By JOSE M. ROMERO, Associated Press
PHOENIX (AP) — Ender Inciarte failed to execute a sacrifice bunt in the ninth inning, but It worked out just fine for the Atlanta Braves.
Facing a 3-2 count with two men on, Inciarte swung away and hit a go-ahead, three-run homer during a six-run rally, and the Braves went on to beat the Arizona Diamondbacks 9-5 and increase their NL East lead to 4½ games.
The Braves took advantage of a loss by Philadelphia to match their biggest division edge of the season. Atlanta took three of four in the series.
“I was just trying to hit it hard up in the air somewhere, because I wanted to move the runners however I can and I didn’t want to hit a ball into a double play,” Inciarte said. “I got a good pitch to hit and I was able to hit the ball like that.”
The third-place Diamondbacks have lost seven of nine. They stayed 2½ games behind NL West-leading Colorado.
Atlanta didn’t have a hit until Ronald Acuna Jr. homered off Robbie Ray in the sixth. The Braves trailed 4-3 going into the ninth before Tyler Flowers and Ozzie Albies opened with singles off Brad Boxberger (2-7) and Inciarte, a former Diamondbacks fan favorite, went deep.
“Fastball, just pulled it over the plate a little bit, and (Inciarte) was on it,” Boxberger said. “It’s definitely frustrating. Nothing is kind of going my way. Balls are being hit just out of the reach of our defenders and the ball is kind of bouncing the opposite direction of where I want it to go.”
Braves manager Brian Snitker was glad he canceled the bunt order.
“Bunting is easier said than done,” Snitker said. “After two strikes, the last thing I wanted him to do was foul a ball off. So I just took it off and thank God I did.”
After Boxberger left to boos from the crowd at Chase Field, Lucas Duda greeted reliever Yoan Lopez with a long home run to right. Acuna then tripled and Johan Camargo hit his 18th homer.
Lopez failed to record an out in his major league debut as Arizona’s bullpen imploded. Manager Torey Lovullo elected not to use a group of his preferred relievers to give them rest.
“I know we have a very capable group down there who has pretty much done it all year long,” Lovullo said. “I believe in that group. They are going to get some big outs for us down the stretch.”
Sam Freeman (3-5) got the win with an inning of scoreless relief.
The Diamondbacks led 4-3 going into the ninth after Nick Ahmed and David Peralta delivered key hits in a four-run sixth inning.
Acuna scored three runs and Touki Toussaint pitched 5 2/3 innings for Atlanta. Toussaint left with a 2-0 lead against the team that originally drafted him.
“Had a lot of walks, but other than that felt pretty good,” Toussaint said.
Ray lost his no-hit bid when Toussaint singled sharply to left with one out in the sixth. Acuna followed with an opposite-field homer to right.
Braves reliever Luke Jackson faced four hitters and didn’t get an out, allowing two runs charged to Toussaint to score and two of his own.
The Braves made it 4-3 in the eighth against reliever Jake Diekman. Freddie Freeman’s two-out single drove in Acuna.
WALKING TO A RECORD
Arizona star Paul Goldschmidt drew a walk in the third inning, surpassing Luis Gonzalez for the Diamondbacks’ all-time record for walks with 651. Goldschmidt made it 652 with another walk in the seventh.
The Diamondbacks are in the midst of a tough stretch, with the next five series against postseason contenders Colorado, Houston, the Chicago Cubs, the Rockies again and the Los Angeles Dodgers.
“I still believe we’re in a really good spot,” Lovullo said. “We’re not that far off. We’re 2½ games out of first place? Sign me up. I would take that every day of the week.”
Diamondbacks: Peralta has a minor left ankle injury and was originally held out of Sunday’s lineup until coming off the bench to pinch hit.
Braves: LHP Sean Newcomb (11-8, 3.92 ERA) starts the opener of a three-game set at San Francisco on Monday night. The Braves are 14-13 in his 27 starts this season.
Diamondbacks: RHP Zack Godley (14-8, 4.51) opens a four-game series at Colorado on Monday. Godley is 4-0 with a 2.56 ERA in five career starts against the Rockies, including three wins at Coors Field.