Braves win on ninth-inning homers from Uptons

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Not only did B.J. and Justin Upton homer as teammates for the first time Saturday, but they did it in style, launching solo homers in the bottom of the ninth as the Braves came back to beat the Cubs 6-5.

The Cubs were up 5-1 when the Braves rallied for three runs in the bottom of the eighth against closer-in-waiting Kyuji Fujikawa. That left Carlos Marmol with no margin for error in the ninth, and the implosion followed quickly. B.J.’s homer led off the inning. Marmol rebounded to retire Jason Heyward, but then Justin Upton hit his second homer of the game to finish it.

For Justin Upton, it was his fifth homer in five games as a Brave and the second walkoff shot of his career. B.J. had been hitless in 14 at-bats this season before going 2-for-4 tonight. B.J. was making his debut in the leadoff spot because of an injury to Andrelton Simmons; he had previously been hitting fifth in the lineup.

Thanks to the Uptons, the Braves overcame a disappointing season debut from Julio Teheran. The 22-year-old had a remarkable spring, amassing a 1.04 ERA and 35 strikeouts in 26 innings, but he gave up five runs in five innings tonight.

As for the Cubs, they’ll again face questions about how they’ll handle the ninth. While this was Marmol’s first blown save and loss, he’s been awful in all three of his appearances to date. Fujikawa was looking good until tonight, but since he now has an 11.57 ERA, the Cubs might choose to go to a closer-by-committee that also includes James Russell.

A.J. Hinch: “We’ll use every pitcher in Game 7 if we have to”

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It’s not entirely clear why the Astros threw Ken Giles into the ninth inning of Game 6 of the ALCS. With a six-run advantage and the bottom half of the Yankees’ lineup due up, pushing the series to its seven-game capacity looked like a sure bet. Giles may be one of Houston’s better bullpen arms, but he’s not their only option, and it would have made more sense to keep him fresh for a do-or-die Game 7 on Saturday night.

Of course, there’s no such thing as a sure bet when it comes to postseason baseball. That’s more or less what Astros’ manager A.J. Hinch had to say after the game, telling reporters that he had envisioned a quick three outs from his closer as they tried to pull back from the brink of elimination. “We didn’t have the luxury of limping into that inning,” Hinch said. “We’ve seen how these guys can explode in these innings.”

It’s not difficult to recall the Yankees’ explosive drive in the eighth inning of Game 4, when they exploited the holes in Houston’s ‘pen and evened the series with Gary Sanchez‘s go-ahead double off of Giles. Back home in Minute Maid Park, however, there was a slightly different feel to the eighth and ninth innings of Game 6. Jose Altuve led off the eighth with a solo home run, followed by Alex Bregman‘s two-run double and Evan Gattis‘ sac fly. In the ninth, Giles labored through a 23-pitch outing to lock down the win, handing out a base hit and a seven-pitch walk before eventually whiffing Chase Headley on three straight pitches for the last out.

So, while Hinch’s decision to lean on Giles in Game 6 may have felt wasteful, his concerns were not entirely unfounded. He’s prepared to roll with the same strategy during Saturday’s series finale, too, leaving nothing on the table as the Astros battle for their first World Series showdown since 2005. According to Dallas Keuchel, that means all hands on deck — except for Justin Verlander, whose four wins, 24 strikeouts and 1.46 postseason ERA have gotten the Astros as far as he could possibly be expected to take them. “No pitcher is going to be in the dugout,” said Keuchel. “They’re all going to be in the bullpen, myself included. Any way we can help out, we’re trying to get to the World Series, the same way the Yankees are, and that’s a nice feeling to have.”

Does that mean Giles will be available for a Game 7 appearance? Stranger things have happened. Joe Sheehan notes that the right-hander has pitched in back-to-back days 13 times this year, though he’s never thrown as many as 23 pitches on Day 1. Granted, he likely doesn’t have enough left in the tank for another 20+ pitch run on Saturday, but with the World Series on the line, any help he can offer will be invaluable.