The Red Sox had an opportunity to get to Charlie Morton early on Tuesday night at Fenway Park, but were unable to truly capitalize against the veteran right-hander.
With the bases loaded and no outs in the bottom of the first, Xander Bogaerts struck out on five pitches, Rafael Devers managed to drive in a run by getting hit by a pitch, and Christian Vazquez lined into a deflating inning-ending 6-4 double play.
In the second, the Sox again were presented with a chance to put something together off Morton, as Danny Santana led off with a triple and Hunter Renfroe drew a walk to put runners on the corners with no outs.
Despite having yet another opportunity to jump out to a commanding lead, Bobby Dalbec struck out swinging on three pitches, while Enrique Hernandez grounded into an inning-ending, 4-6-3 twin killing to get Morton out of a jam.
From that point forward, Morton — like quality starting pitchers do — settled in nicely for Atlanta by sitting down 15 of the final 16 Red Sox hitters he faced from the middle of the third until the end of the seventh.
The Braves bullpen took over in the eighth and kept the scoreless stretch going, with Edgar Santana working a scoreless bottom of the eighth and closer Will Smith tossing a 1-2-3 ninth inning to secure what goes down as a 3-1 loss for the Sox.
All in all, Boston went 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position on Tuesday and left five runners on base as a team.
With the defeat, their second straight overall, the Red Sox fall to 29-20 on the season and an even 13-13 at Fenway Park. They still trail the Rays by a half-game for first place in the American League East.
Richards grinds through 5 2/3 innings
Garrett Richards made his 10th start of the season for the Red Sox on Tuesday night, and while he was not particularly sharp in this one, he did pitch well enough to keep his team in the game.
Over 5 2/3 innings of work, the veteran right-hander yielded three runs on six hits and four walks to go along with four strikeouts on the night.
For Richards, it’s his second straight outing with at least four walks, and one of those free passes proved to be costly.
With no outs in the third inning, Richards issued a seven-pitch walk to William Contreras — Atlanta’s No. 9 hitter, which would prove to be harbinger of unfortunate things to come.
That being the case because the Braves tacked on their first two runs of the night on an RBI double off the bat of Marcell Ozuna and a run-scoring fielder’s choice in which Ozzie Albies drove in Freddie Freeman from third base.
The third inning could have ben even worse for Richards had Enrique Hernandez, while fielding the groundball from Albies, made a heads-up play by gunning down Ozuna at third base for the second out of the frame.
After getting through the fourth and fifth unscathed, Richards again walked Contreras, this time with two outs in the sixth, which would mark the end of his outing with the Braves lineup turning over.
Finishing with a final pitch count of 97 (59 strikes), the 32-year-old hurler relied on his four-seam fastball 69% of the time he was on the mound Tuesday, inducing eight swings-and-misses while topping out at 96.7 mph with the pitch.
Eventually falling to 4-3 on the season while raising his ERA to 3.83, Richards’ next start should come against the Astros in Houston next Monday.
Red Sox bullpen takes over
In relief of Richards, Hirokazu Sawamura got the first call out of the Red Sox bullpen, and he allowed one of the runners he inherited to score on a sharply-hit Ronald Acuna Jr. RBI double before putting together 1 1/3 scoreless innings through the middle of the seventh.
From there, Garrett Whitlock also kept the Braves off the scoreboard while sitting down six of the seven hitters he faced over the eighth and ninth innings to keep his side’s deficit at two runs.
Sandoval notches three hits in Fenway return
While the Red Sox lineup struggled to get anything going on Tuesday, old friend Pablo Sandoval did not.
The former Boston third baseman — in his first game back at Fenway Park since being released by the club in July 2017 — enjoyed a 3-for-4 day at the plate in which he collected three singles and scored one run.
Next up: Pivetta vs. Smyly
Wednesday’s pitching matchup between the Red Sox and Braves will feature a pair of former Phillies toeing the rubber for their respective clubs.
Right-hander Nick Pivetta will get the ball for Boston, and he will be opposed by left-hander Drew Smyly for Atlanta.
First pitch Wednesday is scheduled for 7:10 p.m. eastern time on NESN. Red Sox will be going for the series split.
(Picture of Christian Vazquez: Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)