Braves nip Reds in extra innings

Published 10:50 pm Saturday, July 31, 2010

CINCINNATI — Manager Bobby Cox was so wrapped up in another wild, last-minute win that he didn’t realize his Atlanta Braves were going in the right direction again in the NL East standings.

After a week losing most of their lead, they were building it back up.

Jason Heyward knocked in two runs with his third double of the game Friday night, a two-out hit in the 10th inning that rallied Atlanta to a 6-4 victory over the Cincinnati Reds and restored a little bit of that division cushion.

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Atlanta moved 3 1/2 games ahead of second-place Philadelphia, which lost 8-1 to Washington in Roy Oswalt’s debut with the Phillies — a score that showed up on the outfield board but got overlooked with so much going on.

“So the Phillies got beat?” Cox said. “It’s fun to watch the scoreboard, but you’ve got to take care of your own game.”

Their rookie provided the final thrill.

Francisco Cordero (3-4) walked two batters in the 10th. Heyward worked the count full, then hit a sinking liner that diving left fielder Jonny Gomes couldn’t catch, allowing both runners to score. Martin Prado came all the way around from first, diving into the plate and jamming his right hand. He went for precautionary X-rays.

Heyward worked the count full, fouled a pitch off his foot, then went the opposite way for his game-winning hit.

“I had a good idea what I wanted to do with that at-bat, just be patient and not try to do too much,” Heyward said. “He made a good pitch on 3-2 before that. I just got a piece of it.”

Impressive all around.

“That at-bat Heyward had — you’re 20 years old, you’re not supposed to be doing stuff like that against one of the better closers in the game,” catcher Brian McCann said. “He came through for us tonight.”

Jesse Chavez (3-2) escaped a threat in the ninth. Billy Wagner got out of a two-on threat in the 10th, earning his 24th save in 29 chances by fanning Drew Stubbs for the final out.

The dramatic victory was typical for the Braves. They have won 17 games in their final at-bat, most in the majors.

Reds right fielder Chris Heisey prevented them from winning it an inning earlier. He jumped and stole a potential homer from pinch-hitter Brooks Conrad in the top of the ninth.

Joey Votto led the Reds with three hits, including an RBI double and a solo homer off left-hander Jonny Venters that tied it 4-all in the eighth. Votto leads the NL with 27 homers and a .326 average.

“You know how baseball momentum can work,” Votto said. “We had it, then it came to a screeching halt. After I hit the home run and Chris made the catch, it looked like that gave us something to build on, but we didn’t come through.”

The NL East leaders opened the series hoping to get some traction and stop their slide. The Braves led the division by a season-high seven games on July 22, but went 2-4 while the second-place Phillies got hot, winning eight straight and closing the gap to 2 1/2 games.

The Phillies also bolstered the pitching staff during their surge, trading for Oswalt. Washington roughed up Oswalt in his Phillies debut Friday night, allowing Atlanta to push the lead back to 3 1/2.

Pitching hasn’t been the Braves’ biggest problem. Their offense went south, scoring a total of six runs in the last three games. Their top All-Star got it going. McCann, who won the All-Star game’s MVP award for his bases-loaded double, hit a two-run homer off Johnny Cueto.

Braves starter Kris Medlen allowed three runs in five innings. He was hit on the inside of the right forearm to load the bases in the sixth. He stayed in the game to run the bases, then left for treatment because his hand was shaking. He doesn’t expect to miss a start.

The Reds opened the day a half-game in front of St. Louis in the NL Central, which has a two-team race. Nobody else has a winning record in the division. Fans have started taking notice — the crowd of 40,373 was only Cincinnati’s fifth capacity crowd of the season.

“It was a playoff atmosphere,” Medlen said. “If we win the East, it could be a (playoff) matchup for us.”

NOTES: The Braves traded 32-year-old minor league OF Mitch Jones to the Pirates for cash. … The Braves plan to designate OF Brent Clevlen to the minors on Saturday and call up OF Gregor Blanco. … Reds will honor Cox before Saturday’s game. Cox is retiring after this season, his 29th as a manager. … Reds RHP Aaron Harang felt good two days after he threw off a mound for the first time since he went on the DL July 6 with back spasms.