Braves blow three-run lead late, miss chance to sweep Diamondbacks

Atlanta Braves' Charlie Morton delivers against the Arizona Diamondbacks during the first inning of a baseball game Thursday, Sept 23, 2021, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Darryl Webb)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Atlanta Braves' Charlie Morton delivers against the Arizona Diamondbacks during the first inning of a baseball game Thursday, Sept 23, 2021, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Darryl Webb)

PHOENIX – Thursday might’ve been the Braves’ biggest missed opportunity of the season.

Sporting a 4-1 lead in the seventh inning, the Braves were on the cusp of completing their first four-game sweep in Arizona and further protecting their lead atop the National League East. But the team cratered in the seventh, allowing five runs in what became a painful 6-4 loss to the 104-loss Diamondbacks.

Braves starter Charlie Morton, who cruised through most of the game, began the seventh at 91 pitches. He surrendered consecutive singles that led manager Brian Snitker to make a change. In came Jacob Webb, who had a 14-game scoreless streak going.

It ended swiftly: Diamondbacks catcher Carson Kelly punished Webb’s second pitch, an 82.5 mph change-up down the middle, into the seats to reset the score at 4-4. Kole Calhoun and Daulton Varsho followed with doubles to put the Diamondbacks ahead for the first time since the first game of the series. Lefty Tyler Matzek replaced Webb, but Arizona added an insurance run on Josh Rojas’ sacrifice fly.

“Today, I just didn’t have my best stuff,” Webb said. “I was hanging stuff in the zone. That’s what happens. You have to make good pitches up here. You have to bounce back and be ready to go every day. I have every confidence in the world in my ability and what I do every day. It’s just frustrating, man. Going out there, getting an opportunity and hanging stuff today.”

Webb routinely has drawn praise from Snitker since returning Sept. 1. He worked his way into more high-leverage opportunities and usually delivered. Opponents were hitting .109 against Webb during his 14-game scoreless run.

Eventually, the streak was going to end. It did in emphatic fashion Thursday. The Braves didn’t rally after the Diamondbacks’ five-run frame, and instead of finishing a sweep, they left Arizona with a sour taste in their mouths as to what could’ve been.

“Jacob has been through a lot,” Snitker said. “This was probably a minor thing compared to what he’s battled over his career. I have no (doubt) he’ll bounce back. It’s one game. You’re a reliever, it’s one game. You have to have a short memory if you’re a reliever because this is going to happen.”

Starter Charlie Morton also offer his support for Webb.

“I love watching him pitch, and I think he’s going to have a great career,” Morton said. “If he just stays the course, he’s going to be in the big leagues a long time. He felt really bad. All those guys down there, if they come in and we have a lead and there are guys on base (and the opponent scores), that’s just how they are (feeling bad). They take it on themselves. They take it personally. They view it as responsibility to pick somebody else up. They’re team guys, and they care about that stuff. He cares. He cares a lot. All those guys do.”

The game started promisingly for the Braves. Second baseman Ozzie Albies, who achieved his first 30-homer season with Wednesday’s blast, opened the scoring with a double to left field off Diamondbacks starter Madison Bumgarner that scored first baseman Freddie Freeman. Third baseman Austin Riley followed with another monstrous home run to make the score 3-0. It was Riley’s sixth extra-base hit of the series.

Morton struck out eight, bringing his season total to 203. It’s his third career 200-strikeout campaign. It’s also the second time a Braves starter has reached 200 strikeouts since 2012 (joining Mike Foltynewicz, 2018).

The magic number to clinch the National League East stayed at nine following the loss. The Phillies can pull within two games of first place with a victory over the Pirates on Thursday night. If the Phillies lose, the Braves’ magic number drops to eight.

The Braves’ 11-game western trip ends in San Diego, where they’ll begin a four-game series Friday. It starts with the resumption of a suspended July 21 seven-inning contest. The Braves will be batting in the bottom of the fifth, trailing the Padres 5-4.