How sweep it is.
It was scoreless through the first two and a half innings. Minor was looking good in the early going, consistently hitting 92-93 on his fastball and keeping the Washington hitters off-balance. Despite not breaking through on Nats starter Gio Gonzalez, the Braves were looking like the Braves of 2010, working deep into counts (50 pitches in the first two innings) and laying off Gonzalez’s trademark sweeping curve.
Bourn worked a walk to lead off the bottom of the third for Atlanta. Following a lineout by Reed Johnson (who was in for the resting Martin Prado), Jason Heyward fouled off several pitches and poked a single past LaRoche at first, allowing Bourn to scamper all the way around to third base.
With just one out in the third, Gio Gonzalez’s 73rd pitch of the night was a fastball over the outer half that Chipper roped into left-center field. Bourn trotted from easily from first putting the Braves on the board, but Snitker held Heyward, who possibly could have scored from first on the long single. Next, Freddie fought off a 2-2 pitch to shallow left field, scoring Heyward ahead of Tyler Moore’s throw, which wasn’t cut off, allowing Chipper to move up to 2nd, where he would remain as Uggla did what Uggla does, striking out to end the third.
After one was out in the fourth, Zimmerman and Desmond reached on back-to-back hits, but Minor was able to snuff out the rally with a well-timed 6-4-3 double play ball to Simmons to end the frame. Washington broke through in the 6th as a steady rain began to fall over Turner Field. Bryce Harper hit a mistake two-strike pitch to left-center for a ground rule double. He would eventually come around to score on a bloop two-strike, two-out hit by Ian Desmond to cut the Braves lead in half at 2-1.
Gonzalez, however wouldn’t record another out on the evening, a 5-pitch walk to Chipper and a moonshot double for Freddie put runners on 2nd and 3rd with no outs in the 6th and chased the Nationals lefthander, whose bid to become the Majors first 20-game winner would have to wait at least another five more days. Craig Stammen came on for Washington, in the pouring rain, and had no idea where the ball was going, missing badly with 3 pitches to Uggla, who promptly did what Uggla does, swinging at the 3-0 and popping up to LaRoche for the first out. Ross then struck out on three pitches and Simmons grounded to second to retire the side and the Braves wasted a golden opportunity.
The bullpen took over in the 7th; Gearrin threw a perfect ninth with one strikeout. With one out in the bottom half, Bourn reached via a walk, his 3rd time on base on the evening. Johnson followed with a chopper to Zimmerman who ole’d it off his glove and then looked up into the lights where he couldn’t find the baseball allowing Bourn to scoot around to third and putting runners on first and third with only one out for Jason Heyward. Facing lefty Sean Burnett, Heyward grounded hard to LaRoche, who made a nice play, touching first to get Heyward. But LaRoche’s throw home was a bit late as Bourn slid headfirst ahead of the throw to put the lead back at 2 for Atlanta, 3-1.
An intentional walk to Chipper and a HBP to Freddie loaded the bases with two outs for Uggla, and a chance to break the game open. Davey Johnson elected to stay with the lefty Burnett to face Uggla, who reached out and poked a 2-strike pitch into left field to score 2 and push the score to 5-1 scoring Johnson and Chipper.
Avilan threw a perfect 8th, including making Harper look silly on a strikeout to end the inning. Durbin allowed a single in the ninth, but the Nats never threatened.
It’s a sweep. The division deficit is down to 5 1/2. 15 games left for the Braves; 16 games left for Washington. It’s a tall task to come back from that. With 15 games to go last year, the Braves led St. Louis by 4 1/2. So it can be done. Perhaps more importantly, the lead for the wild card is now 7 over St. Louis for the 1st spot and 8 over Los Angeles for the 2nd spot. The magic number to clinch no worse than a berth in the Wild Card play-in game is 8; the magic number to clinch that game being at home is 9. All in all, not a bad spot to be in. Off to Miami.