ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) -- Thirteen months after elbow surgery, Mike Gonzalez returned to the major leagues and moved right into the Atlanta Braves' vacant closer role.
Gonzalez came off the disabled list and pitched a perfect ninth to save Atlanta's 5-2 victory over the Texas Rangers on Wednesday night.The left-hander is back from ligament replacement surgery.
• Chipper Jones maintained his .400 batting average with a 2-for-5 game, hitting his 402nd career home run (which at the time raised his BA to .402).
• Omar Infante's single put the Braves ahead for good. He's driven in a run in three of his last four games.
• Jeff Bennett earned his first win of season and Mike Gonzalez got the save in his 2008 debut.
-- ESPN.com research
"It's just a great feeling letting [the ball] go without having to think about it," said Gonzalez, making his first appearance since May 15, 2007. "It felt like my major league debut again. I definitely wanted to get that opportunity to do that at the end of the game. For [manager] Bobby [Cox] to do it gives me confidence too. For me the first strike was a big deal. As soon as I threw it I felt at home."Gonzalez's parents and sisters from the Houston area and friends from Dallas were among the 38,545 in the crowd."Before I came into the clubhouse, my dad said, 'No matter what you do, you're the best,'" Gonzalez said.His manager, who has been searching for answers in a bullpen wrecked by injuries, also liked what he saw."He looked great tonight," Cox said. "He threw a changeup, some curveballs and all those heaters. He looked better than I thought he might look closing out a game. He pitches with adrenaline, and the first time out I don't know what's going to come up. He might be too excited."Rafael Soriano, who began the season as the Braves closer, is on the DL for the second time. Atlanta planned to switch John Smoltz into that role, but after blowing his first and only save opportunity, he had season-ending surgery.Omar Infante hit a tiebreaking single, and the Braves scored three times in the ninth inning.Jeff Francoeur led off the inning with a grounder that Rangers closer C.J. Wilson threw wildly to first for a two-base error. Texas manager Ron Washington argued that Francoeur was running inside the base path, impeding the pitcher's throw to first, to no avail.Washington said Laird had a better shot at fielding the ball and throwing out Francoeur."Gerald came out there yelling for it, but C.J. came off the mound and picked it up, he just didn't finish the play," Washington said. "Gerald would have cleared and thrown him out easy....C.J.'s only human. He hurts more than I do."One out later, Infante singled to right to drive in Francoeur, and Gregor Blanco followed with a run-scoring triple to right-center. Kelly Johnson added his second RBI of the night with a run-scoring groundout to make it 5-2."That was a big hit by Infante," Cox said. "I can't tell you how valuable he is to our team. He can play third base, shortstop or second base with excellent defense, and he's an excellent center fielder. And the guy can hit. We'll keep him for a long while."Wilson took full blame for the misplay."If I would have hit [Francoeur with the throw], he would have been out," said Wilson, in his first full year as the Texas closer. "If I would have made a good throw, he would have been out. If I would have let Gerald take it, he would have been out. So tell your kids at home, bean the batter when he's running to first base and he's out."Wilson (0-2) allowed three runs -- one earned -- and two hits in the ninth inning.Jeff Bennett (1-4) pitched a scoreless eighth inning for Atlanta,Chipper Jones homered and went 2-for-5 to keep his major league-best batting average at .400. The Braves' slugger hit his 16th of the season over the center field fence with two outs in the first.Braves starter Jo-Jo Reyes gave up two runs and five hits in seven innings, striking out three and walking four. He left with the game tied at 2.The Rangers' Eric Hurley matched Reyes through five innings in his second big league start, allowing two runs and five hits with five strikeouts and two walks.Johnson's RBI single in the third pushed Atlanta's lead to 2-0 before Gerald Laird's run-scoring single in the third pulled Texas within a run. The Rangers tied it in the sixth when Josh Hamilton singled, stole second, moved to third in catcher Brian McCann's throwing error and scored on Brandon Boggs' infield single.The Rangers' offense could have used Milton Bradley, who missed the game with a strained left quadriceps. He's expected back in the lineup Thursday.
Braves RHP Phil Stockman was optioned to Triple-A Richmond to make room on the roster for Gonzalez. ... The Rangers re-elected Wilson as their player rep and chose OF David Murphy as the alternate. ... Texas (36-37) fell back under .500. Texas hasn't been able to move two games over .500 all season.