As Braves fade from playoff race, Nationals clinch NL East with 3-0 win at Turner Field

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ATLANTA — At the All-Star break, the Atlanta Braves were tied for first in the NL East.

On Tuesday night, with nearly two weeks left in the season, they watched the Washington Nationals celebrate a runaway division title.

Talk about two teams going in opposite directions.

The Nationals clinched their second NL East crown in three years, beating the slumping Braves 3-0 as Tanner Roark combined with two relievers on a five-hitter, while Ian Desmond broke a scoreless tie in the sixth inning with a two-run homer.

"We're in envy of anybody who wins it," Braves third baseman Chris Johnson said. "It's our goal at the beginning of the season."

The Braves took the division last season, beating the Nationals by a comfortable 10 games.

The roles were reversed this season, as Washington steadily pulled away from Atlanta after the break. The latest victory stretched the division lead to a season-high 12 1-2 games.

After the final out, the Nationals charged the field, bouncing up and down in unison near second base. They saved the real celebration for the clubhouse, dousing anything that moved with beer while Lil Jon's party anthem "Turn Down For What" blared from the speakers.

"It's just one step. There's a long, hard road ahead of us," Nationals outfielder Jayson Werth said. "But we're going to enjoy the moment for now."

Atlanta lost for the 11th time in 14 games, further damaging its hopes of making a third straight playoff appearance, this time as a wild card. The Braves dropped to 75-76 with their fifth straight loss, the first time they have been under .500 since losing on opening day.

"You never want anybody to celebrate on your field," manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "But they did it professionally, I thought. I didn't expect anything less from that organization."

The Braves fell 5 1/2 games behind Pittsburgh for the second NL wild card with 11 games left in the regular season.

"We've still got a chance," Gonzalez insisted. "Now we've got to set our sights on a winning streak and maybe we can come in with a second wild card."

Roark (14-10) pitched around four leadoff singles by Atlanta, which never got a runner past second base. He struck out four and walked none, lifted after throwing 89 pitches. Tyler Clippard worked a scoreless eighth, and Drew Storen finished up for his seventh save.

The Nationals finally broke through in the sixth against Aaron Harang (11-11). After Werth led off with a walk, Adam LaRoche took a called third strike before Desmond worked the count to 2-2.

The next pitch was a hanging slider. Desmond got all of it, sending a drive deep into the left-field seats for his 23rd homer. Left fielder Justin Upton barely moved, while Harang pumped his fist angrily on the mound.

"I felt great. I felt like I was executing pitches," Harang said. "In pitchers' duels, it's whoever makes the first mistake. That's what happened."

Desmond scored Washington's other run in the ninth, trotting home on David Carpenter's wild pitch.

A TRADITION LIKE NO OTHER

It was the 10th time the Braves have watched a visiting team celebrate a playoff victory or postseason-clinching win since moving to Turner Field in 1997.

DURABLE HARANG

The Braves right-hander made his 350th career start. Only six pitchers have made more starts since Harang's debut on May 25, 2002, with Oakland.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Nationals: Nationals LF Bryce Harper was back in the lineup after leaving Monday's game in the third inning when he felt light-headed. Manager Matt Williams said Harper had a "little bit of the gunk" that seemed to be going around in the Washington clubhouse.

Braves: C Evan Gattis missed his eighth straight game since coming down with strep throat. Gonzalez said he doesn't know when Gattis will be healthy enough to return.

UP NEXT

Nationals: LHP Gio Gonzalez (8-10) has won two of his three starts in September after going nearly two months without a win.

Braves: LHP Alex Wood (10-10) has lasted at least seven innings and allowed two runs or fewer in 12 of his 22 starts. Atlanta is 5-7 in those games.


Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963

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