Gainesville preps for national tourney
ATLANTA — The Washington Nationals completed a dismal season with a glimmer of hope. The Atlanta Braves finished a promising year with a brutal final week.
Alberto Gonzalez came through with two-out, run-scoring single in the 15th inning and Washington closed its 103-loss season with a seven-game winning streak, beating the Braves 2-1 on Sunday.
Playing the longest game since the franchise moved to Washington from Montreal before the 2005 season, the Nationals became the first team in baseball history to close the season with seven straight wins after losing the first seven. Still, they finished with the worst record in baseball.
"Win or lose, that’s the kind of game you’re proud to be part of," said manager Jim Riggleman, who took over during the season and doesn’t know if he’ll be back. "I’m very proud of this team. For a team to have that kind of record and still play with that kind of intensity at the end is really great."
Atlanta, which got within two games of the wild-card lead with six remaining, finished with a season-high six-game losing streak. Logan Kensing (1-2) earned the win with two scoreless innings, striking out Brooks Conrad on a checked swing for the final out with runners at second and third.
"It was a crazy game," Chipper Jones said. "We gave the fans a little extra baseball to remember us by."
If only the Braves could forget the last six days.
Atlanta revived its playoff hopes by winning 15 of 17, but two disheartening losses to the Florida Marlins ended the Braves’ hopes. They were swept in a four-game series by hapless Washington to finish an 86-76 season — still a 14-win improvement on 2008, but third in the NL East behind Philadelphia and Florida.
"We just didn’t play well the last four games of the year," Jones said. "We expended a lot of energy getting to that point. Once we had a letdown, it was pretty evident."
Elijah Dukes started the winning rally off Boone Logan (1-1) with a one-out walk. Mike Morse flied out, but Wil Nieves and Gonzalez came through with back-to-back singles to break a tie that had stood since the seventh.
Kensing retired the first two hitters in the bottom half, but the Braves tried to rally. Omar Infante singled and Martin Prado doubled on an 0-2 pitch to bring up Conrad, who had entered the game in the 13th. The little-used infielder worked the count to 2-2, then tried to stop his swing on a pitch in the dirt.
But third base umpire Ron Kulpa ruled he went around to end the season. Conrad slammed his bat in disgust and manager Bobby Cox stared at Kulpa, trotting off the field, in disbelief.
"You hate to end the game on a check swing, which I didn’t think he swung at," Cox said. "When you’re still playing for a tie with Florida to finish second, the game meant something. We wanted to finish second. There was a purpose for playing."
The Braves jumped ahead in the sixth on Nate McLouth’s 20th homer off J.D. Martin, who went six strong innings. Washington tied it in the seventh, stringing together three straight hits off Tim Hudson. Pinch-hitter Adam Dunn had an RBI single.
Jones led off the eighth with a pinch-hit single to break an 0-for-19 slump. He finished the worst season of his career with a .264 average — exactly 100 points below his NL-leading figure from a year ago — and remained stuck on 18 homers, snapping a record-tying streak.
Jones will share the record of 20-homer seasons at the start of a career with Eddie Mathews, both doing it 14 years in a row.
Hudson went seven innings, allowing one run and seven hits in what could be his final game for the Braves. He has a $12 million mutual option for next season, but it’s hard to see the Braves doling out that kind of money when they already have five other starters under contract for next season.
The finale drew 36,307 to Turner Field, leaving the Braves’ attendance at 2,373,631 for the season — 320,650 fewer than last year, a nearly 12 percent drop and their lowest since 2003.
NOTES: Washington’s record was the franchise’s worst since a 55-107 season as the Montreal Expos in 1976. ... Braves RHP Peter Moylan extended his franchise record for most appearances, working a scoreless eighth in his 87th game of the season. More impressively, the Aussie right-hander made it through an entire year — 73 innings — without giving up a homer.