ATLANTA — Mike Minor threw six strong innings, Dan Uggla broke it open with a two-run single and the Atlanta Braves denied Gio Gonzalez his 20th win, completing a sweep of the first-place Washington Nationals 2-1 on Sunday night.
Minor (9-10) allowed five hits before turning it over to the bullpen. Cory Gearrin, Luis Avilan and Chad Durbin each worked a scoreless inning to close it out.
The Braves broke a scoreless tie in the third against Gonzalez (19-8) on Chipper Jones’ single. Freddie Freeman added a sacrifice fly.
Washington closed to 2-1 on Ian Desmond’s RBI single in the sixth, but the Braves pulled away with a three-run seventh, taking advantage of an error by third baseman Ryan Zimmerman. Michael Bourn scored on a groundout and Uggla came through with his two-out hit.
The Nationals’ lead in the NL East was reduced to 5½ games. Washington is still in a fairly comfortable position with just over two weeks left in the season, but the Braves at least gave themselves hope in the race.
Atlanta’s sweep solidified its return to the playoffs after a historic collapse in the final month last season. The Braves maintained a seven-game lead over the second wild-card spot, held by St. Louis, and are eight games up on the next club in the race, the Los Angeles Dodgers. It would take a more epic meltdown than even 2011 to squander that lead with only 15 games left.
Gonzalez was trying to become the first 20-game winner for the Montreal-Washington franchise since Ross Grimsley in 1978, when the team called Canada home. But the Braves ran up his pitch count by showing patience at the plate, making it difficult for him just to get through the required five innings.
The left-hander struggled to make it to the sixth, but was lifted after Jones led off with a walk and Freeman doubled. Craig Stammen got out of the mess. Uggla popped out, David Ross struck out and Andrelton Simmons ended the threat with a weak grounder to second base.
But the Braves blew it open the next inning, using Bourn’s speed and Zimmerman’s fielding blunder. Bourn walked with one out, then Reed Johnson hit a chopper to third that bounced off Zimmerman’s left arm. The ball deflected a few feet away into foul territory, while Zimmerman looked around desperately, unsure where it was.
He finally spotted it, but not quick enough to get Bourn hustling into third. Sean Burnett came on the face Jason Heyward, who grounded to Adam LaRoche at first base. He stepped on the bag and quickly threw home, but it was a bit up the line, allowing Bourn to slide around the tag. After Jones was walked intentionally and Freeman was hit by a pitch, Uggla drove in two more runs with a single to left.
It began raining midway through the game, and there was a slight delay after the sixth while the grounds crew feverishly worked on the mound and around the bases, smoothing out some dry dirt. The showers passed, and the game went on without any further delays.