Other than Diaz's second-inning leadoff homer, all of the Cardinals mistakes came while attempting to record the third out of the inning. The Braves scored nine of their 10 runs and registered 11 of their 12 hits with two outs. Most of the damage came during a five-run fourth, which was capped with a two-run single by Julio Franco, the 48 year-old wonder who was showered with appreciation in his return to Atlanta.
"It didn't take him long to get going [and] he made two really nice plays at first [base]," Braves manager Bobby Cox said of Franco, who signed with the Braves on Wednesday in hopes of regaining some of that successful form he displayed in Atlanta from 2001-2005.
While it proved to be a successful homecoming for Franco, the night wasn't simply reserved for him and the rest of his offensive mates. While limiting the Cardinals to one earned run and five hits over seven innings, Tim Hudson won his fourth straight decision. Each of those four victories have come in games that he's pitched at least seven innings and allowed one run or less.
"I think Huddy could've won 2-1 pretty easily tonight the way he was throwing," Cox said. "It was great control and he had super movement and sink on the ball, as good as I've ever seen. We gave him plenty of run support."
Andruw Jones' first-inning two-run homer began the offensive barrage for the Braves, who have scored 10 runs or more in four of the past five games they've played against the Cardinals dating back to last year. While hitting .328 this month, Jones has collected seven of the 19 homers he's hit this season. In the process, he's raised his batting average from .199 to .220.
After Jones drew a third-inning two-out walk, Jeff Francoeur hit a two-run single off Cardinals starter Mike Maroth, who was charged with 10 earned runs and 11 hits in just five innings. Things truly went south for the southpaw after he retired the first two batters in the bottom of the fourth.
When four consecutive singles followed, it was becoming obvious that the Braves had overcome the ills that had led to them hit just .206 (7-for-34) with runners in scoring position during the Reds series. After Diaz contributed his fourth-inning RBI double, Franco served a 1-2 delivery into left-center field for a two-run single. His previous RBI this season came on May 27.
"It's great to have him and it's good that the city of Atlanta appreciates him being back," Chipper Jones said of Franco, who will likely platoon at first base with Jarrod Saltalamacchia. "Down the stretch, he's going to help us."
Although they were limited to one hit after the fourth inning, this was certainly a night the Braves offense could savor. They registered seven hits in 10 at-bats with runners in scoring position and stranded seven baserunners -- three of which had reached after the second out of the eighth inning.
Of course they wouldn't have minded trading one or two of these timely hits for one during that Reds series, during which they stranded 34 baserunners.
"It evens out," said Chipper Jones, whose two-hit game upped his season batting average to .337. "Tonight we couldn't do any wrong with guys on base, especially with two outs."
All of the opportunistic early swings provided a sense of comfort for Hudson, who kept the Cardinals scoreless and limited to two hits through the first five innings. The only run he surrendered came after allowing consecutive singles to begin the sixth inning.
"As a starting pitcher, you still want to go out there and put up zeros," Hudson said. "Just because you got 10 [runs], doesn't mean you want to give up seven. You want to go out there pitch a good game and have a quality start."
Courtesy of all those squandered opportunities against the Reds, the Braves lost the momentum they'd gained while winning seven of their previous eight games. But after claiming this series-opening thrashing with the help of timely hitting, solid pitching and flawless defense, they once again can feel like they've got the pieces to make serious noise in the season's final two months.
"We're hard to beat when we put all the facets of the game together," Chipper Jones said. "It just needs to show up a little more consistently."