Kazmar lifts Braves in Governors' Cup opener

Infielder's three-run homer keys big first inning to back Blair in Game 1

Sean Kazmar is hitting .476 with three homers and seven RBIs in five playoff games. (Brian McLeod/MiLB.com)

By Alex Kraft / MiLB.com | September 13, 2016 11:34 PM

MOOSIC, Pa. -- Sean Kazmar and the Gwinnett Braves wasted no time showing they would be a force to be reckoned with in the Governors' Cup Finals.

The veteran second baseman went 3-for-5 and drove in three runs with a long ball -- his second homer in as many games -- to lead the Triple-A Braves past the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders, 7-4, in the Governors' Cup Finals opener at PNC Field.

Kazmar smacked a three-run blast to left-center field on a 1-2 pitch by RailRiders starter Jordan Montgomery in the first inning.

"Honestly, I was just trying to put it in play," he said. "It was a fastball up. I was able to get on top of it. I'm not sure how, it was kind of up there. But I was able to put a good swing on it, and luckily, it was able to go out."

The 32-year-old's shot highlighted a six-run outburst to start the game. Braeden Schlehuber and Emilio Bonifacio delivered RBI singles to chase Montgomery -- who had surrendered four runs over his first seven International League starts spanning 44 innings -- after the No. 19 Yankees prospect recorded just two outs.

The cushion provided a lift for Braves starter Aaron Blair, making his second rehab appearance as he returns from a left knee strain sustained earlier this month. The 24-year-old right-hander said the biggest challenge early on was trying to stay loose during the lengthy first inning.

"I sat down for about 35 minutes," Blair said with a slight laugh. "But pitching with a lead at any point in the game makes it easier, especially a team that's aggressive like Scranton. They were just going out and swinging."

In the first seven innings, he held Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to one run -- a second-inning solo homer by No. 23 Yankees prospect Jake Cave off the left-field foul pole.

The RailRiders pushed back with three runs in the bottom of the eighth against Blair and reliever Jason Hursh to trim the lead to 6-4. With two outs, Kyle Higashioka lined a two-run single to right field and Cave followed up with an RBI hit to right.

Kazmar helped Gwinnett provide some insurance in the ninth. The Georgia native connected on a one-out single to right off Scranton/Wilkes-Barre right-hander Johnny Barbato, then scored two batters later on a double by Tyler Moore.

"Anytime a team puts up runs against you, you want to respond against them," Kazmar said. "They didn't win 91 games for no reason. They've got a great lineup, they've got good pitching. We knew it was going to be a dogfight."

Reliever Maikel Cueto gave up a hit and walked one while fanning one in the ninth to preserve the victory.

Since the RailRiders won 26 more games than the Braves in the regular season, posting a 91-52 record -- the best mark in Triple-A, Kazmar cautioned against reading too much into his team's turning of the tables in the opener.

"I wouldn't necessarily say it's a statement," the College of Southern Nevada product said. "It was good though, to get out here and start off like we did. We respect what they did this year, and we still know it's a long series ahead of us." 

The series remains at PNC Field for Game 2 at 6:35 p.m. ET on Wednesday.

Alex Kraft is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow and chat with him on Twitter @Alex_Kraft21. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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