Laird’s stealth tag-up helps Braves clip Nats

ATLANTA — On paper, it was a mismatch.

In one corner, a strong-armed right fielder (Jayson Werth) stood roughly 160 feet from home plate, poised for the easy catch, with his feet and hips squarely pointing to the target.

In the other corner, a stout-looking catcher (Gerald Laird) prepared for the race of his life, from third base to home plate — and without a running start.

With the score knotted at 2 in the seventh inning, and the Braves and Nationals dueling in the first of four potentially grueling games at Turner Field, that seemingly uneventful matchup of Werth From 160 Feet + Momentum vs. Laird ended up being a rout all right … in the catcher’s favor.

Just milliseconds after Andrelton Simmons’ sacrifice-fly, Werth’s post-catch throw to home plate was slightly off-line to the left, allowing Laird enough time — and space — to score the game-deciding run. And with that, he helped vault the Braves to a sterling 3-2 victory over the Nationals, before a boisterous crowd of 22,870.

“I’m not the fastest guy in the world, but I know I can get it going a little bit,” said Laird in the postgame media scrum. “Against a team like that, against a bullpen like that, you’re not going to get a lot of hits or score a lot of runs against their (main) guys. That’s just baseball: When you’ve got a chance to get a lead, take the lead in the late innings, you’ve got to go for it.”

At 16-9, the Braves stand as the National League’s premier team, despite a 3-8 mini-funk from April 17-28, which included a number of blustery weather games in Pittsburgh, Colorado and Detroit.

“I’m just glad to not be playing in the rain or when it’s 23 degrees outside,” said Braves outfielder Jordan Schafer, making a thinly veiled reference to the conditions in Detroit (wet) and Denver (below-freezing temps for days games) in the last week.

On Monday, with a game-time temperature of 72 degrees, Schafer drew three walks off Nationals ace Stephen Strasburg and collected two steals from the leadoff spot.

But Schafer’s lone official at-bat for the night, against Washington reliever Tyler Clippard in the crucial seventh, was paramount to the win, as he fought off an inside fastball for a single to right field, pushing Laird (who had walked earlier) to third base.

After that hit, Laird didn’t have enough steam to score from second base. But that wouldn’t be a problem a few minutes later, when he tagged up and scored the game-winner off Simmons’ medium-range sacrifice fly to Werth.

“(Third base coach Brian Snitker) kept saying, ‘You gotta go, you gotta go!’ And I know you’ve got to take a chance there,” said Laird, recalling the brief seconds of Simmons’ sac fly getting air time. “And I liked our chances to score there. … (Werth) had to make a perfect throw to get me.”

Monday’s victory for Atlanta, which halted a four-game slide, was far from a flawless performance. In fact, it was a weird outing altogether for both clubs, with Nats runners getting picked off first (Denard Span), picked off second (Chad Tracy) … and Braves slugger Dan Uggla (2 for 3 on the night) getting thrown out at third base after Laird’s RBI single in the 4th.

For the sake of the fleet-footed Laird, though, no one was thrown out at home.