The Braves were finally home Friday night, with their lineup at full strength for the first time all season and playing in front of 43,238 fans at Turner Field. The stage was set. All they needed was somebody to shock them back into rhythm.
Enter Justin Upton.
The man who homered 12 times to get them off to such a hot start in April conjured up a grand slam Friday just when they needed it, lifting the Braves out of the May mire for a come-from-behind 8-5 win over the Dodgers.
His sixth-inning stroke traveled an estimated 461 feet into a tunnel half way up the left field stands, the longest he’d hit all season. That’s saying something, considering Upton went an estimated 460 feet, according to ESPN Stats & Info, with his blast on opening day.
“I got that one pretty good,” Upton said, not even cracking a smile.
His third career grand slam and first as a Brave helped the Braves back from a 4-2 deficit and capped off a five-RBI night. It also showed why manager Fredi Gonzalez likes to split up righties and lefties in the Braves order.
Dodgers manager Don Mattingly had used a right-hander to start the sixth, then brought in left-hander Paco Rodriguez to face Jason Heyward. After Heyward walked, rather than make another change, Mattingly left Rodriguez in to face the right-handed hitting Upton.
Three pitches later, Upton got a hold of a 91-mph fastball. Left fielder Carl Crawford just stood there and turned his head to see how far it would go,
“As soon as he took a swing, you knew that ball was going to be out of the ballpark,” Gonzalez said. “That was one of the prettiest swings I’ve seen him put on a baseball.”
Upton, who leads the majors with 14 home runs, was the quickest in Braves franchise history to reach 12 home runs - all in his first 23 games in a Braves uniform. He took his time, relatively speaking, with the last two but picked poignant spots for them. His 13th home run came against his former team Monday in Arizona and on Friday, his 14th came with the bases full.
Jordan Schafer had reached on a bloop single, Andrelton Simmons on an error and Heyward draw a walk, all with one out.
“He had nowhere to put me, so I was looking to be aggressive in my zone and not swing at his pitches,” Upton said. “He threw one over the middle that I could handle.”
Heyward went 2-for-4 with two opposite field hits, including a double, an RBI and two runs in his first game back after a month out recovering from an appendectomy. He was in the middle of every Braves rally, using a double to left field to key a two-run third inning, reaching for Upton in the sixth and driving in one of two Braves insurance runs in the seventh.