a hit until the fourth inning and lasted 5 1/3 innings, giving up four hits, two runs and two walks and five strikeouts.
Not bad on a night when his sharp breaking ball wasn’t working in the early innings and he mostly relied on heaters.
“I mean, I was able to mix in some change-ups,” he said. “But I was able to do decent bit of work with just my fastball. That was very encouraging.”
Suzuki added a solo homer in the seventh inning for the Braves, who picked up just their fifth win in 17 games this season against the Phillies, a team that has a firm grip on last place in the National League East and a ghastly 49-88 record against teams other than Atlanta.
“He’s right on every swing,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said of Suzuki, who has 14 homers in 38 games since the beginning of July and a career-high 18 homers in just 287 plate appearances.
This after hitting a combined 13 homers in 1,355 plate appearances during the past three seasons with Minnesota. He has more two-homer games this season than in his previous 10 seasons combined (two).
The Braves got their 69th win, one more than last year’s total, and need to go 4-6 in their final 10 games to avoid a third consecutive 90-loss season. They have two more against the Phillies, then an eight-game season-ending trip to New York and Miami beginning with a doubleheader Monday against the Mets.
They started the first inning with six straight hits on the night when the Braves gave out miniature replicas of a statue of Hall of Famer Bobby Cox, the legendary former Braves manager whose No. 6 is among those retired by the team.
Newcomb (4-8) recorded nine outs in the first nine batters and didn’t give up a hit until Cesar Hernandez’s leadoff double in the fourth inning.
“He pitched well,” Suzuki said. “He kind of settled into a groove there, hit a little bump, pitch count got high a little bit and the situation came up. But overall, it’s a positive. That’s the kind of thing right now, you want to have outings where you can take positives, move them on to the next and try to keep learning and keep doing things. And I think he’s doing that.”
Two of the hits and one walk against Newcomb came in the sixth inning, when he was replaced after giving up a run and with slugging rookie Rhys Hoskins coming to bat with two runners on. Reliever Dan Winkler got Hoskins to fly out and struck out Aaron Altherr to protect the 6-2 lead.
Phillies starter Lively’s fastball was lifeless in the first inning as the Braves wrapped out six hits in a row including doubles by leadoff man Ender Inciarte and Freddie Freeman around an RBI single from Ozzie Albies. Nick Markakis followed Freeman with a two-run single before Suzuki’s two-run homer pushed the Braves’ lead to 5-0.
Johan Camargo singled for the sixth straight hit of the inning before Lively (3-7) recorded his first outs on a double-play grounder by Lane Adams.
The 33-year-old Suzuki’s career high for homers before this season was 15 in more than twice as many plate appearances (614) as a 25-year-old with Oakland in 2009, when he started 132 games at catcher and eight at designated hitter.
He’s started 66 games this season while platooning with Tyler Flowers in one of the majors’ most productive catching tandems. Since the beginning of July, Suzuki has hit .326 with 14 homers and 28 RBIs in 38 games.
The Braves pushed the lead to 6-0 with a run in the second inning on Markakis’ two-out RBI single, after Lively walked Newcomb to start the inning and walked Freeman in front of Markakis.
The only Phillie to reach base in the first three innings was Hernandez on a walk to start the game. He was erased when Newcomb induced a double-play grounder by No. 2 hitter Freddy Galvis, beginning a stretch of eight batters retired by the big left-hander before Hernandez’s leadoff double in the fourth.
Galvis followed with a single and Williams hit a sacrifice fly to drive in the first Phillies run.
“The one inning it just kind of escaped him there a little bit,” Snitker said of Newcomb. “He did a good job. Just kind of lost his breaking ball and feel a little bit for the off-speed. But that was good, he got the win, battled his way through it, really good early. It’s another step forward for him.
“I still think once (Newcomb) gets his feet on the ground and has the belief, that you’ll see more out of him.”
Newcomb retired six in a row beginning with the sacrifice fly until Cameron Perkin’s pinch-hit single to start the sixth inning. Hernandewz followed with a walk and Galvis flied out before Williams’ RBI single, which brought on Winkler after Newcomb left the field to a standing ovation from those behind the Braves dugout.