ATLANTA -- Rarely has a Braves starter had the luxury of a big early lead this season. Even more rarely has he needed it, which was the case Friday night for Ervin Santana against the Reds.
Justin Upton hit a three-run homer in the first inning and the Braves built a 5-0 lead through three, then hung on for a 5-4 win against Cincinnati in a series opener at Turner Field.
After the first two batters in the ninth reached base against Craig Kimbrel on a single and a walk, the Braves closer struck out Brayan Pena and Chris Heisey before Joey Votto grounded out. Third baseman Chris Johnson's throw to first base forced Freddie Freeman to stretch to make the catch, and the Reds argued that his foot came off the base.
The play was reviewed and the out call was confirmed, ending the game.
Santana (3-0) was charged with four runs -- twice his previous season total -- and nine hits in 6-2/3 innings in his fourth start for the Braves, with one walk and seven strikeouts. He gave up two runs in the sixth and two more runs in the seventh, with his last run scoring when left-hander Luis Avilan gave up an RBI double to the only batter he faced.
Remarkably, it was only the second time in 22 games this season that a Braves starter was charged with more than two earned runs. David Hale had Atlanta's previous season-high of three runs allowed by a starter.
The Braves began Friday with four of the National League's top nine starters' ERAs, and Santana's doubled from 0.86 to 1.63.
The Braves' 15-7 record is the second-best in the majors, and the NL East leaders can clinch their seventh series win in eight with another win Saturday or Sunday against the Reds. They improved to 9-0 in games when they score first and 13-1 when they hit at least one home run, compared to 2-6 when they don't.
Upton's three-run homer in the first inning gave him five homers and 11 RBIs in his past eight home games, and a .441 average in 10 home games (15-for-34) this season. He's hit .191 with one homer in 12 road games. For his career Upton has 85 homers in 447 home games and 56 homers in 455 road games.
The Braves had a 5-0 lead through five innings and Santana had briefly moved into the major league ERA lead at 0.69, just ahead of teammate Aaron Harang (0.85). That was before the Reds scored two runs in the sixth after starting the inning with a Votto walk and Brandon Phillips double.
Jay Bruce singled to drive in one run and another scored when Neftali Soto grounded into a double play. The two runs in the inning equaled the total allowed by Santana in 26 previous innings. He gave up a leadoff single to Devin Mesoraco in the seventh inning, and light-hitting rookie speedster Billy Hamilton's two-out double cut the lead to 5-3.
Avilan was brought in to face Joey Votto, who lined a double to center field that trimmed the lead to one run. That was it for Avilan. Manager Fredi Gonzalez called on David Carpenter to face Brandon Phillips, who flied out to end the inning.
Upton's home run with one out in the first inning was the seventh homer off Homer (Bailey), tied for the most allowed by any major league pitcher this season. The table was set when older brother B.J. Upton and Freddie Freeman hit consecutive one-out singles, Upton's an infield hit fielded behind third base and Freeman's a hard bouncer through the right side.
Bailey gave up nine hits and five runs in six innings, the fourth time in five starts that he's allowed at least four earned runs.
Andrelton Simmons doubled and scored on Jason Heyward's two-out single in the second inning, and the Braves pushed the lead to 5-0 in the third when Freeman singled, advanced on a wild pitch, went to third on Justin Upton's fly to deep center, and scored on Evan Gattis' pop fly that fell for a single in shallow left field.
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