It wasn’t a heroic comeback. It wasn’t a blowout from the first pitch. It wasn’t a dominating performance by the Braves on either side of the ball.
It was a gritty, hard fought, find-a-way-to-get-it-done win.
Mike Minor, who is quickly becoming the Braves’ ace, didn’t have his best stuff. Not by a long shot. Minor gave up eight hits and walked three in six plus innings, but he managed to pitch around trouble and give up only two runs. He was able to bear down and get the job done when it mattered most. Though Minor wasn’t at his sharpest, games like this are what make aces. The performance conjured memories of Tom Glavine as he scattered a multitude of hits and controlled damage with the wiliness of a seasoned veteran.
Stephen Strasburg had the better stat line, going seven innings and striking out nine while allowing only five hits. But the Braves were able to lean on yet another young leader to keep them in the game. Freddie Freeman drove in two runs on two singles, one in the third inning and another in the fifth.
“Lucky golf swing,” Freeman said of his first single, a blooper on a 3-0 pitch that followed infield singles by Jason Heyward and Justin Upton. But no team ever won a championship without a little bit of luck, and after a plethora of injuries, the Braves certainly deserve some.
With the game tied in the eighth inning, Justin Upton homered for the fourth time in five games this month to put the Braves ahead. Jordan Walden came in to shut the door, and did so despite a nervy bottom of the ninth inning.
The win was unorthodox, and the game should likely have gone the other way. The Nationals had the better chances; they had more base runners; they had twice the opportunities the Braves’ did with runners in scoring position.
But great teams don’t concern themselves with how many opportunities the opposition gets, or even how many they get themselves. They focus on capitalizing – on making the most of their opportunities while limiting the damage when they find themselves in a compromised position.
Though it may have seemed an uneventful game, the Braves’ win against the Nationals on Monday night was as a good a win as any of their others all season. And it is one that shows the maturity level of a young team. The Braves are ready, and it looks as if they are poised to make a deep playoff run.