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Eight is Enough: Markakis and Smith lead way to end skid, 5-3

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The Braves halted another long losing streak at eight games, benefiting from offensive outbursts up and down the lineup in addition to solid relief work to top the Red Sox in the home-and-home finale at Fenway Park.

Mallex always looks so awkward in these photos
Mallex always looks so awkward in these photos
Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

It took a little longer than they would have liked, but the Braves finally have win number five of 2016 in the record books. For once, the hitting and pitching worked in tandem to drop the Red Sox by a 5-3 score.

Like the last two nights, Jhoulys Chacin and the Braves began the contest feeling a bit outslugged by the mighty Red Sox attack: Dustin Pedroia doubled with one out in the bottom of the first and came around to score on a two-out single by Hanley Ramirez. The run particularly stung after the Braves had failed to score Nick Markakis, who had doubled to lead off the game, from third with one out.

Unlike the last two nights, however, the Braves roared right back against Clay Buchholz, throwing up a three-spot on the board in the second. Those runs came courtesy of a Jace Peterson walk, followed by an Erick Aybar bunt single (!), a laced ground-rule double by Mallex Smith into the right-field corner to score Peterson, and then a Markakis single brought in the other two runs.

The Red Sox clawed back another run off of Chacin in the third via doubles from Xander Bogaerts and Ramirez, but they would be stymied for much of the rest of the game from there on out. Meanwhile, the Braves would put up two more runs in the middle innings, first on another RBI single from Markakis, and then on an RBI single by Smith. Overall, they had no real problems with Buchholz, knocking him around for eight hits and four walks en route to scoring their five runs, and only striking out twice.

Meanwhile, Chacin provided another serviceable outing. It wasn't exactly the type of success he'd shown in his first two outings, but it was good enough against a strong crop of hitters: five innings, six hits, two walks, four strikeouts, and the two runs allowed. He did get a bit lucky in some respects: of the 16 balls in play against him, seven were hard-hit liners, including three doubles, but he avoided any big blows that may have sunk his efforts.

The bullpen proved even more deft after Chacin departed, with Eric O'Flaherty managing to work a scoreless inning after inheriting a leadoff runner from Chacin in the sixth. (It was, however, marred by a double from lefty-killer Chris Young, which was its own puzzling event of the night.) O'Flaherty's good effort was followed by Alexi Ogando and Hunter Cervenka, the latter of whom struck out David Ortiz, representing the tying run, in the seventh. Jim Johnson tossed a scoreless eight and Arodys Vizcaino struck out the first two Red Sox he saw in the ninth before allowing a double to Mookie Betts and a run-scoring single to Pedroia, whom the Braves have probably had enough of for a whole decade now. Vizcaino then got a groundout from Bogaerts to end the game and the losing streak.

The offense set the pace for this game, with twelve hits and five walks. Nick Markakis and Mallex Smith really led the team in this regard: Markakis had four hits and knocked in three, while Smith hit two doubles in addition to a single and drove in the remaining two runs. Unfortunately, Smith was also caught stealing twice, first on a pretty inconclusive kerfuffle at second base, and then on an attempt to steal third. Other notable lines included Freddie Freeman (3-for-4, one walk, one strikeout, and perhaps most importantly, no weakly lofted fly balls) and Jace Peterson (0-for-1 with three walks and two runs scored). On the more expected yet depressing side, AJ Pierzynski continued his somewhat embarrassing defensive play with a continued set of miscues, including a flub of a foul pop. Daniel Castro, Pierzynski, and Jeff Francoeur went hitless with a combined 12 men left on base (individual, not team; the team only stranded 10), but that's okay given that Markakis and Smith picked them up.

It was the 24th four-hit game of Markakis' career (not a career high, as he had a five-hit game in 2011). Meanwhile, it was the first multihit game of Smith's career, but also his first game with multiple caught stealings. The run given up by Vizcaino was his first this year.

The Braves head to the Windy City to take on the Cubs and old pals Jason Heyward, Tommy La Stella, and David Ross on Friday. Be advised that as is the tradition at Wrigley Field, it will be a 2:20 pm start, so get ready to get an early start to your weekend and watch Aaron Blair make his second career start against former Red Sock (Soxer?) Jon Lester.