Baseball / Sports

Atlanta Braves Chris Johnson hits a 2-run homer to take a 2-1 lead over the Philadelphia Phillies during the second inning of an MLB game on Sunday, July 20, 2014, in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/MCT)

Wood pitches gem, La Stella clears bases as Braves beat Phillies, 8-2

ATLANTA -- In eight weeks since he arrived from Triple-A, Braves second baseman Tommy La Stella has been up seven times with bases loaded. He's come through with a hit in six of those occasions and cleared the bases in three including Sunday, when he did it to the Phillies again.

The rookie with the tree-trunk legs is a two-out, two-strike hitting machine.

La Stella's three-run double in the third inning broke the game open and sent the Braves toward an 8-2 win at Turner Field, where Alex Wood was perfect over the final four innings of his rain-shortened six-inning outing.

For the second consecutive Sunday, the Braves got a bases-clearing double from La Stella and a multi-run homer from Chris Johnson, the pair having done the same trick in a 10-7 win against the Cubs in the final game before the All-Star break.

Wood (7-7) limited the Phillies to three hits and one run with eight strikeouts and no walks, including six strikeouts in the third through six innings when no one reached base against the left-hander. He was replaced after a 1-hour, 39-minute rain delay before the bottom of the sixth.

Johnson's two-run homer in the second inning provided a 2-1 lead and gave the Braves third baseman more home runs in his past five games (four) than in his previous 90 games (three). He had three homers in the final two games at Wrigley Field before the break, and Sunday he took Phillies starter Kyle Kendrick out of the park in straightaway center.

Kendrick (4-10) gave up five hits and six runs in five innings, with two walks, two hit batters and only one strikeout against a team that has the second-most strikeouts in the National League. He fell to 1-4 with a 6.99 ERA in his past six starts.

The Braves blew the game open with their four-run third inning, when La Stella's double was their only hit. Kendrick also hit two batters and walked two in the inning, including a bases-loaded walk for Jason Heyward.

Kendrick was a Braves nemesis for several years, but not so much lately. He's 2-3 with a 6.15 ERA in seven starts against them going back to August 2012.

John Mayberry Jr. staked Kendrick to a 1-0 lead with a second-inning homer. But as Wood has been wont to do, he snapped to attention after giving up an early run. He retired 14 of 15 batters faced after the Mayberry homer, with only Koyie Hill reaching base in that period -- on a two-out bloop single in the second, which landed near the back of the infield.

Kendrick failed to protect the lead for even three batters. Justin Upton led off the bottom of the second with a double over the head of right fielder Marlon Byrd, and Johnson homered one out later.

The Braves blew the game open in the third after B.J. Upton's leadoff walk. He advanced to second when first baseman Mayberry failed to catch a pickoff throw, and moved to third on a groundout. Kendrick hit the next two batters, Freeman on the inner left thigh and Justin Upton near his right elbow. (Upton singled in the fifth and was pinch-hit for in the sixth.)

After the hit batters, Heyward's one-out walk pushed the lead to 3-1, and La Stella's double to the right-center gap cleared the bases. He also had a three-run triple at Philadelphia on June 28, and has four extra-base hits among his six hits in seven bases-loaded at-bats. All but one of those extra-base hits cleared the bases.

La Stella also doubled in the seventh and has seven extra-base hits among his nine hits against the Phillies. He raised his team-leading average with runners in scoring position to .325 (13-for-40), including 7-for-21 with three doubles and 12 RBIs in those situations with two outs.

His three-run double came on a full-count pitch after getting behind in the count 1-and-2. Not surprising, considering La Stella's .299 average (26-for-87) with two strikes made him one of three qualifying NL hitters as high as .270 in those situations. He was behind the Mets' Eric Campbell (.317 before Sunday) and the Rockies' Michael Cuddyer (.316).

Among Braves, the next-highest two-strike averages belonged to Andrelton Simmons (.244 in 135 at-bats before Sunday) and Freeman (.216 in 176 at-bats). The fact that La Stella already had enough two-strike plate appearances to qualify, after less than two months in the majors, said plenty about his patient approach and willingness to get into two-strike counts and shorten his swing.

The Braves tacked on two runs in the sixth against reliever Mario Hollands, who issued four consecutive one-out walks to Gerald Laird, pinch-hitter Jordan Schafer, B.J. Upton and Simmons. After the Simmons walk brought in a run, Hollands regrouped and got out of the inning allowing only one more run on a Freeman bloop single.

The Phillies got their last run on a Marlon Byrd leadoff homer against David Carpenter in the ninth inning.

(c)2014 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Atlanta, Ga.)

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