Three Cuts: Uptons make history in Braves’ win

ATLANTA — Some stories are too good to be true.

No, Roy Hobbs didn’t shatter the lights at New York stadium in his last at-bat. That was a movie. So was the one where the ghost of Kevin Costner’s dad came walking out of an Iowa cornfield to play catch.

But Saturday night in Atlanta was real indeed. And for the first time in the history of baseball, brothers hit ninth-inning homers, one to tie a game that seemed hopelessly lost, and the other to win in walk-off fashion. And they did it with their father in attendance.

Taking three cuts after the Braves’ come-from-behind 6-5 win over the Cubs. 

1. Never, Ever!

It took 17 at-bats for B.J. Upton to get his first hit of the season, a high chopper to short in the seventh inning that sent Cubs’ starter Carlos Villanueva to the showers.

Boy, did that change things.

“It felt great to get that one and kind of get the monkey off my back,” B.J. said. “But to come back and hit the home run in the ninth, that was really special.” 

The homer, a ninth-inning solo shot to left-center field, set the stage for the most improbable ending in recent sporting history.

After struggling with the bats for most of the night and trailing the Cubs 5-1, the Braves cobbled together three runs in the eighth, a rally that began with a double by B.J.’s younger brother Justin Upton, who had already accounted for Atlanta’s only run of the night with a soaring solo homer in the first that sailed over the bright yellow 400-foot sign in center field. Justin scored again in the eighth when Freddie Freeman singled to right center to drive him home.

Then Dan Uggla singled to right, moving Freeman to second. A walk and another hit made it a 5-4 game going to the ninth.

That is where the magic began.
B.J.  came to the plate having been on base twice, once in the first inning on a walk, and again in the seventh on the chop single. Both were nice, but neither amounted to much. The walk ended with Upton being thrown out trying to steal second after a lengthy cat-and-mouse game with Cubs starting pitcher Carlos Vallanueva. The hit went nowhere after Jason Heyward popped out to right field to end the seventh inning and leave B.J. stranded at first. 

In the ninth, B.J. stood in and took a hard swing at a high, inside fastball from reliever Carlos Marmol. Then he looked at three straight balls, waiting for Marmol to bring the heat one more time.

He got his wish. The crack of the bat sent the 25,000 or so Atlanta fans who hadn’t found an early exit to their feet. B.J.’s second hit of the year was a game-tying homer. 

But that was only the start. After Heyward flied out to left, Justin Upton returned to the plate for the fifth time of the night and made history, hitting a 419-foot home run to center field to win it for Atlanta.

“I’ve never heard of anything like this happening in the game (of baseball)” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “I’m just so thrilled to have been a part of something like that, especially coming out on the winning side.” 

“I don’t think we ever homered in the same game before,” B.J. said afterward. “With the age difference, we never dreamed that we’d play on the same team, much less have something like this happen. It’s incredibly special, number-one on my list, for sure.” 

The Uptons became the sixth brothers in history to homer in the same inning and the first to do it since the Ripkens, Billy and Cal, in 1996.

2. New Spot for B.J.? 

Baseball players are notoriously superstitious, carrying lucky charms, wearing special socks and going through all the same pregame rituals in the hopes of keeping a hitting streak alive.
B.J. Upton won’t admit it, but batting in the leadoff spot might be something he lobbies to continue.

Upton moved to the lead spot after Andrelton Simmons sprained his thumb sliding headfirst into third base on Friday night. Simmons missed the game and remains listed as “day-to-day.” With speed to spare and a history of base-stealing, Upton was the perfect choice to move to that spot.

Now the question is: will he stay? 

“I don’t think it matters,” he said, trying to downplay his new spot in the rotation. “After the first (at-bat) you can’t tell that you’re leadoff. To me it’s just a number by your name.”   

But with that number by his name Upton produced a walk, a single, a hard-hit out to left field, and a game-tying home run. As much as he might say otherwise, he probably wants to keep things just the way they are. 

3. Starting Struggles

One outing does not a season make. But for those who live and die with every pitch, the luster that accompanied Julio Teheran throughout spring training faded a bit as the right-hander gave up two homers and five earned runs in five shaky innings of work. Suddenly an Orlando ERA of 1.04 ballooned to 9.0 in his first start in Atlanta.

That’s why they call it the Grapefruit League. Great outings in practice mean almost nothing once the lights come on in primetime.  

Teheran looked iffy right out of the gate, giving up a double to the first man he faced, David DeJesus who would score in the first when Nate Schierholtz belted a fat breaker into left center.

But that was just the beginning of the trouble. Luis Valbuana homered to right in the fourth to give the Cubs the lead. Then things broke open in the fifth. Castro reached on an infield single, and the next batter up, Anthony Rizzo, drilled one over the right field wall.

Two batters later, Schierholtz hit a hard double over the head of Heyward in deep right center. Welington Castillo drove him home with a single to center. That was when the boo-birds took full flight.

All was forgiven after the Braves rallied to win, and Teheran’s performance became backseat news to the Upton brothers’ ninth-inning heroics.

But the man who earned the fifth spot in the starting rotation needs a good outing or two in the coming weeks if he hopes to keep his job.