ATLANTA — Freddie Freeman insists the NL East race is far from over.
The Atlanta Braves are 6½ games out of the division lead with 16 games to play, but Freeman believes they still have a good chance to catch the Washington Nationals.
“I mean have they won the division yet?” Freeman said. “No, they haven’t. So obviously we do.”
Pinch-runner Jeff Baker scored the go-ahead run in the eighth inning when reliever Ryan Mattheus hit Andrelton Simmons’ uniform with a bases-loaded pitch that helped Atlanta beat the Nationals 5-4 on Saturday.
Jason Heyward and Freeman homered for the Braves, who have won the first two games in the series and nine of 13.
The Braves beat Washington 2-1 on Friday when Simmons scored on a throwing error in the ninth inning.
Atlanta began the day with a seven-game lead over third-place Los Angeles in the NL wild-card race, but Heyward said the team’s focus is on passing the Nationals in the standings.
“I feel like the last two times we’ve played them we’ve done better,” Heyward said. “We’ve taken strides and just tried to hang in there and keep battling.”
Braves closer Craig Kimbrel earned his 36th save in 39 ties after striking out the side. After pinch-runner Eury Perez stole second and made it to third on catcher J.P. Boscan’s throwing error, Kimbrel struck out Stephen Lombardozzi and pinch-hitter Tyler Moore to end it.
Eric O’Flaherty (3-0) faced the minimum in the eighth for Atlanta, extending his scoreless innings streak to 19 1-3 innings, a span of 22 games.
Tommy Hanson, who is winless in his last six starts, allowed four hits and four runs – two earned – with one walk and seven strikeouts in five innings for the Braves.
With the game tied 4-4 in the eighth, David Ross led off the eighth with a single off Mattheus and moved to second one out later when Uggla walked. Baker pinch-ran for Ross before Chipper Jones walked to load the bases.
Mattheus hit Simmons’ uniform to give Simmons an RBI when Baker scored to make it 5-4.
“I just couldn’t fine the (strike) zone,” Mattheus said. “I just couldn’t throw strikes. That’s inexcusable. I didn’t give us a chance to win that game.”
Nationals manager Davey Johnson was ejected for the first time this season for arguing what appeared to be a blown call in the sixth that led to Atlanta scoring two runs to make it 4-all.
Washington starting pitcher Edwin Jackson knocked down Martin Prado’s liner, picked up the ball off the mound and threw to first baseman Adam LaRoche.
First-base umpire Marvin Hudson ruled that Jackson’s throw pulled LaRoche right foot off the bag, but television replays showed that likely wasn’t the case and that Prado should’ve been called out.
Johnson was upset that Hudson refused to ask another umpire for help in making sure the call was correct.
“I’ve got old eyes and I could see it,” Johnson said. “I thought he overreacted. He wasn’t going to get any help. It was a big run.”
Jackson was charged with a throwing error on the play, and Heyward, the next batter, made it 4-all with his 27th homer, a two-run shot.
Jackson gave up four hits and four runs <0x2014> three earned <0x2014> with one walk and seven strikeouts in 5 1-3 innings.
LaRoche hit his 30th homer, a two-run shot off Hanson, to make it 2-0 in the first.
The Nationals went up 4-0 in the second on two errors by the Braves.
After Jesus Flores walked with one out, Steve Lombardozzi reached when Freeman fielded his grounder near first, juggled the ball while considering a throw to second and was late to the getting to the bag.
Jackson followed with a bunt single that Hanson fielded in front of the mound. Hanson threw errantly to first and allowed both runners to score.
In the bottom of the third, Dan Uggla made it 4-1 with an RBI double.
Freeman’s 20th homer, a solo shot in the fourth, cut the lead to 4-2. Freeman tripled in the third and singled in the sixth.
“(Washington) is the No. 1 team in the National League,” Freeman said. “We’re playing them tough. We’ve beaten them twice now, so we’ve got a chance to sweep them tomorrow.”
Jonny Venters pitched the next 1 2-3 innings for Atlanta. Peter Moylan relieved him with pinch-runner Roger Bernadina at first. Moylan gave up a single to Jayson Werth that advanced Bernadina to third.
Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez brought in Luis Avilan, who ended the threat with one pitch when Freeman fielded Bryce Harper’s grounder and threw to second for the forceout.
Tom Gorzelanny got the final two outs of the sixth for Washington. Christian Garcia retired two batters in the seventh, but had runners on first and third when Mike Gonzalez entered and struck out Heyward.
“This team has had success against us over the past few years, regardless of where they’ve been in the standings,” Heyward said. “This year is no different.”