BOSTON – Tommy La Stella had two hits in his major league debut for the Braves, but it wasn’t enough to shake them out of their funk as the Red Sox continued their mini resurgence of sorts against Atlanta with a 4-0 win in the first of a two-game set at Fenway Park.
After snapping a 10-game losing skid when the Braves blew a 6-1 lead Monday in Atlanta, the Red Sox have now won three in three days against the Braves in a home-and-home series that ends Thursday. The Braves have averaged just under 3.2 runs per game while dropping 15 of 26 games since their 17-7 start this season.
After failing to score when they loaded the bases with none out in the second inning of Tuesday’s 6-3 loss in Atlanta, the Braves loaded them with two out in the seventh Wednesday on a pair of singles by La Stella and Ramiro Pena against Red Sox starter John Lackey and a two-out walk by B.J. Upton against left-hander Chris Capuano.
The Braves now had potential tying runs on base and the guy they wanted at the plate, Freddie Freeman, albeit against a lefty who’s been tough against them for years. While Freeman was the major league leader with a .500 average (7-for-14) with runners in scoring position and two outs before Wednesday, he was just 1-for-6 with the bases loaded before Wednesday.
Something had to give, and that something wasn’t what the Braves hoped it would be. Freeman grounded out to second base to end the inning, slipping to 1-for-7 with bases loaded. The Braves are 5-for-33 (.152) in that category, ranking them among the majors’ bottom four.
Braves starter Gavin Floyd (0-2) threw 106 pitches in a season-low five innings and was replaced after giving up six hits and two runs (one earned), with three walks and three strikeouts. It was also his first loss and lowest innings total in nine starts (7-1) against Boston, despite lowering his career ERA against them to 2.67 ERA.
He has a 2.37 ERA in five starts for the Braves but only two decisions, including a loss to the Giants in which he was charged with four runs (three earned) in 6 1/3 innings. Floyd’s earned-run totals in his other four starts: 1, 1, 2, 2.
Alex Wood also gave up five hits and two runs in 2 2/3 innings for the Braves.
For most of the night the Braves mounted little in the way of offensive threats against Lackey (6-3), who gave up eight hits and no walks with nine strikeouts in 6-1/3 innings. Until the seventh inning there wasn’t much happening with the Braves’ again-moribund offense.
Freeman doubled with two out in the first inning and Justin Upton struck out to strand him. That was the only time the Braves had a runner reach second until the fifth inning, when La Stella singled with one out in his second major league plate appearance and Heyward singled with two out. In four plate appearances, La Stella had two singles, grounded out and flied out.
With runners on first and second in the fifth inning, B.J. Upton struck out on three pitches to end the inning, his second of the game and majors-leading 63rd strikeout this season.
Lackey, who had struck out more than six batters in two of 10 starts before Wednesday, had eight strikeouts through five innings against the Braves.
The Braves had another scoring opportunity in the sixth when Justin Upton hit a one-out double high off the Green Monster outfield wall where it ends in the left-center power alley. He was still there when the inning ended, after Evan Gattis grounded out to third and Ryan Doumit flied out.
In his major league debut, La Stella was involved in a couple of plays he’d probably just as soon forget in Boston’s third inning, not that he was at fault. Xander Bogaerts’ pop fly to shallow center with one out went for a double when it landed unfettered within 10 feet of La Stella, who had run out toward it with back to the plate and apparently wasn’t called off by center fielder B.J. Upton.
One out later, David Ortiz hit a sharp grounder to La Stella, playing about 30 feet into right field in a defensive shift against the dead-pull hitter. La Stella slipped as he knocked the ball down and then got up from his knees and made a one-hop throw to Freeman that Ortiz barely beat out for a single. A.J. Pierzynski followed with a two-out RBI single that pushed the lead to 2-0, a run earned in name only.
The Red Sox have taken advantage of broken-bat and bloop hits and also several Braves mistakes while winning the first three games of this four-game home-and-home series between the teams, which wraps up Thursday night at Fenway Park.
They jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the second inning Wednesday after Jonny Gomes led off with a chopped single to shortstop Ramiro Pena, whose throw to first sailed wide of Freeman allowing Gomes to advance to second base. A wild pitch moved Gomes to third with none out, and a Grady Sizemore walk was followed by Daniel Nava’s double-play grounder with Gomes scoring on the play.