All-Star slugger Mejia hits two HRs in G-Braves win

LAWRENCEVILLE -- Four days before he steps into the Class AAA home run derby, Ernesto Mejia put on a show at Coolray Field.

The first baseman hit two home runs in Thursday afternoon's series finale against the Norfolk Tides, driving in three runs and helping Gwinnett to a 10-4 win and 4-4 homestand. The two homers make it three in his last three games after returning to the lineup July 9 after missing six games with a strained hamstring.

"We are always working," Mejia said. "But to have success in my first 14 at-bats shows myself that I feel really good."

The two homers up Mejia's season total to 24. The International League's rookie of the year and all-star a season ago, Mejia led Gwinnett with 24 homers in all of 2012. Stefan Gartrell, who also homered Thursday, holds the Gwinnett Braves record with 25 home runs in 2011 and the franchise season record belongs to Hal Breeden who hit 37 homers in 1970.

"I just have to keep it going," Mejia said. "There is still two and a half months left."

While Mejia's homers were the fireworks, the G-Braves found plenty of offense against Tides starter Tsuyoshi Wada and its bullpen. In his five-plus innings, the lefty starter surrendered 13 hits and seven earned runs to Gwinnett batters. Sean Kazmar was 3-for-4 with a pair of doubles and two RBIs and two runs scored. It was the first three-hit game for the shortstop since April 13 at Norfolk. Phil Gosselin also had three hits, scoring a pair of runs, a Class AAA first for the second baseman. It was his best offensive output since a four-hit game on May 7 with Class AA Mississippi. Todd Cunningham knocked in a pair of runs and was the third G-Braves player with three hits.

"We got contribution from everybody today," manager Randy Ready said. "These guys (Norfolk) have kind of had our number and we've had tight games. It was nice to pull away."

Mejia crushed his 23rd home run, a two-run shot to left-center field scoring Brandon Boggs to start the G-Braves scoring in the first inning.

The first baseman Mejia helped out Norfolk in the second, misplaying a ground ball with a runner on second and when it skipped toward the rolled up tarp in right field, Yamaico Navarro scored on the error to make it a 2-1 game.

Then came Kazmar.

Hitting ninth in the order, the shortstop cranked a two-RBI double in the fourth, scoring Gosselin and Joe Leonard. Jose Constanza followed with the G-Braves' fifth two-out RBI of the game, making it 5-1.

Norfolk got two runs back in the top of the fifth with the aid of another G-Braves' error. With runners on the corners, Tides leadoff hitter Xavier Avery hit a ground ball that slipped between the legs of second baseman Gosselin, turning a potential inning-ending double play into a run scoring play for Norfolk. The Tides took the extra out and added another run when Henry Urrutia singled with the bases loaded to score Luis Exposito as the Tides tightened the game at 5-3.

Mejia blasted his second homer off the left field foul pole to start the fifth. Norfolk answered with its own solo shot by Zelous Wheeler in the last inning of work for starter Kameron Loe.

Loe earned his second straight win in his longest outing since joining the starting rotation on June 23. The 31-year-old righty scattered eight hits over his six innings, allowing just two earned runs and striking out three.

"Good pace, he got it going," Ready said of the former reliever. "He is notorious for getting ground balls. He had a great sink tonight.

"I'd anticipate you got to keep him in the rotation as long as possible."

Gartrell homered in the a three-run seventh as the runs stacked up for the G-Braves who scored double-digit runs for the fifth time this season and second in as many games. It was the 50th career homer as a G-Brave for Gartrell, two ahead of Mejia's 48.

Juan Cedeno pitched two scoreless innings and his perfect eighth was the game's first inning without a baserunner. Wirfin Obisbo finished the game, giving up a walk but watching the defense turn its fourth double play of the game.

"We squashed some rallies," Ready said.