• Exclusives

    Braves finish strong in Houston

    By Tara Rowe

    Jason Heyward went 3-for-4 with a homer Wednesday in HOU

    Heading into Houston for a three games series, the Braves carried the weight of a sweep by the Mets in the opening series of the season on their shoulders. Back home in Atlanta, Braves fans had reached full panic mode and were watching the opening game in Houston closely.

    Prior to the first pitch of game one in Houston, lifelong Astro Craig Biggio presented Chipper Jones with a Stetson cowboy hat on behalf of the Houston Astros. It’s a sight that Braves fans will see in each big league city that the Braves visit as Chipper Jones plays each of the teams one final time before his looming retirement. Biggio, who played for the Astros from 1988 through 2007, was selected to the 1996, 1997 and 1998 National League All Star teams with Jones and the two met seven times in the postseason between  1997 and 2005. Few would argue that Craig Biggio and Chipper Jones will one day be enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

    The first game of the series in Houston continued the lackluster offense that the Braves experienced while in New York to start the season and adding to the growing frustration of the team as well as its fans, horrendous defense was on display.

    Committing four errors, three of them by newly acquired third baseman Juan Francisco, the team’s first lead of the season was squandered. The Braves were 3-for-9 with runners in scoring position compared to the Astros’ 5-for-7. Like newly acquired Francisco, the most recently signed Chad Durbin and Livan Hernandez contributed poorly in their relief of Beachy. Durbin and Hernandez allowed four earned runs between them.

    Despite sporadic offense and terrible defense, there were moments of brilliance–Martin Prado continued to swing a hot bat, getting two hits and scoring a run in four at-bats. Brandon Beachy had a good start, though he wasn’t helped out by the bullpen.

    Prior to the second game of the Houston series, Chipper Jones was activated from the DL following yet another arthroscopic knee surgery. Chipper was ahead of schedule recovering from his latest knee injury, this one suffered the morning before he held the press conference announcing that he would retire at the end of the 2012 season.

    In the first inning of his first game of the season, Chipper made an incredible bare-handed play at third base to throw out former Brave Jordan Schafer (who was a pest on the base paths in the first game of the series). Chipper’s legs seemed to be up to par or at least as solid as a 39-year old knees with a lengthy history of injuries could be. Adding to spectacular defense, he crushed a tie-breaking home-run that sparked the offense and propelled the Braves to their first win of the season.

    With momentum on their side and with the weight of four consecutive losses to start the season off their backs, the Braves went into game three in Houston with their defense and offense working together. Capitalizing on the Astros’ four errors and missed chances at the plate, the Braves eleven hits and scored six runs.

    Pieces that will be necessary for the Braves to be successful in 2012 seemed to be falling into place Wednesday in Houston. Jason Heyward crushed a home run, racked up three hits and used his speed on the base paths to execute a squeeze. Chipper continued to come through in the clutch, adding an insurance run in the ninth inning. The ‘pen was effective, though the Astros managed to score a run on the nearly untouchable O’Flaherty. The pieces looked to be falling into place as the Astros struggled to prevent runs.

    Now the Braves head home to Turner Field where Jair Jurrjens will open the series against the Milwaukee Brewers. After two months away, maybe the comforts of home are exactly what the Atlanta Braves need to build off the success of the last two games in Houston. A few more wins and the brutal sweep in New York will be a distant memory.

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