Kenshin Kawakami could see Atlanta’s relievers pressing to protect his first win of the season.
After the Braves’ bullpen gave up a homer and four walks in the ninth inning, it was Kawakami who started to press as he said he pleaded from the dugout, "Please finish, please finish. Get the game out of the way.”
Chipper Jones’ three-run homer in the seventh gave Kawakami his long-awaited victory, but only after the Braves escaped a ninth-inning jam to beat the Detroit Tigers 4-3 on Saturday.
Peter Moylan struck out pinch-hitter Johnny Damon with the bases loaded to end it, and Kawakami avoided the first 0-10 start in Braves history. The right-hander trailed 1-0 when he left for a pinch-hitter in the seventh.
"He deserves it,” Jones said. "He’s certainly pitched a lot better than his record indicates.”
Jones’ homer off Joel Zumaya (2-1) later in the inning landed about 10 rows deep in the center-field seats and drove in Gregor Blanco and Melky Cabrera, who walked.
Kawakami (1-9), perhaps pitching to protect his spot in the rotation, gave up only two hits and one run in seven innings, his longest start this season. He walked three and struck out six in his first win since Aug. 31, 2009, at Florida. He snapped an 11-game losing streak.
Jones’ fifth homer gave Atlanta a 3-1 lead. The Braves pushed it to 4-1 in the eighth when Eric Hinske’s double off Enrique Gonzalez drove in Troy Glaus.
Braves closer Billy Wagner was not available for the ninth because he was having a sore left ankle examined. He said he expects to be ready to pitch on Sunday.
Without Wagner, who earned his 400th career save on Friday night, the bullpen almost blew the lead.
Takashi Saito gave up Miguel Cabrera’s 20th homer with one out in the ninth, cutting it to 4-2. With two outs, Saito walked Carlos Guillen and Brandon Inge. Eric O’Flaherty walked pinch-hitter Danny Worth on four pitches to load the bases before walking pinch-hitter Gerald Laird — the fourth straight walk in the inning — to force in Guillen.
Moylan, Atlanta’s third pitcher of the inning, finally ended the game by getting Damon on a called third strike. It was Moylan’s first save since 2008.
The Tigers weren’t happy with the call.
"We can’t do it over again,” Damon said. "I told (plate umpire Gary Cederstrom) he missed it. I told him the pitch was outside.”
Detroit manager Jim Leyland said, "I don’t need to comment. I know it was outside. The pitch wasn’t even close.”
Holding his hands about a foot apart, Leyland said, "It was that much outside.”
Jones’ homer set up a unique curtain call.
After his shot, Jones jogged onto the field for the eighth inning, but his teammates remained in the dugout. Jones stood alone in the infield for a long ovation from Braves fans. His teammates finally ran onto the field after an embarrassed Jones tipped his cap.
Jones said the ovation "was cool,” but "I was red-faced. I wanted everybody else to come out.”
The first-place Braves moved 1-1/2 games ahead of the Mets in the NL East. The Tigers fell 1-1/2 games behind first-place Minnesota in the AL Central.
Detroit’s Max Scherzer gave up three hits and four walks with eight strikeouts in 5-2/3 scoreless innings.
Kawakami gave up a single to Austin Jackson leading off the game and then didn’t allow another hit until the sixth, when the Tigers took a 1-0 lead.
Jackson led off with a walk and advanced to second when Kawakami couldn’t field Ramon Santiago’s bunt single. The runners advanced on a wild pitch, and Jackson scored on Miguel Cabrera’s grounder to shortstop Yunel Escobar.
Despite the win, Kawakami’s future in the Braves’ rotation is uncertain when right-hander Jair Jurrjens returns from a strained left hamstring, possibly for Wednesday’s start against Washington.
Kris Medlen, who has filled in for Jurrjens, is 5-1 with a 3.15 ERA. Kawakami’s ERA improved from 4.78 to 4.48.
Braves rookie Jason Heyward, in a 1-for-16 slump, was held out until he was used as a pinch-runner for Hinske in the eighth. Heyward remained in the game in right field. His batting average has dropped from .301 on May 30 to .251 as he continues to be bothered by a sore left thumb.
Heyward said after the game he does not expect to start on Sunday and will have the thumb examined on Monday.
NOTES: Miguel Cabrera, who leads the AL with 63 RBIs, moved into a tie with Toronto’s Jose Bautista for the league lead in homers with 20. … Jones has a 10-game hitting streak. … Braves GM Frank Wren and Manager Bobby Cox presented Wagner with a crystal baseball before the game in honor of the left-hander’s 400th save. … Atlanta OF Matt Diaz began his injury rehab stint at Triple-A Gwinnett.