Braves squander scoring chances as Red Sox pull away late

Touki Toussaint was magisterial through four innings, stifling baseball’s best offense with his diverse repertoire. The 22-year-old, making his second start, then learned how swiftly conditions change in the majors.

The Braves loaded the bases twice through four innings but failed to score; the Red Sox didn’t have a hit through that same span. Two outs later, the Braves found themselves in a three-run hole, going on to lose the opener of a three-game series, 8-2, Monday afternoon at SunTrust Park.

Toussaint experienced a postseason-worthy atmosphere, with a Boston-heavy crowd attempting to supersede their hosts. It was nationally broadcasted — these Braves haven’t been in front of nationwide audiences often — against a team 50 games over .500 coming in.

“It was exciting,” Toussaint said. “I liked the atmosphere. ... You could definitely hear (the crowd).”

The rookie’s pulsating first four frames were as encouraging as any provided by the Braves’ wealth of new arms in 2018. He kept the Red Sox off-balance, twice retiring MVP candidate Mookie Betts, inducing a double play from triple crown-chaser J.D. Martinez and facing two over the minimum in that time.

“It’s all very, very positive,” manager Brian Snitker said. “How he handles himself. The command, the feel for his secondary pitches is so good. Stuff is live. He’s athletic. He can do a lot of things. He’s going to win a lot of games in this league.”

But the sleeping giant awoke in the fifth. Toussaint surrendered three consecutive doubles, resulting in two runs. Betts got him on the third try, singling home another run that required Snitker to dip into his bullpen — and exacerbated the home team’s offensive ailments.

Toussaint finished after 4-2/3 innings, striking out six and walking two. He was charged for a trio of runs.

“Just trying to keep the team in the game,” Toussaint said. “But it just got out of hand fast. It’s a learning experience, you know? Just go back to the drawing board.”

Toussaint outlasted opposing starter Nathan Eovaldi, who was erratic but still able to halt the Braves’ bats. Eovaldi hadn’t walked more than two hitters in any of his 17 starts entering Monday. He’d issued only four bases-on-balls in seven starts with the Red Sox.

The righty walked three across a 39-pitch first inning, one the Braves failed to take advantage of when Kurt Suzuki grounded out with the bases loaded. The catcher could’ve redeemed himself with men at the corners in the fifth, but a weak grounder kept the Braves scoreless.

Johan Camargo again walked to lead off the fourth, with Suzuki’s ensuing single putting the Braves in position to break through. Dansby Swanson walked following Ozzie Albies’ flyout, loading the bases.

It meant little: Toussaint grounded out to Brandon Workman, who’d replaced Eovaldi, and Boston got the force out at home. Ronald Acuna popped up to Ian Kinsler to complete the empty inning.

Down 3-1, the Braves were awarded one more life in the seventh. Ender Inciarte, Nick Markakis and Camargo singled to load the bases for the third time, with the latter exerting himself on a head-first slide to barely beat the throw to first.

Suzuki brought a run home on a sacrifice fly, pulling the Braves within a run. Albies struck out to leave them loaded, and giving the Braves one run to show for three bases-loaded circumstances. They finished 1-for-12 with runners in scoring position.

“That’s baseball,” Suzuki said. “Sometimes you’re going to drive them in, sometimes you’re not. You just have to pick yourself up, move forward and get them again next time.”

After the Braves’ latest gaffe, the Red Sox pulled away. Freddie Freeman threw too high to Swanson at second for would-be inning-ending out, and Boston had the bases full as a result. Kinsler promptly singled off Jesse Biddle, securing an additional pair of runs.

The Braves got on the board in the sixth courtesy of Albies’ solo homer. It was his first home run from the left side since July 11, and his 22nd of the season. It was his third extra-base hit over the past 27 games, and the All-Star second baseman has cooled off considerably over the course of the season, one which he began with 22 extra-base hits in April.

Twenty-year-old Bryse Wilson made his second MLB appearance, and first in relief, during the eighth inning. The Red Sox tagged him for three runs in the inning, a distant cry from his five scoreless against the Pirates on Aug. 20.

All wasn’t lost: Jose Urena and the Marlins did the Braves a favor, defeating the Phillies, 3-1, in Miami. It preserved the Braves’ four-game cushion atop the National League East and trimmed their magic number to 22.

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