ATLANTA (AP) -- Horacio Ramirez let one pitch get away from him -- wink, wink -- but he was in command the rest of the way.
Ramirez pitched a season-high eight innings and Rafael Furcal
homered to lead the struggling Atlanta Braves past the Los Angeles Angels 3-2 on Tuesday night.In the opening game of the series, a violent home plate collision left Braves catcher Johnny Estrada with a mild concussion. He was kept in the hospital overnight and didn't even come to the ballpark Tuesday.While there was debate over whether Darin Erstad should have delivered a shoulder-first blow to Estrada's mask -- jarring the ball loose and scoring the go-ahead run -- it was clear where the Ramirez and the Braves stood.When Erstad came to bat in the first -- accompanied by loud boos from the Turner Field crowd -- Ramirez (4-4) threw his first pitch behind the hitter's back."The ball was a little too slippery," Ramirez said, trying to keep a straight face. "It was a two-seamer I was trying to get in on him. Last night, we pitched him away. I was trying to come in on him."Umpire Lance Barksdale quickly stepped out from behind the plate, warning both dugouts. Ramirez and Erstad simply glared at each other.While Ramirez wouldn't own up to throwing at Erstad, the rest of the Braves sure appreciated the gesture."It's a statement," said Adam LaRoche, who drove in Atlanta's first run. "Anytime you stand up for your teammates like that, you're going to get a lot of respect."There were no further problems, though Angels pitcher Paul Byrd
(5-5) did plunk Andruw Jones in the left arm in the fourth. There was a brief discussion between Barksdale and Byrd, but it seemed clear the former Braves pitcher wasn't trying to hit Jones since it came on a breaking pitch.Byrd probably would have gone after the Braves in the first if the warning had not been issued to both teams, meaning the next incident would lead to an ejection."The first thing I wanted to do was go out and stand somebody up," Byrd admitted. "But if I did hit a guy and got thrown out of the game, who do we have to come in?"Ramirez allowed only five hits, struck out three and walked two. Chris Reitsma pitched a 1-2-3 ninth for his fourth save.Erstad expected the Braves to come at him with some sort of retaliation."That's part of the game," he said. "They were sticking up for their teammates. That's what people do."Erstad went 1-for-4, just missing a go-ahead, two-run homer in the eighth. His high drive hooked in front of the right field foul pole, and he wound up flying out to left with the tying run at second."I thought it was gone," said Ramirez, who hung a slider. "Thank God it hooked foul."Ramirez also had two of Atlanta's nine hits, equaling a career high.The Braves won for only the fourth time in 12 games, though they're just one game behind first-place Washington in the NL East.With Estrada out and Chipper Jones on the disabled list, the Braves used a lineup that included only four regulars. Rookie Andy Marte got his first big-league start at third, and Wilson Betemit
started at second for the first time this year.Byrd, who has two previous stints with the Braves and still lives in the Atlanta area, gave up nine hits and all three runs in seven innings."They had some new guys I'm not familiar with," he said. "I don't like that. The last time I saw Betemit, he was hitting .220 in Triple-A."Even with a patchwork lineup, the Braves jumped ahead in the first when LaRoche hit a two-out, run-scoring single.The Angels tied it in the second on Bengie Molina's fifth homer, but the Braves reclaimed the lead for good on in the fourth, Marte coming through with a sacrifice fly.In the seventh, Furcal homered on an 0-2 pitch from Byrd to make it 3-1. The ball bounced off the top of the wall, struck a second wall and ricocheted back on the field. Right fielder Juan Rivera
threw it back in as Furcal slowed up at second, but the umpires correctly ruled it was a homer.That proved to be a crucial run when pinch-hitter Robb Quinlan
and Chone Figgins hit back-to-back doubles in the eighth for the Angels.
Marte went 0-for-3 but did pick up his first RBI in the big leagues. ... Braves second baseman Marcus Giles was perturbed about being left out of the lineup, especially with Chipper Jones out and the Braves struggling to score runs. "I don't know what's going on," Giles said. ... Byrd dropped to 2-4 in 12 career appearances against his former team. ... Erstad and Molina extended their hitting streaks to nine games. Erstad has hit safely in 17 of the last 19 games.