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STL@ATL: Johnson singles in 8th to put Braves ahead

ATLANTA -- One day shy of the one-year anniversary of his Tommy John surgery, Gavin Floyd produced a memorable return that helped the Braves forget about some of the frustration that had mounted over the past week.

Floyd showed great poise over seven strong innings and Chris Johnson rekindled memories of last year when he delivered an eighth-inning single that proved decisive as the Braves snapped a seven-game losing streak with Tuesday night's 2-1 win over the Cardinals at Turner Field.

"I know we lost seven in a row, but we don't have a lot of panic in here," Johnson said. "It's still a pretty relaxed group. We knew we had to come out here and get a win and turn it around. But it's not really that serious yet. It's still early."

As miserable as this previous week had been, the Braves still moved back to the top of the National League East standings with this skid-stopping win. Their success has primarily been a product of a strong starting rotation that might soon have to find a place for Floyd, who was assigned Tuesday's start when it was determined Ervin Santana needed a few extra days to rest a bruised right thumb.

"You're always wondering what is going to happen and how you're going to feel," Floyd said. "There's always a high level of excitement and energy. My concern going in was to try to bottle that up as much as possible to stay calm, stay focused."

Unfazed by the emotions leading into his first start in more than a year, or the pressure of making his first start for a club desperately in need of a win, Floyd limited the Cardinals to one run and issued just two walks during this 104-pitch outing. His efficiency defied the expectation that he would follow the lead of most pitchers who return from Tommy John surgery and struggle with their command.

"I didn't expect that really," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "I expected a guy that's going to scuffle through five, six innings first time out, all that kind of stuff. ... But he sure passed with flying colors. You can't ask for anything more."

Floyd was given a chance to fully savor the special event when the Braves took advantage of St. Louis' taxed bullpen in the eighth inning. Justin Upton sparked the decisive frame with a one-out single that capped his much-needed two-hit night. Freddie Freeman followed with a single that might have been a double play had the liner not struck Randy Choate's foot and fallen in the dirt around third base.

This set the stage for Johnson, who fell behind with an 0-2 count and then concluded his seven-pitch at-bat against funky right-hander Pat Neshek with a single that snuck through the infield's right side, allowing Upton to score in uncontested fashion.

Johnson's opposite-field game winner was reminiscent of last year, when the Braves third baseman hit .336 with runners in scoring position. This year has been a different story. He entered the matchup against Neshek with two hits in 19 such at-bats.

"I knew in the at-bat when I had fouled the ball over our dugout that I was letting the ball get deep and staying on the ball," Johnson said. "Earlier this year, my front shoulder has been my problem. It's been pulling off the ball, and that brings everything around the ball. So that was a good sign. Hopefully I can keep it going."

While Johnson delivered the final blow, the most encouraging offensive performance was produced by Upton, who entered Tuesday with one hit and 11 strikeouts in 15 at-bats during this homestand. He recorded four of those strikeouts, including a game-ender, during Monday's series opener.

Upton appeared to unleash all of his pent-up anger when he drilled a monstrous solo home run off Cardinals starter Tyler Lyons in the fourth inning. His team-leading ninth home run sailed over the left-center-field wall and traveled an estimated 457 feet.

"After I heard it and saw it, I knew it was going to be gone," said Lyons, who allowed just the one run while working six innings in his 11th career start.

Upton's shot gave the Braves just their fourth lead in a span of 77 innings dating back to what had stood as their most recent win on April 27, which coincidentally was the one-year anniversary of what had been Floyd's most recent start.

"I feel like through this whole process, things have been progressing and getting better every time I throw," Floyd said. "I was confident in what I could do."

Floyd induced two double-play groundouts in the process of pitching around the one single he surrendered during each of the first four innings. He proved perfect in the fifth inning and then paid for the leadoff walk Matt Carpenter drew in the sixth inning. Carpenter advanced to second base on a groundout and then scored when Matt Holliday delivered a game-tying single to right-center field.

Holliday's single accounted for the only damage incurred by Floyd, who certainly produced a good first impression for the Braves, who were willing to take a chance on him by signing the veteran to a one-year, $4 million contract in December.

"Coming into this game, we were on a little skid, which happens during the year multiple times," Floyd said. "You just try to concentrate one game at a time and get right back on track. I'm just thankful to be a part of this." Comments