ATLANTA -- If Sunday's game between the Pirates and Braves looked oddly familiar, it's probably because the teams played almost the exact same game 11 days earlier.With a Ronald Acuna Jr. leadoff home run, seven innings of one-run ball from Julio Teheran, and an eighth-inning rally, the Braves topped the
ATLANTA -- If Sunday's game between the Pirates and Braves looked oddly familiar, it's probably because the teams played almost the exact same game 11 days earlier.
With a Ronald Acuna Jr. leadoff home run, seven innings of one-run ball from Julio Teheran, and an eighth-inning rally, the Braves topped the Pirates, 5-1, at SunTrust Park in a strikingly similar game to Atlanta's win at PNC Park on Aug. 22.
The win, paired with a Phillies loss, expanded the Braves' National League East lead to four games -- a half-game short of their season-best.
Like Aug. 22, Acuna started out the Braves' half of the first inning with a leadoff home run. He pulled a 1-0 fastball up and in a projected 430 feet to left field, according to Statcast™, which was his seventh leadoff homer of the season, tying Marquis Grissom (1997) for the franchise record.
"Every time he steps in the box in the first inning, it's like the biggest thing for us," Teheran said. "You never know when you're going to hit a homer, but his first at-bat gets everyone's attention. We're just waiting for that big swing to hit a mistake."
The Braves' bats went quiet after the first as Pirates starter Nick Kingham and reliever Steven Brault did not let multiple baserunners reach again until the seventh inning. Much like in the previous matchup, a pitchers' duel elevated Teheran to his highest level.
Even though the Pirates got a second look at him in short proximity, Teheran held them in check and was tough to figure out. Teheran's only trouble came in the first inning when he walked two and Colin Moran hit an opposite-field RBI single. After that, Teheran only faced one over the minimum thanks to a pair of double plays, and none of his four hits allowed went for extra bases.
"I figured out everything later," Teheran said. "My last four starts I've been feeling really good. I've been feeling that I have all of my pitches, and I think that's been the difference. I know every time that I walk[a batter], they score a run, but I try to put that to the side and try to make pitches."
The final step of the déjà vu trifecta came with the eighth inning. But whereas in August the Braves loaded the bases to score one decisive run, the Braves poured it on in Sunday's game. Acuna led off the frame with a single to center, and Ender Inciarte sacrificed him to second. Then Freddie Freeman, who knocked in the go-ahead run in Saturday's game, knocked a ball to Adam Frazier that took an odd hop through his legs, scoring Acuna.
The rally continued with Nick Markakis' walk and a pair of singles from Johan Camargo and Ozzie Albies. Markakis came around to score on a wild pitch from Dovydas Neverauskas, and Dansby Swanson knocked in the final run on a single to left.
Not only did Acuna's leadoff home run tie him with Grissom for the Braves' record for most leadoff home runs in a season, it also puts him in elite company among rookies. His seven leadoff homers are tied with Nomar Garciaparra (1997) and Hanley Ramirez ('06) for the second-most by a rookie, trailing only Chris Young's nine in '07.
"You read that stuff on the board, and I'm sitting here watching it, and I don't realize it's that good," manager Brian Snitker said. "You want to make sure you're up there because you might miss something when he's at the plate."
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
The game started off with a bang when Starling Marte hit a long drive to right-center field on the very first pitch, but Inciarte robbed Marte of extra bases with a fantastic catch, crashing into the wall. Inciarte had to cover 87 feet in 5.1 seconds, which was good for a four-star catch with a 41 percent catch probability. He entered the day second in baseball with 18 Outs Above Average and is now tied for the league lead with 10 four-star grabs.
"We're not 10 minutes into the game, and Ender's climbing on the wall," Snitker said. "He's an elite guy. To me, he's in a class all by himself out there. The ump says, 'Play ball!' and those guys are making great plays."
MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
Tyler Flowers led off the bottom of the fifth inning by running out a ground ball to third base, and initially it was ruled an infield single. However, the Pirates challenged the ruling, and the replay official overturned the call. That became key, as Swanson followed Flowers with a single to center, and Teheran sacrificed him over. The inning ended with Acuna grounding out, but an extra batter and out in the inning could have changed the trajectory of the frame and game.
The Braves open a three-game set against the Red Sox as rookie right-hander Touki Toussaint takes the mound at 1:05 p.m. ET on Monday at SunTrust Park. Toussaint held the Marlins to one run on two hits over six innings in his Major League debut in August and has been working to improve his fastball command in his three Minor League starts since. The Red Sox will counter with Nathan Eovaldi.
Ben Weinrib is a contributor to MLB.com.