Sean Newcomb’s homecoming didn’t go as he hoped, and a difficult Braves road trip continued its downward spiral.
The Red Sox knocked Newcomb out after three innings and overcame an early multi-run deficit for the second day in a row for an 8-6 win Saturday at Fenway Park, clinching the series and handing the Braves their fourth loss on a six-game trip that ends Sunday.
The Braves have lost six of 10 games and dropped four of five on the trip after winning 11 of their previous 12 road games. They need to win Sunday to avert a sweep, and it won’t be easy with the Red Sox pitching ace left-hander Chris Sale against Mike Foltynewicz.
Newcomb, a native of nearby Middleboro, Mass., gave up six hits, three runs and four walks with four strikeouts in three innings, the briefest of his 29 career starts in the majors. This after going 5-0 with a 1.68 ERA and .182 opponents’ average over his previous eight starts.
“I had a handful of good ones, so a little bit of a shaky one was kind of bound to happen at some point,” he said.
Braves manager Brian Snitker said, “I’ve seen that story before where you’re at home and you’re amped up for friends and family and all that. But he’ll bounce back, he’ll be fine.”
Newcomb insisted he was able to get past the emotion of pitching for the first time at the venerable ballpark where he attended so many games as a kid. However, he conceded that trying to blow his fastball by hitters got him in some trouble as he left more pitches than usual up in the zone.
“Facing good lineups I tend to try to do too much, try to get the strikeout instead of drawing contact,” he said. “I was trying to overpower them, and I think I just got a little too out of control today.”
Dansby Swanson hit a two-run, two-out homer in the second inning, and Kurt Suzuki’s two-out double in the third pushed the Braves lead to 3-0, but Newcomb needed 88 pitches to get through three innings, and the Red Sox tied the score with three in the third on four hits and a walk.
Ronald Acuna had three hits for the Braves, including a ninth-inning bases-empty homer off closer Craig Kimbrel, the former Braves fireballer.
Newcomb’s previous low was 3-1/3 innings against the Astros on July 4, when the big left-hander was rocked for 10 hits and seven runs in a 16-4 defeat.
Newcomb’s trouble in the third inning began with Mitch Moreland’s leadoff triple to the quirky triangle area of right-center field, where the wall juts out to 420 feet. The other three hits in the inning were run-scoring singles from Xander Bogaerts; No. 8 hitter Blake Swihart, who began the day with a .133 average; and No. 9 hitter Christian Vazquez, who came in batting .190.
“Just wasn’t clicking,” Snitker said. “I don’t know, he’s bound to have one of those. He just had to work so hard over the (three) innings. Just didn’t have it.”
The Braves regained a 5-3 lead in the fourth inning on Freddie Freeman’s RBI single and Nick Markakis’ sacrifice fly, but Boston got a leadoff homer from Andrew Benintendi off reliever Jesse Biddle in the fourth inning and moved in front 6-5 on Mitch Moreland’s two-run double off Sam Freeman in the sixth. It was their first lead and one the Red Sox wouldn’t relinquish.
Benintendi added a two-run, two-out triple in the seventh off reliever Dan Winkler, the runs unearned following an Ozzie Albies throwing error. Benintendi had a single, triple, homer and hit-by-pitch in five plate appearances.
For Newcomb, it marked the first time he pitched less than five innings since he pitched 4-1/3 innings in his season debut April 2 against the Nationals, when he gave up five hits, six runs (five earned) and four walks. He was outstanding in his eight starts between that one and Saturday, lasting at least six innings in seven of those eight games and allowing two earned runs or fewer in seven.
But he struggled to throw strikes Saturday in front of a sellout crowd of 36,510 that included his parents and, he said, approximately 200 friends and former teammates from high school or the University of Hartford.
“I didn’t realize he was from here until you said that,” Freeman said to a reporter who asked about playing in front of family and friends for the first time. “I’m sure he was (excited). It’s always nice to go home and play in front of your family, but you’ve got to be able to settle down.”
As much as Newcomb struggled with command Saturday, Red Sox starter Drew Pomeranz was worse, giving up six hits, five runs and three walks in 3-1/3 innings. The veteran lefty has lasted four innings or fewer in four of his seven starts, including each of the past three.
But the game came down to a contest of bullpens, and the Red Sox came out ahead with knuckleballer Steven Wright working three scoreless innings for the win.
“Steven Wright was the one that stopped us,” Freeman said. “You don’t get to face knuckleballers very often. We got to Drew and got him out of the game, but they had a stopper in the right guy to stop us. We were able to score some runs but we weren’t able to hold them down today.”