Tough breaks bite Braves in homestand finale
Bloop hits, broken-bat RBI derail effort from Harang, bullpen
ATLANTA -- The Braves spent the early portion of this homestand distancing themselves from the frustration they had felt over the past couple of weeks. But they ended it with a couple of discouraging losses against a Red Sox team that had come to town starving for a win.
After blowing a five-run fifth-inning lead in Monday's series opener, the Braves returned to Turner Field on Tuesday hoping to avoid a hangover effect. But their bullpen faltered in the seventh inning as the Red Sox staged a second straight comeback and claimed a 6-3 win.
"They woke up yesterday," Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons said. "We knew we had to keep them down yesterday. We got on them early yesterday, but they fought back and they eventually won it. They came out today and they were hungry for another win. They outplayed us."
While rookie southpaw Ian Thomas' inexperience might have been to blame during Monday's decisive seventh inning, the four-run seventh the Red Sox used to gain the lead for good on Tuesday night came courtesy of some good fortune that doomed Luis Avilan.
After Anthony Varvaro allowed consecutive sharp singles with one out in the seventh, Avilan entered and promptly allowed David Ortiz to softly hit a game-tying single to left field. Jonny Gomes followed with a second straight opposite-field flare to load the bases and set the stage for Grady Sizemore to give the Red Sox the lead with an RBI groundout that might have resulted in a double play, had Avilan not been forced to avoid pieces of a shattered bat.
"It was just one of those innings where I just shook my head and said, 'What do you want me to tell him?'" Braves catcher Gerald Laird said. "He was making pitches and it was just not going our way."
Jackie Bradley Jr.'s two-run single that eluded a diving Chris Johnson capped the seventh-inning uprising for the Red Sox, who had lost 10 straight games entering Monday. The Braves, who will now travel to Boston for a two-game set, entered this series having won six of their previous eight games.
Adding injury to insult, Simmons exited after the seventh inning with an inflamed right ankle. He hopes to play Wednesday.
"They found holes," Simmons said. "Sometimes, you find breaks and sometimes you don't. Somehow their balls fell down and ours didn't."
Avilan's seventh-inning misfortunes erased the one-run fifth inning advantage the Braves gained when Freddie Freeman notched his fifth career triple and then scored on Johnson's go-ahead fielder's choice that fell into right field, before Justin Upton was forced out at second base.
Johnson's second RBI of the game had provided a lead for Braves starter Aaron Harang, who allowed two earned runs and seven hits in six innings. Harang has now allowed two earned runs or fewer in nine of his 11 starts.
Given the initial lack of defensive support, Harang was fortunate to limit the Red Sox to one first-inning run. After second baseman Tyler Pastornicky began the game by whiffing on a Brock Holt grounder that was ruled a hit, Johnson fumbled Xander Bogaerts' potential double-play grounder. A wild pitch advanced Holt to third base. But the only resulting damage of these miscues came via Dustin Pedroia's sacrifice fly to deep left.
Jason Heyward quickly erased Atlanta's early deficit when he drilled Jon Lester's fourth pitch of the game over the right-center-field wall for his fifth career leadoff homer. The Braves loaded the bases with none out in the second inning before Harang hit a comebacker that resulted in a double play.
After squandering their second-inning opportunity, the Braves saw B.J. Upton extend his recent offensive success by beginning the third with a double. Justin Upton followed with an infield single to put runners on the corners and set the stage for Johnson to hit a go-ahead sacrifice fly to right field.
Like the Braves, the Red Sox quickly erased their early deficit. Sizemore doubled with one out in the fourth inning and then recorded a stolen base that drew an unsuccessful challenge. Once a replay review did not conclusively determine Johnson had tagged Sizemore before he reached third base, former Atlanta catcher David Ross hit the next pitch to left field for a game-tying single.
"It was a lot of fun to really work hard this game and prevail," Ross said. "That's a really good team over there."