ATLANTA (AP) — David Ross racked his brain, trying to recall if he’d ever hit a grand slam.
“Some of the guys were asking me about that,” the Braves catcher said. “I can’t remember one in college, the minors – ever.”
He’s got one now.
Ross’ first career slam capped a seven-run fifth inning made possible by Luis Castillo’s error, and the Atlanta Braves routed the New York Mets 9-2 on Tuesday night.
The Mets scored two runs in the top half of the fifth off rookie Mike Minor (3-0), but the 2-1 lead didn’t last long. Taking advantage of Castillo’s blunder, the Braves knocked out Jonathon Niese (8-7).
Castillo let a likely double-play grounder slip between his legs, and the Braves made New York pay big time. Jason Heyward followed with a two-run double, Alex Gonzalez had an RBI single and Ross – Atlanta’s backup catcher getting one of his occasional starts – cleared the bases by lining his second homer of the season into the left-field seats.
The slow-running Ross also had a triple, stumbling as he rounded second while his teammates yukked it up in the dugout.
He was able to take it easy in the fifth.
“It’s nice jogging around the bases rather than running hard into third,” Ross quipped.
Atlanta has followed last week’s four-game losing streak – its longest skid since April – with four straight wins. The Braves came into the night with a three-game lead over Philadelphia in the NL East. The Phillies had a late game against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
“It’s a long season,” said Derrek Lee, who reached base four times on three hits and a walk. “I think you’re going to have little blips here and there, but it’s how you respond to them. I think this team shows its character by bouncing right back.”
Nate McLouth, the Braves’ former starting centerfielder just up from Triple-A, sparked the seven-run inning by getting plunked with a pitch as a pinch-hitter.
Omar Infante followed with a slow hopper up the middle – perfect for turning two – but Castillo let it skip right between his legs for an error that changed the whole complexion of the game.
“We couldn’t stop the bleeding,” said New York’s David Wright. “When you face a team that good at home, you can’t give them extra outs.”
Heyward lined a shot to left-center, bringing in two runners who shouldn’t have been on base. Martin Prado followed with a single and Lee walked to load the bases.
Niese struck out Matt Diaz, but Alex Gonzalez singled to right to make it 4-2. Prado also tried to score, but former Brave Jeff Francoeur threw him out at the plate. Prado slid around catcher Henry Blanco, but too wide to touch the plate. Prado had no chance to get back before Blanco tagged him out.
Francoeur, who had his NL-leading 11th outfield assist, was traded after the game to the first-place Texas Rangers, just ahead of the deadline for him to be eligible for postseason play with his new team.
“It’s an exciting opportunity for me,” said Francoeur, who in an interesting twist was traded for the second time in his career while visiting his hometown and facing his original team, the Braves. “It’s funny it happened here. Maybe I will be back here in October.”
Niese couldn’t take advantage of the big defensive play. Ross ripped into a 2-2 pitch that turned a still-tight game into a rout.
The Mets took advantage of three walks by Minor to grab a short-lived lead. Francoeur and Blanco both had sacrifice flies.
After squandering scoring chances in the second (runner at third with one out) and the third (Ross’ leadoff triple came to nothing), the Braves finally broke through in the fourth. Prado led off with a double and Lee brought him home by singling to left.
Coming off a 12-strikeout performance against the Chicago Cubs, which tied the Braves’ rookie record, Minor struggled a bit in his fourth career start. He wasn’t sharp on eight days rest, surrendering seven hits and three walks while striking out four in five innings.
“I don’t know if it was the extra time off, but I just couldn’t throw the ball where I wanted to,” Minor said.
Niese was lifted after Ross’ grand slam, having surrendered 10 hits in 4 2-3 innings. Officially, three of Atlanta’s run were earned, but it’s likely the Mets starter wouldn’t have given up any runs in the fifth if not for Castillo’s costly error.
NOTES: It was a feast-or-famine night for Ross, who struck out in his other two at-bats. … Wright batted second for the first time since 2007 and just the 15th time in his career. He was 0-for-3 with a walk. … Even with the Braves leading the NL East, the turnout at Turner Field was less than 20,000 for the second night in a row. The announced attendance was 18,430. … New York OF Angel Pagan didn’t play because of tendinitis in right wrist. … The Mets recalled RHP Jenrry Mejia and added outfielder outfielder Lucas Duda from Triple-A Buffalo after the game.
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)