BOSTON -- Sean Newcomb spent much of this season's first two months establishing himself as one of baseball's top young pitchers. But when given a chance to pitch in front of a throng of familiar, friendly faces, the talented left-hander provided a reminder he is still just a 24-year-old who has the potential to be adversely affected by his emotions.
After greeting nearly a hundred friends and family members outside the Braves' clubhouse following Saturday afternoon's 8-6 loss to the Red Sox, Newcomb told reporters he didn't believe his emotions got the best of him as he pitched at Fenway Park for the first time. But the Boston-area native then somewhat contradicted himself when he said the primary flaw of his season-low three-inning start was his tendency to attempt to overpower hitters with his fastball.
"Personally, I just chalk it up to having a bad start," Newcomb said. "I was all over the place. I wasn't able to find the zone too well with my fastball. Everything just fell from there."
Maybe Newcomb was due for a bad start after posting a stellar 1.68 ERA over his past eight starts. But this certainly wasn't the best time or place to experience a regression toward the mean. He wanted a successful homecoming, and the Braves are in the midst of a rough stretch that has jeopardized their bid to stay atop the National League East standings.
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As the Braves suffered their fourth loss in their past five games, Newcomb needed 88 pitches to complete three innings that were marred by four walks, six hits and three runs. His early exit placed some undue pressure on a bullpen that might have successfully handled the difficult challenge had Ozzie Albies not committed a throwing error to begin the decisive two-run seventh.
Had Albies not made an errant throw to first base after fielding Eduardo Nunez's leadoff grounder, Dan Winkler might have completed another of those perfect innings that have become commonplace -- as he's fashioned a 0.84 ERA through his first 21 1/3 innings. But the error extended the inning long enough for Mookie Betts to draw a walk and score on Andrew Benintendi's two-run triple.
"Heading into the seventh inning, I still felt pretty good about what we had," Braves manager Brian Snitker said. "I thought it was big for Jesse [Biddle] and Peter [Moylan] to get us to where we could get at those other guys. We were a pitch away. They got a lot of two-strike hits today. They are a good-hitting club. We just didn't finish a couple hitters off, and it hurt [us]."
Benintendi's triple became a game-winner when Ronald Acuna Jr. opened the ninth by drilling a solo homer off former Braves closer Craig Kimbrel. Acuna's fifth homer of the season accounted for the first runs the Braves tallied since gaining a 5-3, fourth-inning lead courtesy of Freddie Freeman's RBI single and Nick Markakis' sacrifice fly.
The Braves' lead was erased after Biddle allowed Benintendi to open the fourth with a home run and Sam Freeman surrendered a two-run double to Mitch Moreland in the sixth. As everything unraveled, Newcomb recognized how much different the outcome might have been had he been much more efficient.
After escaping a 26-pitch first inning unscathed and stranding a pair of runners in the second inning, Newcomb wilted during a 36-pitch, three-run third. Moreland tripled and scored on Xander Bogaerts' RBI single. Blake Swihart and Christian Vazquez delivered consecutive two-out RBI singles to tie the game and essentially end the southpaw's homecoming.
"I've seen that story before when you're home and you're amped up for all your friends and family and all of that," Snitker said. "He'll bounce back. He'll be fine."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Foiled by the knuckleball: After having their way with Thomas Pomeranz, who has pitched four innings or fewer in three straight starts, the Braves hit a wall when knuckleballer Steven Wright entered to begin the fifth inning. Wright pitched around a pair of singles and a walk, as he delivered three scoreless innings while the mighty Red Sox offense was manufacturing runs against Atlanta's bullpen.
"Steven Wright was the one who stopped us," Freddie Freeman said. "You don't face a knuckleballer too often. We got to Drew and got him out of the game. But they had a stopper and the right guy to stop us. We were able to score some runs, but we weren't able to hold them down today."
Markakis increased his Major League-leading hit total to 69 with the two doubles against Pomeranz within the first three innings. Markakis now has eight extra-base hits through his first 69 at-bats against left-handed pitchers this season.
His extra-base totals against left-handers over the past three seasons were:
2017: 13 in 147 AB
2016: 10 in 181 AB
2015: 10 in 194 AB
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Acuna's opposite-field home run came against Kimbrel's 97.2 mph fastball that dotted the outside corner. The 101.7-mph exit velocity was the lowest of the five home runs the 20-year-old phenom has hit through his first 114 career at-bats.
But it's worth noting Acuna has generated a 100-plus-mph exit velocity with 32 of his 79 balls in play. Entering Saturday, that 40.5 percent rate would have tied him with Giancarlo Stanton for ninth among all MLB players who have put at least 25 balls in play.
HE SAID IT
"That's my first thought when I'm told I'm done after three. That's six innings the bullpen has to cover, and we have to face this Sox team again tomorrow. I did a bad job of helping them out. It's disappointing." -- Newcomb
"That's a little different animal we're facing than anybody else we face in the ninth inning," -- Snitker, when asked whether he thought his team might mount another ninth-inning rally after Acuna homered off Kimbrel
Mike Foltynewicz will attempt to help the Braves end their road trip in auspicious fashion when he faces the Red Sox on Sunday at 1:05 p.m. ET. Foltynewicz has allowed two earned runs or fewer in nine of his first 10 starts, but he has completed as many as six innings just three times. Boston will counter with Chris Sale, who surrendered a career-high eight earned runs when he made his only previous start against Atlanta on July 8, 2016.