It didn’t take long for the Atlanta Braves to recover from Wednesday night’s bench-clearing semi-brawl.
The Braves, expected to be slightly shorthanded going into Thursday’s opener of a four game set and against the Philadelphia Phillies (72-87), still won the first game of the series 7-1 and began the final four games of the season on a high note.
With the team initially unaware of who would be available to start the series, pre-game buzz eventually surrounded the league’s decision to suspend the Milwaukee Brewers’ outfielder Carlos Gomez and Braves right fielder Reed Johnson each for one game after Wednesday night’s first inning spat in the 4-0 loss to the Brewers.
After a solo home run off pitcher Paul Maholm, Gomez taunted Maholm as he ran the bases. Awaiting Gomez was Braves catcher Brian McCann, who kept him from crossing home plate.
The verbal argument led to a physical altercation that cleared both benches, and ultimately the ejection of Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman, Gomez, and Braves backup catcher Gerald Laird.
Both Gomez and Johnson were fined by the MLB after the altercation.
The Braves shrugged off the loss of Johnson fairly quick upon the start of Thursday’s game.
Atlanta ran to a quick 5-0 at the bottom of the first inning, scoring their first three runs and four hits before Phillies starting pitcher, Tyler Cloyd (2-7, 6.37 ERA), ever recorded his first out.
The 5-0 run signified the Braves’s most first-inning runs in a game this season.
Leading the way on the route was outfielder Jason Heyward, who hit his 14th home run of the season on his first Braves at-bat.
Ironically, it would be Cloyd who drove in Philadelphia’s lone score by grounding out to third base, bringing in infielder Cody Asche for the run.
Pitching in his second career start for Atlanta was rookie RHP David Hale, who made his debut September 13 against the San Diego Padres.
Ultimately, the night would belong to Heyward, who went 5-for-5 with a home run, three doubles, and a single. The five hits gave Heyward a new career high and his four extra-base hits were also a new career high.
“He’s running around without any problems, he’s got his timing back,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “It’s really good to see all of that.”
Heyward was thought to still be knocking of the rust since his return from a fractured right jaw, with two hits in 15 at-bats before Thursday.
“It feels good to get hits, it’s good to get on base with this line up,” the McDonough native told the Atlanta Daily World. “For me personally, I just had the timing and I had to execute.”
Thursday’s win also gave Atlanta’s Hale (1-0, 0.82 ERA) his first career win after six innings, five strikeouts and one error.
“It’s an amazing feeling, especially to do it at home,” Hale said. “To pitch with a lead is a great help.”
“This is a good way to finish the year, can’t ask for a better ending.”
Despite a three-game sweep in Philadelphia earlier in the month, the Braves have now won five of their seven home meetings against the Phillies this season.
Atlanta (94-65) is now in a tie with the St. Louis Cardinals for the race to earn home-field advantage throughout the National League playoffs.
Probable pitchers for Friday’s game will be Atlanta’s RHP Kris Medlen (14-12, 3.24 ERA) against Philadelphia’s LHP Cliff Lee (14-7, 2.93 ERA).