Base running, Flowers’ homer, lift Braves over the Rays

Tyler Flowers, who signed an extension with the Braves hours before the game, came in to pinch-hit with his team up 6-5 in the eighth.

He hammered a ball into the crowd, his sixth homer of the season, that secured the Braves’ 9-5 win over the Rays on Tuesday. It opened their second-to-last homestand of the season.

“It was a pretty good day,” Flowers said.

» More: Braves' N.L. East lead at 4-1/2 games

Adam Duvall’s mad dash home was responsible for the go-ahead run. The Braves had blown a 5-2 advantage built largely thanks to a Rays’ error. Then came the four-run eighth.

Kurt Suzuki walked and was replaced by Duvall to start the inning. Ozzie Albies doubled. Dansby Swanson hit a grounder that caused hesitation by the Rays defense. When Swanson was thrown out, Duvall scurried home and beat the tag for the sixth run.

Flowers broke it open with a homer off Chaz Roe. He acknowledged he’s still not comfortable pinch-hitting, but the Braves will take it.

After struggling at the plate through parts of the road trip, the Braves had an off-day Monday that gave the club needed rest. The Braves played 22 games in 20 days.

“It was a long stretch there,” Flowers said. “(Kurt Suzuki) and I have it easier since we kind of alternate there, but the horses out there that are going every single day, that’s one of the longest stretches they’ll have to go through. So I’m sure a little breather for everyone, a couple guys stepping away for a little bit and not think about trying to hit sliders and all that fun stuff (helped).”

Ender Inciarte followed suit for a four-run lead. The Rays loaded the bases in the ninth, but A.J. Minter finished it off.

The Braves had one run through four innings, and the Rays’ “opener” strategy appeared discerning yet again. They woke up following a Julio Teheran bunt.

Trailing 2-1, Albies and Swanson singled to open the fifth. Teheran’s assignment was to move them over. The Braves were attempting small ball against one of the American League’s best clubs.

Yonny Chirinos, the second of the Rays’ pitchers, couldn’t cleanly field the bunt. His throw to first was botched by first baseman Jake Bauers, allowing Albies to score the tying run.

Ronald Acuna’s sacrifice fly gave the Braves their first lead. Inciarte walked to put two men on, and Nick Markakis’ gapper put the Braves up 5-2.

“We’d been waiting for the offense to kick in,” manager Brian Snitker said. “We’re better than what we’ve shown. That’s the way it goes.”

Teheran’s moment was short-lived. He retook the mound and was chased after Brandon Lowe’s first homer, a two-run shot that pulled Tampa Bay within one. Teheran hadn’t allowed more than three runs in his past five starts entering the game. He’d pitched better, and was handling himself fine until Lowe’s homer.

“I was just trying to strike him out. I threw a couple good pitches and he didn’t swing at them,” Teheran said. “I was just trying to stay up a little bit. But it’s part of the game.”

Teheran allowed four runs, two fewer than the starting staff did across the past road trip. During that seven-game span, Braves starters accumulated a 0.89 ERA, throwing three shutouts and allowing one run three times. It was one of the best stretches in franchise history.

Tampa Bay knotted the game with three hits off Jonny Venters, whom it traded prior to the deadline. It was the second of 12 appearances that he allowed two or more hits, and it was the first time he’d allowed a run since joining the Braves.

After dropping behind 2-0, the Braves got a run back in the third. Albies led off with a single, and after two outs, Acuna drew a walk. Inciarte’s hit to left field plated Albies, but Freddie Freeman – who’s in a rare spurt of misery – hacked at one too many pitches.

The Phillies, who acquired former Brave Jose Bautista earlier in the day, relinquished a late lead and lost to the Nationals. The first-place Braves hold a 4 1/2-game lead in the East.

“Once it was the ninth inning and I saw the score change, I got pumped,” said Inciarte, who acknowledges himself as a scoreboard watcher. “I was talking to Acuna and said ‘Hey, pay attention to that.’ And he was just laughing.”