SAN FRANCISCO -- The last time the Braves flew across the country, a somber mood filled the plane following a sweep at the hands of the Red Sox. The flight cabin figures to be much more fun this time around, as the Braves capped off a sweep and a stellar
SAN FRANCISCO -- The last time the Braves flew across the country, a somber mood filled the plane following a sweep at the hands of the Red Sox. The flight cabin figures to be much more fun this time around, as the Braves capped off a sweep and a stellar 6-1 road trip with a 2-1 victory over the Giants at AT&T Park on Wednesday.
The victory pushed the Braves' lead in the National League East to a season-best 7 1/2 games, after the Phillies fell to the Nationals, while shrinking Atlanta's magic number to 10. Meanwhile, the Giants suffered their 11th straight loss to set a franchise record since the club moved to San Francisco in 1958.
The team's first division crown since 2013 is within reach. But the Braves already knocked one item off their to-do list -- Wednesday's win was No. 82 on the year, securing the franchise's first winning season since that NL East-clinching campaign.
"That's goal No. 1," Freddie Freeman said. "We'll take that after the last five years."
With Charlie Culberson at third with two outs, following a leadoff single, Tyler Flowers delivered a pinch-hit go-ahead RBI single in the ninth. He hustled down the line and was called safe after Evan Longoria's throw from third base pulled Brandon Belt off the bag. The Giants quickly challenged the call, and the call stood after a replay review.
Starting in place of Johan Camargo (left groin tightness), Culberson played a crucial role for the second straight contest. He also hit a two-run homer off the bench in Tuesday's win to snap a hitless September.
• Fan lets Culberson autograph child after win
A day after Mike Foltynewicz nearly pitched a shutout, Braves righty Anibal Sanchez played with fire in the first inning. Sanchez issued consecutive walks to load the bases, but Brandon Crawford grounded into a 4-6-3 double play to kill the threat. A similar scenario played out in the fourth, when Sanchez allowed a single and two walks (including one to Giants starter Derek Holland) to load the bases. As he did in the first inning, Ozzie Albies started a 4-6-3 double play to allow the Braves to escape the jam, this time off the bat of Joe Panik.
"The defense helped me so much today," Sanchez said. "In those situations with bases loaded and just one out, and [to be] able to get out of the inning like that, I think that's the key for the game today."
Sanchez had an injury scare in the sixth inning when Gregor Blanco stepped on his foot as he grounded out trying to run out an infield single, but he finished off the frame. Sanchez sported a scrape above his right ankle but escaped any major harm.
Despite allowing six hits and a season-high five walks, Sanchez limited the Giants to just one run over six innings while lowering his ERA to 3.01.
"Bend and not break," Braves manager Brian Snitker said. "He made some really good pitches when he had to, and to some really good hitters."
Following Sanchez, the trio of Jesse Biddle, Dan Winkler and Jonny Venters teamed up for three shutout innings for an Atlanta bullpen that looks to be in good shape after the road trip. The unit, which has been overworked at times this year, will be recharged with Tuesday's complete game by Foltynewicz and Thursday's upcoming off-day.
Winning season? Check. Now the Braves return to Atlanta for a 10-game homestand that wraps up with a four-game set against the Phillies, meaning it's entirely conceivable they could clinch the title in front of their home fans. And soon.
"We got that hurdle," Snitker said of his team's 82nd win. "Looking bigger now."
MOMENT THAT MATTERED
Aside from aiding Sanchez, Albies also bailed out Biddle in the seventh when he made a ranging play to his left to retire Crawford and save a run. Given the spot in the game, Freeman called it one of the most impressive plays he's seen Albies make. Snitker shared some high praise after another sterling performance by Albies in the field.
"I keep talking about him and gold," Snitker said. "From what I've seen this year, he's a Gold Glover."
Freeman notched a hit on his birthday for the eighth straight year, as he went 2-for-4 with a game-tying RBI single in the sixth, a sharp hit up the middle that scored Albies from second. For his career, Freeman is slashing .484/.514/.727 on his birthday with eight RBIs in nine games.
"I had no idea," Freeman said. "Hopefully it continues next year."
MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
After Flowers was called safe at first, the replay official could not definitively determine that Belt's foot was touching the bag when he caught Longoria's throw, so the call stood.
"His blazing speed beat that one out," Freeman said of the not-so-fleet-footed Flowers.
In Friday's series opener against the Nationals (7:35 p.m. ET at SunTrust Park), Kevin Gausman (9-10, 3.89 ERA) looks to rebound from his worst start since joining the Braves at the non-waiver Trade Deadline. Gausman owns a 2.32 ERA in seven starts with Atlanta, but he gave up four runs over 4 2/3 innings in his last outing against the D-backs. Camargo is expected to test his injury Friday, and he is optimistic he'll be able to return after sitting out Wednesday and resting during Thursday's off-day. Washington will start Max Scherzer (17-6, 2.31).
Alex Espinoza is a contributor to MLB.com based in the Bay Area.