Strider gets 20th win as Braves beat Nationals
ATLANTA (AP) — Marcell Ozuna hit a go-ahead, three-run homer in the fifth inning, Spencer Strider shook off a shaky first inning to get his 20th win and the major league-leading Atlanta Braves beat the Washington Nationals 5-3 on Saturday night.
“It's amazing, he's amazing," Ozuna said of Strider. "Thank God for giving me the opportunity and the blessing to allow him to do that."
Strider, the MLB leader in strikeouts and victories, got off to a rough start with a 36-pitch, three-run first inning. He settled down to finish with seven strikeouts on 94 pitches — 57 strikes — in five innings.
“I just tried to keep us in the game,” Strider said. “Like I've said so many times before, if you give (the Braves' offense) a chance, they're going to turn it on at some point, and they did today.”
Ronald Acuña Jr. doubled to begin the fifth and scored on Ozzie Albies’ single. Matt Olson followed with a single to set the stage for Ozuna's 38th homer, which set a career high and sailed 432 feet to center field to put the Braves up 5-3.
Heading to their last regular-season game, the Braves need three homers to break the MLB record of 307 set by the 2019 Minnesota Twins.
The Nationals took a 3-0 lead in the first. CJ Abrams singled, stole second base and scored on Keibert Ruiz's double. Ruiz scored from second on Joey Meneses' single, and Meneses scored from second on Luis García's double.
“I thought we’d score some more runs," Washington manager Dave Martinez said. "But he’s a good pitcher, as we all know. We jumped out early, got three runs. But it’s about not being able to get more than four (innings) from (Joan) Adon. The pitch count gets up there on him, and we have to go to the bullpen right away.”
Atlanta got on the board in the third, trimming the lead to 3-1, when Acuña walked, stole second and scored on Austin Riley’s single to left.
Strider (20-5) was charged with three runs, six hits and three walks. He attributed his victory total to the many contributions from his teammates.
“It's a team stat for sure,” Strider said. “In some of those games, I didn't contribute a large amount to us winning, but for whatever reason my teammates like me enough to score some runs. I think that's two years ago this organization has had a 20-game winner (Kyle Wright last season). That's a reflection of the organization, the lineup and just the team in general."
Pierce Johnson struck out the side in the sixth, Kirby Yates faced the minimum in the seventh and A.J. Minter pitched around two singles in the eighth. Closer Raisel Iglesias pitched around Abrams' leadoff double in the ninth to earn his 33rd save in 37 chances.
Adon allowed three runs and six hits with two walks and five strikeouts in four innings. Jordan Weems (5-1) gave up two hits and two runs in one-third of an inning to take the loss.
Braves second baseman Albies made a heads-up play to end the top of the eighth, fielding Jacob Young's single up the middle and throwing to the plate to catch Dominic Smith in a rundown with catcher Sean Murphy and third baseman Riley.
Strider struck out three in the first to set the franchise record for strikeouts in a single season, surpassing Hall of Famer John Smoltz, who had 276 in his Cy Young Award season of 1996. Strider leads the majors with 281.
“It's great to do that at home,” Strider said. “It would've been cool to do it anywhere, but to have the fans and the experience with them is pretty special.”
ANOTHER RECORD FALLS
Acuña stole second in the third to set the Braves’ modern era stolen base record with his 73rd, one more than Otis Nixon had in 1991.
“I don't think that I ever thought I was going to steal 73 bases but I think the new rules definitely helped a little bit,” Acuña said through a translator.
Acuña, who earlier this week became the first player to hit 40 homers and steal 70 bases in a single season, leads the majors in stolen bases, hits, runs, on-base percentage and total bases. The NL MVP candidate ranks second in batting average and OPS.
Nationals reliever Tanner Rainey took the mound in the eighth for the first time since last year after undergoing Tommy John surgery.
RHP Jackson Rutledge (1-1, 6.00 ERA) will start Washington's season finale on Sunday. The Braves have yet to announce a starter.
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