PITTSBURGH – Alex Wood didn’t need much run support Wednesday, but the Braves didn’t score enough to get the left-hander or themselves a win on a night when he pitched a gem and they made too many mistakes late.
The Pirates scored two runs in the eighth and took advantage of a Justin Upton error in the ninth to pull out a 3-2 win on Gaby Sanchez’s one-out sacrifice fly. The Braves had their five-game winnig streak snapped, while the Pirates averted a sweep and ended a season-high seven-game skid.
Reliever David Carpenter gave up a Jody Mercer single to start the ninth inning. One out later, Starling Marte hit a fly ball to the left-center gap that the Upton brothers, Justin and B.J., both pursued. Left fielder Justin appeared distracted by his brother nearby and had the ball glance off his glove, allowing Marte to advance to second and Mercer to third.
With two in scoring position, Sanchez lifted a fly to deep center for the win.
The Braves slipped to seven games behind National League East leader Washington with 35 games remaining, and to 1 1/2 games behind San Francisco for the second NL wild-card spot.
Wood faced one over the minimum number of hitters through seven innings and had recorded 17 outs in a span of 17 batters before giving up a walk and a Travis Snider double to start the eighth inning. He was replaced by reliever Jordan Walden with two runners in scoring position and a 2-0 lead, and both runners scored on a groundout and a Walden wild pitch.
With both runs charged to Wood, he ended up with a line that read seven-plus innings, four hits, two runs and one walk with four strikeouts.
Wood’s pitching line was good, but not indicative of just how well the second-year pitcher performed in allowing two or fewer earned runs in six or more innings for the fifth consecutive start.
After giving up a Josh Harrison double to start the first inning, Wood picked him off at second base – he and shortstop Andrelton Simmons have perfected that sneaky play – and set the tone for a mostly frustrating night for Pittsburgh hitters.
The Pirates got a one-out single in the second inning and didn’t have another base runner until a one-out single by Snider in the fifth, when Wood induced a double-play grounder by the next batter, Chris Stewart.
Wood had retired seven in a row before walking Sanchez to start the eighth, when the troubles began.
The Pirates’ wild-card hopes have been badly damaged in the past week, but they were able to prevent their season-high losing skid from reaching eight games.
The Braves know something about eight-game skids, having gone winless on an eight-game trip the last time they ventured away from Turner Field. Their West Coast trip that ended Aug. 6 was the worst road swing in 65 years for the Braves, but those who wrote them off as a playoff contender at that point probably felt compelled to reconsider given their recent performance.
The trio that led the Braves’ recent offensive turnaround – Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman, Justin Upton — came through again Wednesday, though not in anything approaching the resounding manner of the first two games in the series, when the Braves totaled 29 hits and outscored the Pirates 18-6.
The Braves got five hits Wednesday in seven innings against Gerrit Cole, who had spent six weeks on the disabled list for a back strain. Heyward doubled and scored two runs, and Freeman and Upton each had a key hit and walk.
Cole walked Heyward to start the game. Freeman and Upton hit consecutive one-out singles, with the latter scoring Heyward for a 1-0 lead and extending Upton’s hitting streak to 11 games.
The Braves had a chance to do more damage against Cole in the first inning, but Chris Johnson grounded into a double play for the 18th time, tied with Simmons for third-most in the National League.
When Johnson got a second chance to hit with runners in scoring position and one out in the sixth inning, he came through with a single to right field.
Heyward, who had doubled to start the inning, scored on Johnson’s opposite-field hit, but Freeman was thrown out trying to score a second run on the play. Freeman had been walked intentionally with one out and Heyward at third after a Simmons sacrifice bunt, and Upton had worked a full count before walking to load the bases for Johnson.
Evan Gattis struck out to end the inning, so the Braves had to settle for one run after loading the bases with one out. But the way Wood and the bullpen have pitched lately, there was a good chance a 2-0 lead would be enough. But it didn’t.
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