For most of Sunday it looked as if the Braves would overcome another sloppy effort against the Pirates with just enough offense.Then they piled more bullpen troubles on top of yet more defensive blunders and suddenly the Pirates were on their way to a three-game sweep.
The Braves blew a one-run lead in the ninth inning and blew another in the 10th of the 6-5 defeat. The final blow was Starling Marte’s two-run, walk-off homer against reliever Jose Ramirez but plenty had gone wrong before that.
The Braves (1-5) allowed three unearned runs after they’d done the same in a 6-4 loss to the Pirates (3-2) on Saturday.
“We had the game right there again,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “You can’t give away that many runs, that many extra outs and expect to win games. Simple as that. We’ve got to make plays.”
The Braves staked Julio Teheran to a 2-0 lead in the first inning before giving up two unearned runs in the fourth that tied the game. Home runs by first baseman Freddie Freeman in the fifth and seventh innings put the Braves ahead 4-2 before inept defense led to another unearned Pirates run in the eighth.
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Even after all of that, the Braves gave the ball to closer Jim Johnson with a 4-3 lead in the ninth. Johnson immediately got into trouble when Gregory Polanco led off with a single and Josh Bell followed with a walk.
The Braves caught a break when Jordy Mercer popped out on a bunt attempt for the first out. But Johnson walked David Freese to load the bases for Francisco Cervelli, who hit a slow-rolling groundball to the left side of the infield.
Third baseman Adonis Garcia scooped the ball and tossed to second baseman Brandon Phillips for the force out. Polanco scored, though, when Freese broke up the potential double play. The Braves lost a replay challenge on the slide rule at second base.
The Braves got yet another chance to win when Brandon Phillips knocked an RBI single against Felipe Rivero in the 10th inning. The Pirates finally finished the Braves when Adam Frazier doubled against Ramirez and Marte followed with the homer.
“It wasn’t our best game, obviously, on a lot of different fronts,” Johnson said. “Obviously I didn’t throw enough strikes (and) put us in a bad spot. We almost got out of it but when you get in those situations you are trying to throw as many strikes as possible.
“If you look at the line they only got one hit and scored a run. That’s kind of sloppy on my end.”
Johnson was far from the only culprit. A day after the Braves had two errors and three passed balls, they tallied two errors and a passed ball.
The defensive problems started in the fourth inning after Marte led off with a flared single against right-hander Julio Teheran. With Andrew McCutchen at bat, Marte wandered far off first base but catcher Tyler Flowers’ throw to Freeman was high and Marte scrambled back safely to the bag.
Later in McCutchen’s at-bat, Teheran caught Marte far off the bag again. He threw to Freeman but the first baseman dropped the ball. Marte went to second on the error and scored when Josh Bell smacked a hard line drive off Freeman’s glove for a two-out double. Bell then scored on Jordy Mercer’s single.
Another defensive miscue led to a Pirates run in the eighth.
Reliever Arodys Vizcaino hit Josh Harrison with a pitch and gave up back-to-back singles to Adam Frazier and Marte. Harrison stopped at third on Marte’s hit but left fielder Jace Peterson bobbled the ball and Harrison ran home on the error.
Freeman’s 10th career multiple homer game wasn’t enough to offset the poor defense and bullpen trouble.
“We are giving them extra outs, starting with me,” Freeman said. “I needed to catch that ball. That’s a pickoff right there and they ended up scoring two runs that (fourth) inning. We’re not catching the ball or fielding the ball right now and we need to start doing that.”
The Braves squandered another strong start by Teheran, who limited the Pirates to zero earned runs over seven innings with four sttikeouts and one walk. He held the Mets scoreless over six innings on opening day but the Braves didn’t score a run and the bullpen gave up six.
The Pirates only hit two or three balls hard against Teheran. Snitker decided to hit Emilio Bonifacio for Teheran with one out in the eighth inning and give the ball to Vizcaino.
Teheran had thrown 87 pitches.
“He did his job,” Snitker said. “A month from now, he’ll go back out there. There is no sense in pushing him right now. The bullpen was well-rested. We had the deck stacked exactly how we wanted it in that game today to win it. We pretty much shot ourselves in the foot is what it amounted to.”