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.
The Royals honored former pitcher Yordano Ventura prior to their first Cactus League game against the Rangers on Saturday. Ventura was killed in a car accident in his native Dominican Republic in late January.
Rangers’ third baseman Adrian Beltre and center fielder Carlos Gomez paid their respects to the pitcher with a floral arrangement that was laid on the mound. Both teams stood along the foul lines during a pregame video tribute that highlighted Ventura’s tenure with Kansas City. Following the game, Gomez spoke to the media about his relationship with Ventura, describing their frequent conversations during the season and commending the pitcher for having “the same passion that I had early in my career” (via WFAA.com’s Levi Weaver).
A plaque dedicated to the 25-year-old was also presented to club manager Ned Yost as a more permanent commemoration of Ventura’s contributions to the sport. Blair Kerkhoff of the Kansas City Star reports that the plaque will be mounted in the club’s spring training facilities alongside tributes to members of the Royals’ 2014 and 2015 playoff teams.
The full text of the plaque is below, via MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan:
A brother and a teammate, Yordano Ventura, passed away on the morning of January 22 in his native Dominican Republic, at the age of 25. He signed with the Royals as a 17-year-old, eventually making the big league team in 2013 as a 22-year-old. On most days, he could be found laughing and joking with his baseball family in the clubhouse. However, on days when he pitched, that smile was replaced by a quiet confidence and an intense fire, which he brought to the mound for every start. He had many highlights in his abbreviated career, not the least of which was throwing eight shutout innings in Game #6 of the 2014 World Series to force a Game #7 vs. San Francisco.
Right-hander Gerrit Cole is set to take the mound for the Pirates on Opening Day, according to a team announcement on Saturday. It’s a spot that was most recently occupied by former Pirate Francisco Liriano, who made three consecutive Opening Day starts for the club before getting dealt to the Blue Jays last August.
The 26-year-old produced career-worst numbers during his fourth run with the Pirates in 2016, due in large part to bouts of inflammation in his right elbow. He finished the year with a 3.88 ERA, 2.8 BB/9 and 7.6 SO/9 over 116 innings before getting shut down in September to avoid further injury to his elbow. When healthy, however, Cole has been lights-out for the Pirates. Prior to his injury-laden campaign last year, he touted a career 3.07 ERA, 2.2 BB/9, 8.5 SO/9 and cumulative 10.2 fWAR from 2013 through 2015.
Cole will go toe-to-toe with the Red Sox during Boston’s home opener on Monday, April 3. Right-hander Jameson Taillon is scheduled to make the second start of the year, while fellow righty Ivan Nova will cover the Pirates’ home opener against the Braves on April 7. The Pirates’ third and fifth starters have yet to be announced.