PITTSBURGH (AP) — Ervin Santana said "everything" was off when he took the mound Monday.
No matter. His Atlanta Braves teammates gave him a six-run lead before he threw a pitch.
Jason Heyward and Andrelton Simmons homered to begin a big first inning, and the Braves beat the sliding Pittsburgh Pirates 7-3 on Monday night for their fourth consecutive victory.
The early outburst was enough for Santana, who allowed three solo homers among nine hits in 5 1-3 innings.
"I know I didn't have my stuff today, but for me it was one of my best games because I gave up three runs," said Santana (13-6), who improved to 8-1 over his past 10 starts. "Anytime you give up three runs or less, it's a good outing. So I'll take it".
Pittsburgh has lost six in a row. Starling Marte went deep twice, and Neil Walker added a homer that became the first to reach the Allegheny River beyond right field at PNC Park this season.
Relievers Luis Avilan, David Hale and James Russell combined for 3 2-3 hitless innings for Atlanta, which broke a tie with Pittsburgh for third place in the National League wild-card standings.
"We went through these tough stretches in April and early May and we've played really good baseball up until this last week," Pirates second baseman Neil Walker said. "We're still the same team."
Heyward and Simmons started the game with the Braves' fifth set of back-to-back home runs this season, and it got worse from there for Vance Worley (5-3). Chris Johnson and Gerald Laird had run-scoring singles asAtlanta bolted to a 6-0 lead.
"I know we didn't score a whole lot the rest of the way," said Heyward, who had had three hits and a sacrifice fly. "But still, that's a lot of pressure for a team to come back against."
Worley managed to pitch six innings and was charged with five earned runs. He allowed nine hits, struck out four and walked two.
"After (the first inning), I figured it out," Worley said. "It clicked, I was able to drive the ball down in the zone and get the results that I needed."