For the Atlanta Braves it felt good to be home again. Atlanta tooks its series opener against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Turner Field Friday night, after spending 27 of the last 37 games on the road.
The win came in come-from-behind fashion, in large part thanks to Justin Upton, who launched his third career grand slam in the sixth inning in an 8-5 victory.
The Braves have only played 14 games at home, the least of any team in the majors, yet still hold a one and a half game lead over the Washington Nationals for first place in the NL East.
“Going on the road is tough and we played some good teams, so to come home and still have a lead you gotta feel pretty good,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said.
The Braves also welcomed Jason Heyward back to the starting lineup. The Golden Glove outfielder returned after missing 22 games due to an appendectomy surgery.
Heyward played six games with the Gwinnett Braves during his rehab stint and hit for a .300 average with six RBI. He went 2-for-4 with an RBI in his return to the starting lineup. He also made a sliding grab in the outfield without hesitation but came up limping gingerly after his cleat ran into his leg.
“I felt good,” said Heyward of his diving catch. “I wasn’t worried about [my surgery], I just spiked myself which didn’t feel very good.”
Heyward also answered any lingering questions about his ability to hit on Friday. After Andrelton Simmons singled in the third, Heyward hit a line drive into left field for just his third double of the season. Simmons scored on an Upton ground ball and Heyward scored on a Freddie Freeman Single.
“I had some good plays on defense, got some hits, had some good at bats, that’s all I can really hope to do and fortunately it came through for me,” Heyward said.
Braves starting pitcher Paul Maholm gave up four runs in six innings but only two were earned due to a Dan Uggla error in the fourth. Two runs scored off the error to put the Dodgers ahead 4-2.
Once again Heyward was instrumental for the Braves in a late inning rally when he drew a walk to load the bases for Upton. That set up Upton to drill a grand slam home run into the upper deck that sent the sellout crowd of 43,238 into a frenzy.
“I didn’t even look up. I knew it was gone,” said Heyward of Upton’s 14th homer of the season. “You know what it looks like after a while.”
The Braves added two more insurance runs in the seventh and Craig Kimbrel closed the game and notched his 12th save of the season.
The Braves have finally put together the lineup they have been waiting for season opening day. Brian McCann, Freeman and Heyward all played in the starting lineup for the first time this season.
“We had some good at bats and drew some walks and got their pitcher deep into counts,” said Gonzalez.
Atlanta will play 13 of its next 18 games at home, a much needed change of pace from a grueling beginning of the season.