With the impeding doom of losing his rotation spot, Kenshin Kawakami had a lights out performance against a tough American League lineup. Kawakami threw seven great innings while allowing just five base runners and one run to score. He also struck out six and walked three, but allowed just two hits over the course of his outing. It was a very impressive outing for Kawakami, who had his back against a wall. The decision will be made within the next few days on who is removed, Kenshin or Kris Medlen, but I would still imagine that it is Kawakami despite his great performance this evening. Kenshin was credited with his first win of the season and is now 1-9.
With Billy Wagner apparently unavailable, the bullpen tried as hard as they could to not let Kenshin get his first win. Takashi Saito came in to close the game and allowed Miguel Cabrera to hit his 20th home run. After striking out Brennan Boesch, Saito subsequently walked two batters. Bobby Cox removed Saito for Eric O'Flaherty who walked two more batters and forced in a run, which made it a one-run game. With Austin Jackson due up next, Cox went to Peter Moylan to try and finally finish the game. Jim Leyland countered by pinch-hitting the left-handed Johnny Damon. The ever-patient Damon worked the count to 3-1, then fouled off the 3-1 and 3-2 pitches before Moylan caught him looking to earn his first save of the season. The importance of having Billy Wagner closing games was never more obvious than tonight.
The majority of the Braves scoring came in the seventh inning. Joel Zumaya came on to get the final out of the sixth and stayed on for the seventh. He opened up the inning with a walk to Gregor Blanco, which was an extremely important at-bat in this game. Brooks Conrad came on to pinch-hit and bunted Blanco over (a move I immediately disagreed with), and Melky Cabrera walked after a Martin Prado ground out. This brought up Chipper Jones to face the fireballer Zumaya and Chipper took a 100mph fastball over the centerfield fence for his fifth home run to make it a 3-1 contest. The following inning, Troy Glaus hit a single and came all the way around to score on an Eric Hinske double, his 16th of the season. Hinske's triple slash line is currently .306/.371/.538. The insurance run proved to be vital as the Braves bullpen was determined to not let Kenshin get his first win.
Martin Prado lead the game off with a double, his 22nd of the season and added another hit as well, pushing his average to .332. Blanco had three walks, and his on-base abilities may actually make him the Braves best option for centerfield right now. With Chipper's home run, he pushed his hitting streak to 10 games. He has safely hit in every game since he announced he was leaning towards retirement.
It was a scary finish, but a win is a win. The Braves moved to 1.5 games ahead of the Mets and 3.5 ahead of the Phillies as both lost earlier today. The Braves are now 44-31 and are on pace for a 95-67 record.
Up next is Tommy Hanson (7-4, 4.17 ERA, 4.11 xFIP) vs. Justin Verlander (8-5, 3.94 ERA, 4.05 xFIP) at 1:35 EST. The past two games have seen great outings from all four starters and if all goes as expected, tomorrow's game should be no different. With that said, it probably won't go expected because I just typed that.