The Atlanta Braves snapped their eight-game losing streak Friday night by doing something no team had ever done before: they hit four home runs in a single game off Stephen Strasburg.
Strasburg entered Friday night’s game having gone 1-2 with a 5.79 ERA in six previous starts at Atlanta’s Turner Field. In his last two starts there, he had failed to make it past the second inning, getting ejected for allegedly throwing at the Braves' hitters last August and leaving due to a strained oblique last May. Despite the poor career record at Turner Field, Strasburg had allowed just three home runs in 23 1/3 innings in his previous six games there, and had allowed just three home runs in his last six starts this season, as well, over 39 innings. In fact, prior to Friday, Strasburg had never allowed more than two home runs in a game in his major league career.
That changed quickly. After two quick outs to start the bottom of the first inning, Freddie Freeman worked Strasburg for a seven-pitch walk. Justin Upton then crushed a 0-1 fastball out over the plate off the batters' eye beyond the 400-foot sign in dead center to give the Braves a two-run lead. In the bottom of the second, Strasburg again got two quick outs, this time sandwiched around a Ramiro Peña single, with the second being a sacrifice bunt by opposing pitcher Ervin Santana. That brought up B.J. Upton, whom Strasburg had struck out on four pitches in the first. This time, the elder Upton pulled a 1-1 curve ball that broke back over the plate into the left-field seats not far from the 380-foot sign in the left-field gap to give the Braves a 4-0 lead. That was quickly followed by a Tommy La Stella single and yet another two-run homer, this one by Freeman, on a 2-1 fastball that drifted up and over the plate, missing the location requested by catcher Wilson Ramos by about a foot.
Down 6-0 after just an inning and two thirds of work, Strasburg settled down from there, retiring the next seven batters he faced, five of them by strikeout. That streak was snapped by another home run -- this one the first in the major league career of Braves second baseman La Stella, who had just one previous home run 454 plate appearances between Triple-A and the majors this season. This one came on a 2-1 fastball that went directly to Ramos’s glove on the inside corner. La Stella just beat Strasburg to the spot and put it out to right-center to make it 7-0 (and then got the silent treatment from his teammates in the dugout).
Strasburg got through the rest of the fifth inning without further damage, pitching around a two-out Jason Heyward double while racking up two more strikeouts, giving him nine on the night, but his night ended there. The four home runs Strasburg allowed, in addition to being a career high, tied the most allowed by a single pitcher in a single game this season, previously done a dozen times, most recently by the White Sox’s John Danks in Chicago’s 16-0 drubbing at the hands of the Rangers. What’s more, it marked the fifth time that both Justin and B.J. Upton homered in the same game as teammates, breaking a major league record for brothers they had previous shared with Jason and Jeremy Giambi and Vladimir and Wilton Guerrero.
Remarkably, the Braves nearly blew that 7-0 lead. After Scott Hairston pinch-hit for Strasburg and was hit by a pitch to lead off the top of the sixth against Santana, the Nationals rallied for four runs capped by a three-run home run by Anthony Rendon. After an hour-long rain delay, Ramos led off the top of the seventh with a solo homer off Braves reliever Anthony Varvaro and the Braves added a sixth run thanks in part to errors by corner outfielders Kevin Frandsen, who replaced starting right fielder Steven Souza Jr. who injured his left shoulder running into the outfield wall chasing after Freemans’ home run, and Justin Upton. The Nationals stranded Denard Span on second base in that inning, however, and never got another man on against Jordan Walden in the eighth or Craig Kimbrel in the ninth as the Braves hung on to snap their streak with a 7-6 win.
With the loss, Strasburg is now 1-8 with a 5.25 ERA on the road this season compared to 7-2 with a 2.41 at home and has a 3.90 ERA on the road in his career compared to a 2.53 mark at home. With the win, Atlanta is now 3 1/2 games behind Washington in the National League East. The two teams will face off again Saturday evening with Tanner Roark starting for the Nationals and Aaron Harang taking the hill for the Braves.