The Braves seldom have been happier to celebrate a walk-off win than Saturday, when B.J. Upton shook off his season-long woes and delivered in the 10th inning.
Upton hit a broken-bat single to right field with one out, scoring pinch-runner Jordan Schafer from second to give the Braves a thrilling 2-1 win before a boisterous crowd of 46,910 at Turner Field.
“Most importantly, we got a win,” Upton said. “We’ve had a couple of guys get big hits for us this year. I’m just glad that I was the one tonight.”
Upton, who came in batting a majors-worst .145, had two of the Braves’ five hits including a single in the third inning when the Braves scored their other run.
“That’s big,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said of the center fielder’s big night. “I thought he had good at-bats the whole game. That’s good for a guy who’s been getting beat up the last few weeks. This is good for him, especially at home to get the crowd behind him, and hopefully that catapults him for two or three months.”
Tim Hudson righted his own recently listing ship by pitching 7-1/3 innings of three-hit ball with only one unearned run, and the Braves veteran couldn’t have cared less about not getting a decision in the dramatic win.
“Man, it was a great game,” Hudson said. “It was fun. Awesome. B.J. came up with a huge hit right there. I know it’s something that he’s really proud of, and so are we. It was a big win for us. This is a game that you look back in September and think, man, if we could have just squeaked out that one-run game right there. And we were able to do it.”
Evan Gattis ranks among league leaders with 12 homers and six game-winning RBIs, and Nationals reliever Henry Rodriguez walked him on four pitches to start the 10th inning. Ramiro Pena then popped out foul on a bunt before Schafer stole second with Dan Uggla batting.
Uggla worked the count full and walked to bring up Upton, and the big crowd chanted, “B.J.!, B.J.!” a far different reaction than the boos he heard earlier Saturday and in recent weeks.
“That’s pretty cool,” Upton said of the reaction. “At that point you’ve got to try to block it out and focus on the at-bat. That’s what I did. Got a decent pitch and was just praying that it fell.”
After taking a first-pitch ball, Upton hit an opposite-field single to shallow right, and the Braves tumbled out of the dugout and raced to the infield to mob him after Schafer slid home just ahead of the tag.
“It was a little crazy, man,” Upton said of being the center of a walk-off celebration for the first time as a Brave. “We’ve got a crazy bunch of guys. But overall it was pretty fun.”
Braves closer Craig Kimbrel worked out of a severe jam in the ninth inning, when the Nationals had two runners in scoring position with none out after Ryan Zimmerman’s broken-bat flare single and Adam LaRoche’s double.
With no wiggle room to speak of, Kimbrel struck out Ian Desmond and got Roger Bernadina on a fielder’s-choice grounder to third baseman Chris Johnson, who fielded the one-hopper and made a good throw to the plate for the out.
The big crowd roared, and the decibel level rose yet again when Danny Espinosa flied out to end the inning.
Reed Johnson led off the Braves’ ninth with a pinch-hit single, but Justin Upton’s recent struggles continued as he struck out for the second time on an 0-for-4 night. Freddie Freeman then lined out to second base, and Johnson was doubled off first to end the inning.
The Braves got the bounce-back performance they hoped for from Hudson, who allowed three hits and one walk with four strikeouts. He got no decision while lowering his ERA to 0.84 in three starts against the Nationals this season.
Hudson had been 0-3 with an 8.69 ERA in his past four starts, lasting five innings or fewer in three. But the 37-year-old pitcher had started only once at home since May 5, and he’s been a far better pitcher this season at Turner Field.
The right-hander is 3-0 with a 2.39 ERA in six home starts, compared with 1-4 with a 7.67 ERA in six road starts. He hasn’t allowed more than three earned runs in any home start, and has worked 6 2/3 innings or more in four of six.