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Whalen wins as Pirates pitchers pounded, 8-4

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Rob Whalen and the Braves overcame a nightmare of a first inning to put a world of hurt on a procession of Pittsburgh hurlers and even the series at one game apiece.

Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Rob Whalen's first major league inning didn't go as planned: the Pirates batted around on him and put four runs on the board. For a short while, it looked like it might be another noncompetitive night from a young Atlanta Braves starter. Luckily for Whalen, the bats came alive and backed him in a big way, demolishing Jeff Locke and the Pittsburgh bullpen en route to an 8-4 win. The Braves scored in six consecutive innings to retake the lead and pull away, while Whalen and the bullpen held Pirates hitters scoreless the rest of the way.

First things first (or, second, I guess), though: Rob Whalen did not have a fun first inning. He managed to record an out while facing his first major league batter, Adam Frazier, but even that looked inauspicious, as Frazier hit a deep drive to right center that hung up long enough for Nick Markakis to flag down. Whalen wasn't so lucky with the next few hitters, as Gregory Polanco singled and Starling Marte was hit by a pitch to set up a huge three-run homer from Matt Joyce on a 88 miles per hour, 0-1 cutter that ended up right over the plate.

The Pirates didn't stop there, either, even with the rally-killing homer. Whalen allowed another single and then walked the next two hitters in five pitches each to load the bases, and then uncorked a wild pitch to dig a four-nothing hole for himself. At least he struck out his mound opponent after the wild pitch to end the inning and prevent the Pirates from sending 10 men to the plate in the first.

After that, though, the game was all Atlanta. Pirates starter Jeff Locke kept the Braves off the board in the first, but couldn't navigate an underwhelming lineup, despite the fact that he throws a baseball with his left hand. In the second, the Braves foiled the Curse of the Leadoff Double thanks to a wild pitch and an RBI groundout from Anthony Recker, scoring Nick Markakis. In the third, it was back to back doubles from Adonis Garcia and Freddie Freeman that gave the Braves another run. Freeman's double was a thing of beauty or agony, depending on how you look at it, as it took a weird hop near the first base bag, but the Braves will surely take it. In the fourth, the Braves quickly struck for another run, as Ender Inciarte hit a leadoff single and then scored all the way from first on a Recker double.

With a 4-3 game, the Braves smelled blood in the water in the fifth and went for the baseball equivalent of a jugular. Freddie Freeman drew a leadoff walk, and then Matt Kemp, who can presumably still hit lefties at this point in his career, hit a sharp liner into right field to put runners at second and third. Markakis followed that effort up with a sacrifice fly to tie the game, and then Inciarte promptly untied it with a single that scored Kemp. That spelled the end of the night for Jeff Locke, and the Pirates avoided a third run in the inning thanks only to Matt Joyce throwing out Inciarte at the plate after a Recker single. More good things then happened in the sixth, as three straight singles and then a Kemp sacrifice fly scored two more runs.

The Braves capped their scoring in the seventh with an Erick Aybar triple (his first of the season), scoring Inciarte once more. Overall, the Braves pounded out 15 hits in the contest, including five doubles. Aybar and Inciarte had three hits each, and every spot in the lineup got at least one hit on the night.

For his part, Whalen staunched the bleeding after the first, but it wasn't smooth sailing the rest of the way. For example, he issued two walks to start the third, but got an at-'em ball for the second out of the inning and then struck out Locke to end the frame. He also hit Starling Marte (again) to lead off the fifth, but managed to escape with no further damage. Overall, it was a debut with positives and negatives. On the one hand, 10 baserunners and four runs in five frames isn't great; on the other hand, he notched five strikeouts and showed enough composure to battle back and not fall apart after a dreadful first inning.

The quarter of Ian Krol, Mauricio Cabrera, Chris Withrow, and Jim Johnson pitched four perfect innings to close out the game, striking out five Buccos in the process. Juan Nicasio was charged with three runs (two earned) in two innings for the Pirates, while Jeff Locke suffered the ignominy of allowing five runs in fewer than five innings to his former franchise. Arquimedes Caminero pitched in this game for the Pirates, which is always noteworthy due to his awesome name.