Aug 10, 2014; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Alex Wood (40) delivers a pitch to a Washington Nationals center fielder Denard Span (2) in the first inning of their game at Turner Field. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Alex Wood tosses gem as Braves claim series from Nationals

Nothing less than a series win was acceptable.

That was the mentality the Atlanta Braves had when they started the rubber game against the Washington Nationals on Sunday night. ESPN picked up the game as the national broadcast, and fans of solid pitching weren’t disappointed. Alex Wood and Gio Gonzalez took the hill for their respective clubs, and Wood was the guy who came out on top in a 3-1 victory.

Wood pitched 7.1 innings, gave up just five hits and just one earned run. He also notched a career best with twelve strikeouts in the game, many of which helped him escape innings with runners on base, and his pitch count of 124 offerings also served as a career high.

Gio Gonzalez didn’t have the same level of stuff as the aforementioned Wood. Gonzalez only was able to finish 4.2 innings, allowing two runs on six hits with four walks. He was less sharp than his younger counterpart, but he managed damage control fairly well for a guy that didn’t have his best pitches on display.

The Braves certainly weren’t running away with the game, having only a 2-1 lead when he exited. The Nationals could easily go to the bullpen faster than the Braves, given that the Braves had to go five deep in the bullpen in the prior night’s loss. Washington’s bullpen seemed to be cruising until the eighth, when they gave up a key insurance run to make it 3-1 Braves.

Previous to that insurance run, the scoring came on a Justin Upton homer in the fourth, and a Jason Heyward infield single in the fifth with two outs. Even though the Nationals took the original lead 1-0 on an Ian Desmond homer in the fourth, the Braves didn’t take long to take that lead back. That’s been rare during the long losing streak where even small deficits have felt like insurmountable odds. The final run for Atlanta was due to an Evan Gattis bloop single to right that scored Chris Johnson, and a little breathing room never hurts for the closer.

The Braves had Craig Kimbrel in their back pocket, and Fredi Gonzalez called on him to finish off the series victory. If the save on Friday night for Kimbrel was gigantic, this one qualified as simply huge. Every game with the Nationals for the rest of the year is going to be large, considering it’s a two game swing in the race win or lose. Still, saving a game with only a one run lead after losing eight in a row? That’s a little bigger than saving a game with a two run lead to win a series. I believe Craig thrives off the pressure, so I was a little concerned that the insurance run may make Craig sloppy.

I shouldn’t have been worried.

Kimbrel came into the game with guns blazing, and he mowed down Bryce Harper with a strikeout to delight the Braves faithful. After inducing two more groundouts, the game was over and the Braves had won the series to climb within 3.5 games of Washington in the NL East race.

The game MVP can’t go to anyone else than Alex Wood. In a game where the Braves absolutely needed their starter to both go deep in the game and give the team a good chance to win, Wood did both of those things with panache. I really like the way he’s growing up before our eyes as a starter, and I’m hoping we can see more games like this out of him in the near future.

The home stand doesn’t get any easier after the Nationals. The NL-leading Los Angeles Dodgers are up next on Monday. Julio Teheran will face off against Kevin Correia, hopefully controlling that four game series by winning the pivotal first game. Don’t miss it!

Tags: Atlanta Braves

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