Braves 5, Nationals 1
Kris Medlen understood the enormity of his latest start and he delivered.
The Braves starter pitched seven shutout innings in his latest winning performance and Martin Prado's two-run double proved decisive to help Atlanta end a four-game losing streak with a 5-1 victory over the Washington Nationals on Wednesday night.
Medlen (5-1) allowed seven hits while striking out seven and walking one in his fifth start of the season. The Braves have won 16 consecutive starts behind the right-hander dating back to May 2010.
More importantly, Atlanta salvaged the three-game divisional series and halted the Nationals three-game winning streak. The Braves, who entered the day atop the National League wild card chase, moved within six games of the NL East leading Nationals.
''If nothing else, we get a chance to just go, `Phew,'' said Braves third baseman Chipper Jones following the win and before the team heads off to face San Francisco. ''You know, take a deep breath and a win like this kind of rejuvenates us.
''So I think if we were heading out to the Left Coast having lost five in a row, there's always that little check in your spirit in the back of your mind ... this win allows us to take a deep breath and hopefully build some momentum going out West.''
Coming off a shutout in his last outing, Medlen extended his scoreless streak to 21 innings. Since entering the Braves rotation on July 31, the Medlen is 4-0 with a 0.84 ERA.
''Yes, I guess you can call it the biggest game of my career just because we needed a stop and I was up to the challenge, and I just tried to challenge the hitters,'' Medlen said.
Prado's fifth-inning double gave the Braves an early 2-0 lead. After the Nationals cut the lead in half in the eighth, the Braves pulled away with three runs in the ninth.
The Nationals scored an unearned run against the Braves bullpen after Medlin exited following 103 pitches. Bryce Harper opened the eighth with an opposite field single against reliever Eric O'Flaherty, and took second on left fielder Reed Johnson's bobble. After moving to third on Ryan Zimmerman's ground ball out, Harper scored on Michael Morse's single.
With two outs in the fifth inning and Tyler Pastornicky on first base, Ross Detwiler (7-6) walked Medlin on four pitches. Up stepped Prado, who laced a 2-2 slider toward centerfielder Harper. The rookie initially broke in on the liner which sailed over his head. Both runners scored on the double, Prado's second of the game.
''I thought I had a good read on it. He hit it off his front foot, had some spin on it,'' said Harper, who finished 1 for 4.
Two of the Braves three ninth-inning runs against Nationals reliever Tom Gorzelanny were unearned. Dave Ross' sacrifice fly scored Jones and Michael Bourn's pinch-hit RBI single plated Freddie Freeman. Bourn later stole third base and advanced home on a throwing error by Kurt Suzuki.
The Nationals had opportunities against Medlen with the best coming in the sixth. Jayson Werth opened the inning with a double to left as Prado's attempt at a diving catch came up short and the ball rolled to the wall. One out later, Zimmerman singled and Medlen walked Morse, loading the bases.
The 26-year-old Medlen hung tough, getting LaRoche out on a foul pop to first base and Desmond, a notoriously good hitter in bases-loaded situations with a grounder.
''We had the right people up at the right time, but we didn't get it done,'' Nationals manager Davey Johnson said.
With runners on the corners against Medlen in the second, Suzuki hit a grounder through the box, but with Danny Espinosa running on the pitch, Braves second baseman Pastornicky moved as well and was perfectly positioned to start a 4-3 double play.
''(Medlen) walks out there like, `I know I can get you out,''' a proud Jones said. ''He's got a few different ways to do it. What a great time for him to have a great start. We needed it bad.''
Braves closer Craig Kimbrel struck out the side in the ninth in a non-save situation.
The Nationals, who matched a franchise on Tuesday by extending their division lead to seven games, maintain a 10-5 series lead over the Braves this season. By taking two of three from both the Braves and New York Mets on the home stand, Washington picked up two games against Atlanta in the standings.
''We gained some ground and that's what we wanted to do in this series,'' Detwiler said. ''It's tough to sweep no matter who it is.''
The two sides wrap up their regular season meetings September 14-16 in Atlanta.
Notes: Pre-game showers delayed the start by 29 minutes. Before the game Washington honored the retiring Jones, who finished 1-for-4 in his final regular season game at Nationals Park. .Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez rested usual starters Brian McCann along with Bourn and Dan Uggla, who also pinch-hit in the ninth. . Atlanta opens a four-game series at San Francisco Thursday with RHP Tommy Hanson facing lefty Barry Zito. Following an off-day, Edwin Jackson starts for Washington on Friday at Philadelphia.