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Nats close on a roll, beating Braves in 15 innings

Paul Newberry | 10/4/2009, 9:05 p.m.

ATLANTA (AP) -- Alberto Gonzalez drove in the winning run with a two-out single in the 15th inning and the Washington Nationals closed the season with a seven-game winning streak, beating the Atlanta Braves 2-1 on Sunday, October 4. Playing the longest game since the franchise moved to Washington from Montreal before the 2005 season, the Nationals became the first team in baseball history to close the season with seven straight wins after losing the first seven. Still, they finished 59-103 - the worst record in baseball.

Atlanta, which got within two games of the wild-card lead with six remaining, finished with a season-high six-game losing streak. Logan Kensing (1-2) earned the win with two scoreless innings, striking out Brooks Conrad on a checked swing for the final out with runners at second and third.

Elijah Dukes started the winning rally off Boone Logan (1-1) with a one-out walk. Mike Morse flied out, but Wil Nieves and Gonzalez came through with back-to-back singles to break a tie that had stood since the seventh.

Kensing retired the first two hitters in the bottom half, but the Braves tried to rally. Omar Infante singled and Martin Prado doubled on an 0-2 pitch to bring up Conrad, who had entered the game in the 13th. The little-used infielder worked the count to 2-2, then tried to stop his swing on a pitch in the dirt.

But third base umpire Ron Kulpa ruled he went around to end the season. Conrad slammed his bat in disgust, the final pitch epitomizing a dismal final week for the Braves.

Atlanta revived its playoff hopes by winning 15 of 17, closing within two games of Colorado in the wild-card race. But two disheartening losses to the Florida Marlins ended the Braves' hopes, and they were swept in a four-game series by hapless Washington to finish an 86-76 season - still a 14-win improvement on 2008, but third in the NL East behind Philadelphia and Florida.

The Braves jumped ahead in the sixth on Nate McLouth's 20th homer off J.D. Martin, the only run he surrendered in six innings. Washington tied it in the seventh, stringing together three straight hits off Tim Hudson. Pinch-hitter Adam Dunn had an RBI single.

Atlanta's Chipper Jones led off the eighth with a pinch-hit single to break an 0-for-19 slump. He finished the worst season of his career with a .264 average - exactly 100 points below his NL-leading figure from a year ago - and remained stuck on 18 homers, snapping a record-tying streak. Jones will share the record of 20-homer seasons at the start of a career with Eddie Mathews, both doing it 14 years in a row.

Hudson went seven strong innings, allowing one run and seven hits in what could be his final game for the Braves. He has a $12 million mutual option for next season, but it's hard to see the Braves doling out that kind of money when they already have five other starters under contract for next season.

The finale drew 36,307 to Turner Field, leaving the Braves' attendance at 2,373,631 for the season - 320,650 fewer than last year, a nearly 12 percent drop and their lowest since 2003.

NOTES:
Washington's record was the franchise's worst since a 55-107 season as the Montreal Expos in 1976. ... Braves RHP Peter Moylan extended his franchise record for most appearances, working a scoreless eighth in his 87th game of the season. More impressively, the Aussie right-hander made it through an entire year - 73 innings - without giving up a homer.