ATLANTA -- Everything seemed to be going just the way the Braves wanted before Julio Teheran's sudden fifth-inning struggles led to a disastrous Livan Hernandez relief appearance on Sunday afternoon.
Instead of celebrating a seventh consecutive victory, the Braves found themselves wondering how things could have gone so wrong, so fast during the final five innings of a 12-4 loss to the Blue Jays.
"That might be the ugliest [game] we've played in a long time," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "Hopefully, we can get another winning streak going and we can play one of these once a month or something."
Searching for the positives after allowing a season-high 18 hits and squandering a 4-0, fifth-inning lead, the Braves could point to the fact that Freddie Freeman recorded a three-hit game and Chipper Jones experienced no problems while returning to the lineup for the first time since badly bruising his left calf on May 18.
"Everybody other than the team ERA was good," Gonzalez said.
Initially, this looked much like the same Braves team that had produced a 2.33 ERA while winning eight of its previous nine games. The Blue Jays produced one baserunner through the first four innings. But with Teheran proving too anxious and Hernandez hanging far too many slow breaking balls, the Blue Jays gained the lead for good with seven hits in a six-run fifth inning.
The Blue Jays increased their lead to 9-4 during a three-run sixth inning that was highlighted by the back-to-back home runs hit by Brett Lawrie and Colby Rasmus. As the inning progressed, Hernandez was showered with a chorus of boos that he felt were deserved.
"It's a crazy game," said Hernandez, who allowed five runs and seven hits in 1 2/3 innings. "We're supposed to win that game. I let it go easy. I'll come back. I understand the fans [have] got to boo. I'm supposed to get booed because I did not do a great job today."
Making his first start of the season in place of Tim Hudson, who needed a few extra days to rest his sore left ankle, the 21-year-old Teheran admittedly got excited when he neared the possibility of notching a win. After needing just 43 pitches to get through the first four innings, he totaled 31 more while retiring just one of the five batters he faced in the fifth inning.
"I tried to do more than I did in the first four innings," Teheran said. "I was excited to win the game, and I got a little too out of control."
Actually the game got out of control when Gonzalez called upon Hernandez to protect a 4-1 lead with the bases loaded and one out in the fifth inning. It did not take long for it to become apparent that the Braves might not have wanted to go with the veteran pitcher, who had allowed opponents to hit .303 against him in his previous 17 appearances this season.
"Who else would you like me to go with?" Gonzalez said. "You give me a suggestion and we can talk about it. I could have brought in Kimbrel there. Some of these SABR people might have thought that would have been a good spot. But no, it's the fifth inning of the game and it's a perfect situation for him. With all of his experience, we thought he could wiggle out of there. He's not going to spook in that situation, and they got him."
Lawrie and Rasmus greeted Hernandez with consecutive singles to tie the game, and Jose Bautista followed a go-ahead single. Edwin Encarnacion's double produced a 6-4 lead and gave the Blue Jays their sixth straight hit in the sixth inning.
Hernandez did not use the fact that he was pitching for the first time since May 27 as an excuse.
"There [were] a couple bloopers and people were coming to swing the bat," Hernandez said. "When you throw it over the plate, there are people who hit mistakes very good."
Some could argue in that bases-loaded situation, the Braves would have been better off calling upon Chad Durbin, who had allowed three hits and issued three walks while facing 33 batters in his previous 13 appearances. From a developmental standpoint, others could argue Gonzalez should have stuck with Teheran -- even though it was apparent he was struggling to find comfort in the fifth inning.
"We thought about leaving him in there a little bit and allowing him to try to get out of there," Gonzalez said. "But at the point, I took him out. I think he had ... a 31-pitch inning. You start getting into some situations where you can get hurt."
Former Brave Kelly Johnson started the eventful fifth inning by producing five straight foul balls in an eight-pitch at-bat that resulted in a leadoff single. Four batters later, Teheran saw his once-promising afternoon end when pinch-hitter Yan Gomes delivered a bases-loaded single that cut the Braves' lead to 4-1.
Before experiencing this rough fifth inning, Teheran knew he would be sent back to Triple-A Gwinnett after this start. When Gonzalez and pitching coach Roger McDowell officially informed him of this decision late Sunday afternoon, he said that he would use this start as a learning experience.
"I think this is a good experience," Teheran said. "I will try to be better for the next one."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.