Offense comes alive for Braves

Published 11:55 pm Wednesday, July 7, 2021

By Will Graves

AP Sports Writer

PITTSBURGH — Abraham Almonte is starting to get the hang of this whole pinch-hitting thing.

The Atlanta Braves outfielder delivered a go-ahead, two-run single in the sixth inning and added a two-run home run as the Atlanta Braves avoided a sweep by surging past the Pittsburgh Pirates 14-3 on Wednesday.

Three days after a pinch-hit double in the ninth helped fuel a comeback win against Miami, Almonte did it again with a sharp ground ball in the sixth off Kyle Crick (1-1) that started a five-run outburst. Almonte followed with a shot to the seats in right-center field during a seven-run eighth as the Braves piled on following a 1-hour, 18-minute rain delay.

“He’s had two pinch hits and knocked in runs on both of them,” Atlanta manager Brian Snitker said. “He’s a good fit for that because of his patience. He’s not afraid to get into a count and hit.”

Almonte is transitioning from starter to more of a bench role, one that requires a shift in mindset.

“I try to be more calm when I’m playing every day,” Almonte said. “And when I’ve got to come from the bench, I’ve got to be sharp from the first pitch they’re making.”

Ronald Acuña Jr. hit his 24th home run for the Braves while going 3 for 5. Freddie Freeman, Dansby Swanson, Ehire Adrianza and Austin Riley all had two hits apiece for Atlanta.

Drew Smyly (7-3) overcame giving up a three-run home run to Jacob Stallings in the first inning to win his fifth straight start. Smyly labored through five innings, allowing nine hits and three walks while striking out four. Four relievers made it stand up thanks to an offense that came to life late.

“It’s a long season and there’s a lot more starts to be had and the second half is going to be big,” Smyly said. “So hopefully I can stay right where I am and keep progressing moving forward.”

All-Star starting second baseman Adam Frazier had two hits for Pittsburgh but struck out with the bases loaded in the eighth as the potential tying run.

Wil Crowe kept Atlanta in check for 4 2/3 innings and when Clay Holmes came on to get the final out of the fifth after the Braves put two men on to preserve a 3-2 lead, the Pirates appeared to be in OK shape.

Not so much. Crick walked the first two batters of the sixth. Recently promoted veteran catcher Jonathan Lucroy advanced the runners with a sacrifice bunt. Almonte stepped in and sent a roller that went against the shift and rolled into center field to put Atlanta in front to stay.

Lucroy, a two-time All-Star for Milwaukee in 2014 and 2016, went 1 for 3 with an RBI single in the eighth after being called up from Triple-A Gwinnett. The Braves signed Lucroy in mid-May to address depth issues after Tyler Flowers retired. To make room for Lucroy, Atlanta optioned 23-year-old catcher William Contreras to Triple-A.