Fredi Gonzalez said after Sunday's loss his slumping team was "fine." But if it loses one more game, and the Cardinals win one more, Atlanta's NL Wild Card lead will be gone.
WASHINGTON — Even after his Braves' latest feeble offensive display helped cut their once-hefty lead over the Cardinals in the NL wild-card race to one game, Atlanta manager Fredi Gonzalez insisted that his players are loose.
"They're fine," Gonzalez said.
Sure didn't look that way Sunday.
The four hitters at the top of Atlanta's lineup — Michael Bourn, Martin Prado, Chipper Jones and Dan Uggla — went a combined 0 for 16 with five strikeouts, and the Braves lost for the 10th time in 15 games, 3-0 to the Washington Nationals.
"This was a very brutal loss for us," said rookie first baseman Freddie Freeman, who produced one of Atlanta's four singles off Ross Detwiler (4-5) and three Nationals relievers.
The last 15 Braves batters made outs, seven on strikeouts. Atlanta has scored a total of one run in its past three defeats.
Boston splits DH with Yanks, maintains one-game WC lead
NEW YORK — The Red Sox salvaged their AL wild-card lead Sunday when Jacoby Ellsbury hit a three-run homer in the 14th inning of the nightcap of a day-night doubleheader, lifting Boston over the New York Yankees 7-4.
The Red Sox rallied from a 3-0 deficit to snap a four-game skid and head into their final series with a one-game lead over Tampa Bay.
Boston held a nine-game lead over the Rays entering play Sept. 4 but has gone 5-16 since. Up by 1½ games to start the day, the Red Sox nearly wasted that entire lead after losing the opener 6-2 despite Ellsbury's two homers.
Boston finishes in Baltimore, while Tampa Bay hosts the Yankees, who already have clinched the AL's best record and homefield advantage through the AL championship series.
Ellsbury homered off Scott Proctor (0-2) after a single and a walk.
Franklin Morales (1-1) pitched two innings for the win. Felix Doubront, recalled on Sept. 1, finished the 5-hour, 11-minute game for his first save since August 2010.
In the opener, A.J. Burnett (11-11) made his most impressive start in nearly three months and Jorge Posada hit a two-run homer for the Yankees. Ellsbury connected twice to become the first player in Red Sox history to reach 30 homers and 30 stolen bases in a season.
Tim Wakefield (7-8) dropped to 1-5 in his last 10 starts.
Derek Jeter had three hits to lift his average to .300 at the end of the game for the first time since April 2.
Rays 5, Blue Jays 2
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — B.J. Upton and Ben Zobrist homered in the first inning to back Wade Davis (11-10).
Evan Longoria and Kelly Shoppach also homered for the Rays, who have closed the gap with Boston despite going 14-10 in September. Joel Peralta finished for his sixth save.
Tampa Bay closes at home against the Yankees, while the Red Sox play at Baltimore.
Athletics 6, Angels 5
ANAHEIM, Calif. — Rookie closer Jordan Walden (5-3) wasted a 5-2 lead in the ninth inning, throwing away a potential game-ending grounder. The defeat left the Angels three games behind Boston and two back of Tampa Bay.
Josh Willingham homered leading off the ninth and, after a pair of singles, Walden threw Adam Rosales' comebacker past shortstop Erick Aybar and into center. Kurt Suzuki followed with a tying double, and Coco Crisp's second sacrifice fly put the A's ahead.
Fautino De Los Santos (3-2) allowed Peter Bourjos' two-run single in the eighth, and Andrew Bailey pitched a hitless ninth for his 23rd save.
There were two key innings that stood out Sunday: In the third, the Braves loaded the bases with no outs; in the fifth, they had men on second and third with none out.
And they wound up with nothing to show for it, either time.
"Since it's crunch time, there's a little bit of added pressure there," Uggla said. "You need to get those runs in or more than likely it's going to come back to haunt you. ... Right now, these next three games, we've got to get it done."
That won't necessarily be easy for the Braves, who led the Cardinals by 10 1-2 games on Aug. 26.
Atlanta finishes the regular season with a three-game home series starting Monday against Cliff Lee and the NL East champion Philadelphia Phillies.
"Somehow," Freeman said, "you've got to put it behind you and do your best to come out and try to beat Cliff Lee tomorrow."
St. Louis, meanwhile, closes with three games at the Houston Astros, who have the majors' worst record. The Cardinals beat the Chicago Cubs 3-2 on Sunday, their 15th victory in 20 games.
"Every missed opportunity in September — it's big," Gonzalez said.
His hitters failed to produce in the clutch Sunday.
The chance in the third came via David Ross' single and some serious wildness by Detwiler, who walked No. 8 hitter Jack Wilson and then opposing pitcher Mike Minor (5-3).
All told, Detwiler threw eight consecutive pitches that were called balls, going to a 3-0 count on leadoff hitter Bourn — with nowhere to put him.
After finally putting one pitch over the plate for a called strike — and drawing sarcastic cheers from the crowd of 37,638 at Nationals Park — Detwiler got Bourn to fly out to left in foul territory. Bearing down some more, Detwiler got out of the inning unscathed: Prado hit a fly to right that wasn't deep enough for Ross to try to tag up and head for home, before Jones grounded out.
The bottom of the order gave the Braves another opportunity to score two innings later, but again they came away with nothing to show for it.
Ross led off with an infield single, Wilson singled to center, and Minor moved them up with a sacrifice bunt — putting runners at second and third with one out. But Bourn lined out to second and Prado flied out.
Detwiler went six innings, allowing four hits and two walks while striking out four.
"He grew up a lot today," Nationals manager Davey Johnson said.
Henry Rodriguez replaced Detwiler in the seventh and was rather impressive, regularly reaching 100 or 101 mph and striking out all three batters he faced. He got pinch hitter Jason Heyward swinging at a 100 mph fastball, Ross on a two-strike foul bunt on a 101 mph offering, and Wilson looking at an 88 mph slider with a ton of movement.
Tyler Clippard pitched the eighth, and closer Drew Storen got the last three outs for his 42nd save in 47 chances.
"It makes us feel really good and the other teams really scared," Clippard said of the trio of relievers. "They don't want to face Henry throwing 100 and so on and so forth."
Wilson Ramos homered off Minor in the fourth, and Michael Morse hit the 29th homer of his breakout season — a two-run shot — off reliever Cristhian Martinez in the seventh. Morse got a curtain call afterward, the first of his career.
With nothing more at stake than a third-place finish, the Nationals have played well down the stretch, winning 12 of 15 games. That includes taking two of three from the struggling Braves.
"Any time you play teams in your division — I don't care when it is, April, May, September — there's a pride factor going on out there," Johnson said. "Especially in this homestead against Atlanta: They're playing for all the marbles."
NOTES: Braves RHP Kris Medlen came on in relief in the eighth inning, his first appearance since Aug. 4, 2010. Medlen had reconstructive elbow surgery later that month and came off the disabled list Saturday. ... Braves INF Alex Gonzalez was out of the lineup with a strained right calf muscle for the fourth consecutive game. He said he might be able to play Monday. ... The Braves will send RHP Randall Delgado (1-1) to the mound Monday against Lee (16-8).