Following Friday night's thrilling victory at Turner Field, the Braves erased an early deficit Saturday and proved patient enough in the eighth inning to make another statement with a 5-4 win over the Nationals.
The Braves moved another step toward clinching a National League Wild Card entry with the assistance of the home runs by Heyward and Freddie Freeman, who finished a double short of the cycle. But the decisive eighth inning was aided by two walks and the Ryan Mattheus pitch that grazed Andrelton Simmons' jersey with the bases loaded.
Less than 24 hours after scoring the winning run courtesy on Ian Desmond's errant ninth-inning throw, Simmons worked the count to 2-2 before Mattheus' fastball came just a hair too far inside. The Nats reliever allowed the Braves to load the bases courtesy of consecutive one-out walks to Dan Uggla and Chipper Jones after a leadoff single by David Ross, who was removed for pinch-runner Jeff Baker.
Even with the two wins to open this series, the Braves are 6 1/2 games behind the Nationals in the NL East race with 16 games left to play.
Since losing 10 of the first 14 games played in this season series, the Braves have won three straight games against the Nationals. If they hold on to their sizable lead in the NL Wild Card standings, this could prove important from a psychological standpoint if these two teams meet again in the postseason.
While the Braves were satisfied by strengthening their postseason hopes, the Nationals were upset about how the tide of this game changed after first-base umpire Marvin Hudson ruled first baseman Adam LaRoche's foot came off the bag as he stretched to catch a throw from Nationals starter Edwin Jackson in the sixth inning after the pitcher bobbled a comebacker off the bat of Martin Prado.
The mild-mannered LaRoche had a few words with the umpire before manager Davey Johnson had a heated argument that resulted in his ejection. Moments later, Heyward added to Jackson's woes by drilling a towering, game-tying two-run home run over the right-center-field wall.
All of the damage Jackson incurred in the first five innings came courtesy of Freeman, who got his three-hit day started shortly after getting upset at himself for not recording an in the ugly second inning that allowed the Nationals to build a 4-0 lead.
After Braves starter Tommy Hanson walked Jesus Flores in the second inning, Freeman fielded Steve Lombardozzi grounder and was set to throw to second base before he could not get a grip on the baseball. This allowed Lombardozzi enough time to reach safely. Jackson followed with a sacrifice bunt that Hanson fielded before slipping and making an errant throw that allowed both Flores and Lombardozzi to score.
Freeman tripled to begin the bottom of the second inning and scored on an Uggla double. One inning later, he moved closer to his first three-hit game since Aug. 1 with a solo homer. Two innings later, Heyward hit the home run that tied the game and kept the Braves' division hopes alive for at least one more day.
----- Source: MLB.com
Pinch-runner Jeff Baker scores what turned out to be the winning run.
- Photo2 by Tim Evearitt