ATLANTA (AP)—Pinch hitting is something that Mike Lowell doesn’t do too often. In fact, he’s only done it once this season and it came at an opportune time.
Lowell, Boston’s regular third baseman, didn’t start but got the big hit—a go-ahead two-run double—and Kevin Youkilis’ two-run home run highlighted a six-run eighth inning and the Red Sox beat Atlanta 10-7 on Sunday night to extend the Braves’ losing streak to seven games—their longest in nearly 16 years.
The win gave the Red Sox, who had lost four in a row before coming to Atlanta, a one-game lead in the AL East over the New York Yankees, who lost 3-2 to Washington earlier Sunday.
The Braves, who have won a record 14 straight division titles, have dropped 17 of their last 20 games. Atlanta has fallen to 30-40 and into last place in the NL East. It marked the club’s first seven-game losing streak since July 31-Aug. 7, 1990. In addition, the Braves haven’t been this far under .500 since the end of the 1990 season when they finished 67-95 and 26 games back.
“In my opinion pinch hitting is the toughest job in baseball. You get lucky sometimes,” said Lowell, who remembered that he pinch hit at some point last season, but didn’t know exactly when.
“You get a hit and you feel like you’re on top of the world,” he said. “I took a couple of good swings and worked the count to 3-2. I’m very happy with the result.”
It appeared that Atlanta would end the losing streak in the seventh inning when Jeff Francoeur hit his 15th home run, a three-run shot on the first pitch from reliever Rudy Seanez (2-0) for a 5-3 lead.
“That’s what’s called a roller coaster,” said Boston manager Terry Francona. “We bounced right back with a vengeance. That’s awesome. It’s no fun to give up a lead like that, but we didn’t pout. There was no letup,”
Once again, Atlanta’s bullpen couldn’t hold it.
Atlanta starter John Smoltz pitched seven innings, allowing six hits, three runs, walked four and struck out eight and reliever Macay McBride (1-1) looked sharp getting David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez on strikeouts for the first two outs in the eighth.
But then the bullpen, which had an ERA of 5.03 and blown 13 of 28 saves, collapsed. McBride walked Trot Nixon and Jason Varitek and Coco Crisp followed with an RBI single to get within Boston within 5-4. Reliever Chad Paronto came on and was greeted by a two-run double from Lowell to give the Red Sox the lead at 6-5. Pinch-hitter Alex Cora then singled in Lowell and Youkilis followed with his two-run homer, his ninth of the season, for a 9-5 lead.
“You can’t walk two guys like that,” said Braves manager Bobby Cox of McBride. “I guess he didn’t have his sinker tonight,” he said of Paronto.
“We’ve got to find a way to win,” said Smoltz. “This is a blow that nobody needed. There are no words to describe it.”
Ortiz hit his 20th homer in the first and Ramirez ended an 0-for-18 skid with his 17th in the fourth—both solo shots off Smoltz—to help the Red Sox to a 3-2 lead before Francoeur’s dramatic line drive over the left field fence.
Curt Schilling started for the Red Sox and went six innings. He allowed eight hits, two runs, walked two and struck out four. The Braves scored both runs off the right-hander in the third on RBI singles by Andruw Jones and Francoeur.
Atlanta 3B Chipper Jones did not start for the second straight game because of a sore right thumb, but pinch hit in the eighth and bounced into a forceout. … Atlanta rookie LF Scott Thorman, recalled from Triple-A Richmond earlier Sunday, made his major league debut and Schilling struck him out on three pitches in the first inning. He was robbed of a hit in the seventh when RF Trot Nixon made a diving catch of his liner. … The crowd of 48,826 was the third consecutive sellout. The three games drew 149,228 fans.