ATLANTA -- As he was enjoying the thrill of a four-hit game that helped the Braves cool baseball's hottest team on Tuesday at SunTrust Park, Ender Inciarte caught a glimpse of the out-of-town scoreboard and noticed the Phillies had blown a ninth-inning lead to the Nationals."I pay attention to that,"
ATLANTA -- As he was enjoying the thrill of a four-hit game that helped the Braves cool baseball's hottest team on Tuesday at SunTrust Park, Ender Inciarte caught a glimpse of the out-of-town scoreboard and noticed the Phillies had blown a ninth-inning lead to the Nationals.
"I pay attention to that," Inciarte said. "I'm not going to lie. Once it was the ninth inning and I saw the score change, I got pumped. I was talking to [Ronald Acuna Jr.] right away, saying, 'Pay attention to that over there.' He was just laughing."
There was plenty of reason for the Braves to feel joyous at the end of a 9-5 win that saw them produce a pair of four-run innings. In Philadelphia, the Phillies surrendered three runs during a decisive ninth that concluded with starting pitcher Vince Velasquez being called out for leaving second base too early on a flyout as a pinch-runner.
"It's been a while since I've pitched when we were in first place," veteran starter Julio Teheran said. "We don't want to let it out of our hands. We have it right now, and I think we're going to get it to the end and finish it strong."
Having won 20 of its last 30 games and six of eight since being swept in a four-game series by the Rockies, Atlanta now owns a season-high 4 1/2-game lead in the National League East. The second-place Phillies have dropped eight of their last 10 games, and the third-place Nationals are eight back with 29 games to play.
But the Braves still have plenty left to prove before potentially winning their first division title since 2013 and their second since '05. The remainder of this 10-game homestand includes one more game against the Rays (who entered Tuesday on an eight-game winning streak), a makeup game against the National League Central-leading Cubs, a three-game set against the Pirates and three against the Red Sox, who seem destined for a 100-win season.
Facing the Rays for the first time since they began using a relief pitcher to start a game, the Braves proved victorious despite Freddie Freeman and Nick Markakis combining to go 1-for-9. Freeman is 4-for-30 over the past eight games, and Markakis entered the game hitting .182 (8-for-51) since Aug. 15, but he aided the series-opening win with a two-out two-run double in the fifth.
"When we started the season, it seemed like it was somebody different every time," Braves manager Brian Snitker said. "That's good to see, because heaven help when Freddie gets hot, because he's going to get hot again. We know that."
Tyler Flowers contributed to the four-run eighth inning with a two-run homer just a few hours after receiving a contract extension. But most of the key offensive contributions were made by Inciarte, who capped his second four-hit game of the season with a solo homer in the eighth.
• Flowers celebrates extension with clutch HR
Ozzie Albies began his slump-halting three-hit game with a second-inning single that positioned him to score on an Inciarte single. The All-Star second baseman also singled to begin a three-run fifth that provided a 5-2 lead for Teheran, who held the Rays to two runs until Rays right fielder Brandon Lowe recorded his first career homer, a two-run shot, off a two-strike, two-out curveball in the sixth.
This was an encouraging night for Albies, who entered the game having gone 4-for-30 since notching three hits against the Rockies on Aug. 17. The switch-hitter recorded each of his hits against a Rays right-hander. He had batted .133 from the left side of the plate during his previous 27 games since the All-Star break.
Though he is now sitting against left-handed starters, Inciarte has turned things around, as he has batted .327 (32-for-98) against right-handed pitchers dating back to July 22.
"I've been talking to [Braves assistant hitting coach Jose Castro], and I just always tell him, 'We've got a long way to go,'" Inciarte said. "I feel like I can do a lot to help the team. I've been feeling good the last couple months. I've been hitting the ball hard consistently, and that is good for me. It's about finding the holes and finding a way to get on base and score some runs. I just want to do whatever it takes to help the team win ballgames."
MOMENT THAT MATTERED
Minter's uneasy finish: A four-run lead felt much more like a one-run advantage when the Rays used two singles and a walk to load the bases with two outs in the ninth inning against A.J. Minter, the Braves closer who was pitching at home for the first time since blowing a three-run lead with two outs in the ninth inning of an Aug. 18 loss to the Rockies.
But adding to some of his recent defensive gems, Swanson fielded Willy Adames' sharp grounder at the edge of the outfield grass and fired to first base to end the game and prevent Minter from enduring another difficult outcome.
"He's got such good stuff, and it was good for him to walk off the mound with the third out right there," Snitker said. "He was kind of on his last legs right there. You can only go so far. But I was glad to see he got that third out."
Teheran's four-seam fastball averaged 88.1 mph, which was slightly higher than the 87.7 he recorded last week against the Pirates. These stand as two of the four lowest average velocities Teheran has recorded in any start made since the beginning of the 2015 season. But he insists he feels healthy.
"I feel good," Teheran said. "I feel like I can get a little more on the ball. But whenever I try to go hard, it's going to get me away from how I want to throw the ball. Even if I'm throwing 88 or 87, I want to command the fastball. The issues I was having before were with my command. Now, I feel like I have it pretty good."
MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
After Albies doubled off Roe in the eighth, Duvall replaced Kurt Suzuki as a pinch-runner at third base and immediately found action. When Swanson followed with a grounder to the right side, Albies broke toward third as Duvall held his ground. As Rays first baseman Jake Bauers looked Albies back to second base, Duvall broke toward the plate and narrowly touched the plate ahead of catcher Michael Perez's tag. The call stood after the Rays issued a challenge.
Sean Newcomb will attempt to stay on track when the Braves conclude a two-game series against the Rays on Wednesday at 7:35 p.m. ET. Newcomb bounced back from two of his worst starts of the season to blank the Marlins over six innings on Thursday. The lefty allowed two hits over six scoreless innings and got the win against the Rays on May 8. Diego Castillo will start for the Rays.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com.