Braves 5, Nationals 1
The Atlanta Braves gave themselves a glimmer of hope in the NL
Hey, after what happened to these guys a year ago, they’re not
giving up on chasing down the first-place Washington Nationals.
Mike Minor threw six strong innings, Dan Uggla broke it open
with a two-run single and the Braves denied Gio Gonzalez his 20th
win, completing a sweep of Washington with a 5-1 victory Sunday
night. Atlanta closed within 5 1-2 games of the Nationals with a
little over two weeks left in the regular season.
”There’s still a lot of baseball left,” Atlanta manager Fredi
Gonzalez said. ”Who knows what could happen? We’ve just got to
keep playing and keep winning ballgames.”
The Braves certainly know anything is possible. Last season,
they had a double-figure lead in the wild-card race with a month to
go – and blew it. St. Louis passed Atlanta on the final day and
rubbed salt in the wound by winning an improbable World Series
”Look what happened to us last year,” Uggla said. ”We’re back
in the hunt. We still need a little bit of magic, but we’ll see
Minor (9-10) allowed five hits before turning it over to the
bullpen. The left-hander had an ERA of 6.20 at the end of June, but
he’s pitched brilliantly since then to become a valued member of
the rotation with the playoffs approaching. He had not allowed a
run in his two previous starts, covering 12 2-3 innings, and he
kept the Nationals off the board until the sixth, lowering his ERA
”I made my goals a little more realistic,” Minor said. ”At
the beginning of the year, I wanted to pitch a shutout or a
no-hitter every time I went out there. Now, I know if I get through
six innings and give up three runs or less, it’s a good day.”
The Braves broke a scoreless tie in the third against Gonzalez
(19-8) on Chipper Jones’ run-scoring single. Freddie Freeman
followed with a sacrifice fly.
Washington closed to 2-1 on Ian Desmond’s RBI single in the
sixth, but the Braves pulled away with a three-run seventh, taking
advantage of an error by third baseman Ryan Zimmerman. Michael
Bourn used his speed to score without a ball being hit out of the
infield, and Uggla came through with his two-out hit.
Cory Gearrin, Luis Avilan and Chad Durbin each worked a
scoreless inning to close it out for Atlanta.
The Nationals are still in fairly comfortable position, but the
Braves are at least making the leaders sweat a bit.
”Just turn the page,” Gonzalez said. ”I still feel confident
with my team.”
More noteworthy for Atlanta, the sweep came after three straight
losses in Milwaukee rekindled memories of last year’s collapse. The
Braves maintained a seven-game lead over the second wild-card spot,
held by St. Louis, and are eight games up on the next club in the
race, the Los Angeles Dodgers. It would take a more epic meltdown
than even 2011 to squander that advantage with only 15 games to
”Playing this kind of baseball gives us a chance to achieve the
goal we set in spring training, and that’s to play in a World
Series,” said Jones, who is retiring after the season.
Gonzalez was trying to become the first 20-game winner for the
Montreal-Washington franchise since Ross Grimsley in 1978, when the
team called Canada home. But the Braves ran up his pitch count by
showing patience at the plate, making it difficult for him just to
get through the required five innings.
The left-hander struggled into the sixth, but was lifted after
Jones led off with a walk and Freeman doubled. Craig Stammen got
out of the mess. Uggla popped out, David Ross struck out and
Andrelton Simmons ended the threat with a weak grounder to second
”Obviously Gio had a little problem locating the strike zone,”
manager Davey Johnson said. ”He had a whole bunch of pitches but I
wanted to give him every chance to win 20.”
The Braves blew it open the next inning, using Bourn’s speed and
Zimmerman’s fielding blunder. Bourn walked with one out, then Reed
Johnson hit a chopper to third that bounced off Zimmerman’s left
arm. The ball deflected a few feet away into foul territory, while
Zimmerman looked around desperately, unsure where it was.
He finally spotted it, but not quick enough to get Bourn
hustling into third. Sean Burnett came on to face Jason Heyward,
who grounded to Adam LaRoche at first base. He stepped on the bag
and quickly threw home, but it was a bit up the line, allowing
Bourn to slide around the tag. After Jones was walked intentionally
and Freeman was hit by a pitch, Uggla drove in two more runs with a
single to left.
”We had three tough at-bats when Stammen came in, and mine was
probably the worst,” said Uggla, who swung at a 3-0 pitch that was
probably ball four. ”It was awesome to get another opportunity –
and especially to come through.”
It began raining midway through the game, and there was a slight
delay after the sixth while the grounds crew feverishly worked on
the mound and around the bases, smoothing out some dry dirt. The
showers passed, and the game went on without any further
Notes: Nationals 2B Danny Espinosa was lifted for a pinch-hitter
in the ninth because of lingering weakness in his left shoulder.
The shoulder has been bothering him for about a week, and he’s
scheduled to see a doctor on Monday, when Washington is off. …
The Nationals outhit the Braves 6-5. … Atlanta will travel to
Miami on Monday to begin a three-game series with the Marlins. Tim
Hudson (14-6) goes against Miami’s Wade LeBlanc (2-4).
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