"We knew we had to get this one," Braves outfielder Justin Upton said. "We struggled at home [this past weekend against the Padres]. We struggled yesterday in the first two games of the series. This was a big one for us today and the guys stepped up."
Craig Kimbrel's perfect ninth inning allowed him to exorcise the demons that haunted him when he surrendered a career-high three runs in the ninth inning of Tuesday's twin bill. More importantly, it allowed the Braves to reduce their magic number to clinch the National League East to two with 10 games remaining.
While the Nationals still have a chance to claim an NL Wild Card entry, their bid to win a second straight NL East title was damaged in the process of losing 13 of the 19 games played against the Braves this season.
"We've got to learn how to finish," Upton said. "That's one thing you've got to learn how to do, to finish. Until we win these next two and this thing is over with, it's not done. So we've got to finish."
Dan Uggla began the decisive sixth inning with his first home run since July 25, and Upton capped it with a two-run shot that proved to be the third-game winning home run he hit against the Nationals this year. The sudden offensive eruption against Ross Ohlendorf, who had faced the minimum through the first five innings, occurred immediately after the usually composed Alex Wood had two fiery exchanges with home-plate umpire CB Bucknor during Washington's two-run fifth inning.
"I feel like I'm usually as composed as you could ask anyone to be out there," Wood said. "It's one of things where every now and then, this game can kind of get you. Tonight was one of those nights."
While Wood might not want to repeat his actions, they certainly seemed to provide a necessary spark to the Braves, who had slumbered while losing nine of their previous 13 games.
"I don't know if that's what happened," Wood said. "But it definitely makes me feel a little better that they scored some runs and we ended up winning the game. There is no doubt tonight was a huge win for us. Hopefully how we played the last half of that game will translate to how we play the rest of the season going into the playoffs."
Wood's eruption occurred after he battled Jayson Werth during an eight-pitch at-bat that concluded when Bucknor ruled a 3-2 fastball missed the inside edge of the plate. The resulting bases-loaded walk accounted for the game's first run and led the rookie pitcher to bounce off the mound and begin shouting at Bucknor.
Manager Fredi Gonzalez rushed toward the plate and was ejected while attempting to make sure Wood stayed in the game. But the young southpaw's night ended when Bryce Harper followed with a sacrifice fly that gave the Nationals a 2-0 lead.
As he walked toward the dugout, Wood had some more heated words for Bucknor that earned him his first career ejection.
"It definitely brought some energy to us," Upton said. "He was out there grinding for us and battling. Obviously he thought he had made the big pitch for us. It didn't happen for him. He was fired up. We knew he wanted this one and we all wanted it, so we had to go get it."
It did not appear the Braves were going to get it before Uggla drilled the first pitch of the sixth inning deep over the left-field wall. Jordan Schafer followed with a bunt single that Ohlendorf fielded and then shot-putted down the right-field line. This sequence of events quickly shifted the momentum in the favor of the Braves.
Uggla's home run was his first in a span of 101 at-bats dating back to July 25. His struggles since returning from LASIK surgery in late August had kept him out of the starting lineup for eight of the previous nine games. But the veteran second baseman showed some promise while notching a hit in each of the three games played during this series.
"We've seen him get hot, and hopefully, he's getting hot at the right time," Gonzalez said.