Chien-Ming Wang did nearly everything right in the final game of his comeback season.
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Wang pitched six effective innings and drove in a run with his first career hit, leading the Washington Nationals to a 4-1 victory over the scuffling Atlanta Braves on Saturday.
Making his 11th start since returning from a two-year layoff following shoulder surgery, Wang (4-3) allowed one run and four hits, struck out four and walked none. He lowered his ERA to 4.04.
”I wish I still can pitch a couple more games this season,” Wang said through a translator. ”Because with each outing I get, I feel my shoulder’s stronger and then my breaking ball is coming back.”
Wang had a couple of shaky outings when he first returned in July, but the right-hander is 4-1 with a 3.71 ERA in his last nine starts. He has 16 strikeouts and no walks over his last four outings.
”It was just a remarkable season,” Washington manager Davey Johnson said. ”He got better every time out.”
Wang’s performance sent the Braves to their 16th loss in their last 26 games. Atlanta is now two games ahead of St. Louis for the NL wild card with four games left.
”When we beat the Braves, it’s a good feeling. We want to fight for something,” said Danny Espinosa, who hit a two-run single in the fourth for Washington. ”If we keep them out of the playoffs, we’ll keep them out of the playoffs. No hard feelings.”
Freddie Freeman hit a leadoff homer in the fifth for Atlanta, tying Espinosa for the lead among NL rookies at 21.
The Braves intentionally walked Ivan Rodriguez to bring Wang to the plate with two outs and two on in the fourth inning. Wang’s RBI single off Brandon Beachy (7-3) went down the left-field line and capped a three-run fourth that put the Nationals ahead 4-0. He had been 0 for 32 at the plate in his career.
”I was kind of lucky,” Wang said.
Chris Marrero also had an RBI single in the second for Washington, which has won six of seven.
Wang also got help from his defense. The best play came at the end of the third inning, when center fielder Rick Ankiel made a running catch at the warning track with his back to the infield on a fly ball by Michael Bourn.
Drew Storen pitched the ninth for his 41st save.
Rodriguez started at catcher for the first time since July 4. The 39-year-old missed nearly two months with an oblique strain before returning in early September. He went 1 for 2 with a single, and also threw out two runners trying to steal.
The second caught stealing ended Atlanta’s only late offensive opportunity. Atlanta put runners on the corners with one out in the eighth. Bourn, who leads the majors with 58 stolen bases, tried to steal second but was cut down. Martin Prado then flied out.
Johnson called Rodriguez’s throw ”the play of the game.”
”I was surprised by it, to be honest with you,” Rodriguez said. ”I didn’t think he was going to go in that situation. The good thing is I was ready.”
Wang’s contract with Washington is up after this season. Johnson made no secret of the fact he’d like the team to re-sign the righty.
”If I’m here, he can have my salary,” Johnson said.
NOTES: Johnson said Rodriguez would also start the team’s final game Wednesday in Florida. … Atlanta LHP Mike Minor (5-2) will start in the final game of the three-game series against Nationals LHP Ross Detwiler (3-5).