Sox reverse fortunes with back-to-back Atlanta wins
Offense posts four-run seventh inning to reward Lester's effort
ATLANTA -- The ignominious losing streak, which the Red Sox hope they won't relive any time soon, didn't include many breaks. But as they ran a modest winning streak to two games with a 6-3 victory over the Braves on Tuesday, a lot of long-awaited good fortune came their way.
There were multiple bloops that fell in, an important call that narrowly went their way and an overall quality of play in which the Sox earned the breaks they got.
"Maybe the tide is turning because the ball bounced our way," said catcher David Ross. "Yeah, that hasn't been happening for us a lot, and it's nice for the ball to fall our way a little bit. I don't want to discredit some really good at-bats. It was a lot of fun to really work hard this game and prevail."
If the season hit a low point Sunday when the losing streak hit 10 games, it seemed to be heading back in a good direction by the time the defending World Series champions gathered their belongings and headed back to Boston late Tuesday evening.
"Like I said yesterday, it can't get any worse than what it has been, and being able to come from behind and win two games last couple of nights is a good sign," said David Ortiz, who can go back to the DH slot Wednesday after starting at first base the last two nights.
Down, 3-2, entering the seventh, the Sox erupted for a four-run rally that included three bloop hits, a broken-bat RBI on a fielder's choice and a hard two-run single by Jackie Bradley Jr. that was slapped just past the dive of third baseman Chris Johnson.
Before getting to Bradley, the Braves opted to intentionally walk Ross, who came to the plate with a .175 average.
"Yeah, when you walk a buck-70 hitter, that's a lot of respect," Ross said. "Maybe more about what I've done in the past than what I've done this year."
Facing lefty Luis Avilan, Bradley -- who has spent much of the season in a hitting slump -- boosted his average to .201 by ripping his pivotal, two-run single.
"Yeah, I mean, that's good for self-esteem," said Jonny Gomes. "I've always said, every superstar was young at one point and every superstar has struggled. You really see how big that is for this club when the bottom of the lineup turns over."
And Gomes, making a rare start against a righty starter, helped the lead stand up with a brilliant diving catch in right field to take a hit away from Gerald Laird in the eighth.
"You look at a nine-inning game and you can look back to an individual play that kind of won or lost the game," Gomes said. "That play right there, a dive's not going to lose it, but it could possibly save it."
Why did Gomes get the start instead of Daniel Nava or Mike Carp?
"Jonny's been playing well for us. He gives us an intangible," said manager John Farrell. "I know it might not always line up with what the numbers say, but he finds a way to do something and have an impact inside the game. The catch in the eighth is an example of that."
Jon Lester wasn't dominant, but he battled hard and minimized the damage. The lefty gave up eight hits and three runs over six innings, walking three and striking out seven.
"For me, probably one of my least favorite of the year for him," Ross said. "He didn't throw the ball the way he can throw the ball. A credit to him and picking up our bullpen and going out there and grinding. Hot night and he didn't have his command. They had a great approach and not swinging at stuff out of the zone. He really, really fought himself tonight but comes away with a win. That's what true aces do."
Wins have been hard to come by for Lester, mainly due to a lack of run support. But he improved his record to 5-6 in this one, thanks to his team's rally in the seventh.
"A grind from the first pitch," Lester said. "They made us work a lot. We made some decent pitches when we had to, minimized damage when we had to. That was big offense. That seventh inning was huge. To pick me up like that anytime they scored, to come back out and give them a run, obviously not what we're trying to do. But that's huge for those guys to come and pick me up right there."
The Red Sox broke out for an early run when Brock Holt led off the game with a single, moved to second on an error by Johnson, advanced to third on a wild pitch and scored on Dustin Pedroia's sacrifice fly.
The Braves answered quickly, as Jason Heyward led off the bottom of the first with a homer to right-center against Lester.
Lester navigated his way out of a bases-loaded, nobody-out jam in the second, when Aaron Harang hit into a 1-2-3 double play.
"I'm trying to get a strikeout," Lester said. "Obviously that's what you're trying to do with the nine-hole guy up, whether that's a pitcher or not. Fortunately, he hit it right to me and we could turn two. That was a big inning for me. Obviously to have a shutdown with nobody out, bases loaded, you don't always get it to go that way, but I was fortunate we did."
The Braves would get that run in the third, after B.J. Upton led off with a double, Justin Upton reached on an infield hit and Johnson delivered a sacrifice fly to center.
Grady Sizemore set Boston up to tie when he belted a two-run double and narrowly stole third. It was such a close call that the Braves challenged it, but there wasn't enough evidence to overturn it and the call stood. That turned out to be quite fortuitous when Ross ripped an RBI single to left-center to tie the game.
"He's looked better each passing week," Farrell said of Sizemore. "You see the life in the body continue to be more explosive. Good swings in this two-game series here, and he adds length to the lineup. When you consider what 6-7-8 did for us tonight and really in these two games, he helps lengthen things out."
The game remained deadlocked until the fifth, when Johnson looped a fly ball into short right that fell in front of Gomes. Though Gomes alertly threw to second for the force, the Braves did score a run on the play to take the 3-2 lead.
But everything changed in the seventh.
Xander Bogaerts started it with a one-out single. Pedroia looped in a single to right. And Ortiz tied it with a bloop single that fell on to a patch of grass in left field. Gomes was next to join the bloop brigade, as he dumped one into right that loaded the bases with one out.
Sizemore came up next and broke his bat on an infield roller that turned into a fielder's choice RBI, and the Red Sox had the lead.
Then came the intentional walk to Ross and the key knock by Bradley.
"It's nice to get results with the confidence," Bradley said. "I'm definitely confident going up there. I feel very confident every single day I go out there. You hope the results come along with the approach. Keep working. Keep grinding."