WASHINGTON (AP)—The Atlanta Braves have forced their way into the playoff picture unburdened by the usual late-season nerves and anxieties. They threw all that stuff out long ago, back when they were so far behind they thought they were pretty much out of it.
Playing confident and free with nothing to lose—and with the breaks falling their way—the Braves completed a three-game sweep of the Washington Nationals with a 6-3 victory in 10 innings Sunday, their sixth win in a row and 14th in 16 games.
“It’s got to the point now where we’ve got so much faith in the team that no one wants to be that last out, or no one wants to be the guy that is responsible for the loss,” said reliever Peter Moylan(notes), who worked out of huge jam in the seventh. “It’s a lot of fun, and we’re just going to keep hoping things fall our way.”
A couple of weak choppers that bounced into no man’s land between the pitcher’s mound and first base helped spur a three-run rally in the 10th for the Braves, who remained 2 1/2 games behind Colorado in the race for the NL wild card. Atlanta now gets to finish the season at home with three against the Florida Marlins and four more against the Nationals, who on Sunday lost for the 103rd time this season.
“You’re just riding that wave of momentum we created for ourselves over the two weeks,” said Chipper Jones(notes), who had two infield hits and scored after both of them. “It’s big to be at home. We feel good about our chances. The Marlins coming in a little down, obviously, and the Nationals are not playing their best baseball, so it’s right in front of us.
“We know that our margin of error is very small and if we lose a game or two, we’re more than likely done, but right now it seems like we do whatever we have to on a daily basis to get a win.”
With one out in the 10th, Mike MacDougal(notes) (1-1) walked Nate McLouth(notes) and hit Martin Prado(notes) with a 96-mph fastball. Jones and Brian McCann(notes) then hit the back-to-back choppers. Jones beat his out to load the bases, and McCann’s turned into an RBI groundout.
“A little soft spot in the defense,” Jones said with a smile. “Just trying to exploit it.”
Omar Infante(notes) followed with a two-run single to center to score Prado and Jones, giving the Braves their 10th straight road win, their longest such streak in more than 15 years. Mike Gonzalez(notes) (5-4) picked up the win, and Rafael Soriano(notes) pitched the 10th for his 27th save.
“Winning is all about confidence, I don’t care what people say,” said starter Derek Lowe(notes), who allowed three runs in six innings. “We believe we’re going to win. We believe we’re going to find ways to win and that’s ultimately a huge reason why we are where we are.”
Lowe said one danger for the Braves is that they’ll tighten up now that they’re in striking distance.
“What you don’t want to have happen is: ‘Now we’re getting closer, let’s try to play differently,”’ Lowe said.
The loss guaranteed the Nationals a worse record than last year’s 59-102 team—and they still have to face the Braves again.
“It was a 3-2 ballgame almost the whole game,” interim manager Jim Riggleman said. “I’m not stupid; you can play a lot of close games and be a bad ballclub. But the difference between us and the other clubs is not that wide a gap. … We just made some mistakes.”
What the Nationals did was hit three solo homers and go 0 for 8 with runners in scoring position. Elijah Dukes(notes) popped out with two outs and the bases loaded in the third. Willie Harris(notes) singled to lead off the fifth and tripled to lead off the seventh; he didn’t score either time. A pinch-hit single to open the ninth was wasted, in part because of a lousy bunt attempt. Josh Willingham’s(notes) decision to throw to the wrong base—third instead of second—after a flyout in the fourth wiped out a potential double play and essentially allowed the Braves to score two runs to tie the game.
It was Moylan who stranded Harris after the leadoff triple in the seventh. Moylan, making his franchise record-tying 84th appearance of the season, got Ian Desmond(notes) to ground out to first with the infield in. He then intentionally walked Ryan Zimmerman(notes) before striking out Willingham and Dukes—both looking.
“I don’t want to sound like a cliche guy, but I just said to myself, ‘This is our season; this is what it’s going to come down to.’ We’ve been good for so long, the last couple of months, and let’s not get overanxious and just make the pitches,” Moylan said. “I was able to do it.”
NOTES: Zimmerman and Willingham homered on back-to-back pitches in the first. … The Nationals’ other home run was hit by Mike Morse(notes), his second of the season and second in two days. … Moylan tied the Braves appearance record set by Chris Reitsma(notes) in 2004. … The Braves’ road winning streak is their longest since April 4-17, 1994. … Atlanta also completed a perfect road trip of six or more games for the first time since June 2001.