Josh Donaldson finally took his turn on the Atlanta Braves’ list of game-ending heroes.
Donaldson’s bases-loaded single off Fernando Rodney in the ninth inning lifted the Braves over the Washington Nationals 4-3 on Friday night after Luke Jackson allowed a tying, two-run homer to Victor Robles in the top half.
Ronald Acuña Jr., who had three hits, led off the bottom of the ninth with a walk off Rodney (0-3) and took second on Dansby Swanson’s single. Freddie Freeman walked on four pitches, loading the bases.
Nationals manager Dave Martinez brought in left fielder Juan Soto as a fifth infielder, including three on the left side against the right-handed hitting Donaldson.
Rodney’s plan was “get a ground ball for a double play.”
Instead, Donaldson lofted a 2-0 pitch over Robles to the warning track in left-center, and the Braves boosted their NL East lead to 6 1/2 games over the second-place Nationals. Atlanta had lost its previous five home games against Washington.
The Braves have six walk-off wins but it was Donaldson’s first game-ending hit since 2015 with Toronto. That void had not escaped his attention.
“I was actually looking at that today,” Donaldson said.
Donaldson’s teammates surrounded him near first base for an on-field celebration.
Entering the game, Donaldson’s 14 homers since June 11 were tied with Cody Bellinger for the most in the majors in that span.
Donaldson, who signed a one-year, $23 million contract with Atlanta as a free agent, is hitting .255 with 22 homers. His power stroke as a cleanup hitter has given Freeman protection in the lineup.
“This is what I expect of myself,” Donaldson said. “I’m just glad to be put in a situation where I could help the team win the ballgame.”
Martinez said Nationals closer Sean Doolittle was ready in the bullpen. Martinez said he liked the matchups with Rodney against Acuña and Swanson, even though the 42-year-old Rodney rarely is asked to pitch more than one inning.
“When you’re playing on the road, Doolittle comes in the game for a save,” Martinez said. “With a tie game, if he comes in right there and we have to pinch-hit for him right away, then we’re looking at who knows who?”
Robles’ homer went 446 feet to left, giving Jackson his seventh blown save in 24 chances.
Julio Teheran gave up one hit through five scoreless innings and retired 14 consecutive hitters before pinch-hitter Gerardo Parra singled with one out in the sixth. Anthony Rendon chased Teheran with a two-out RBI single.
Nationals left-hander Patrick Corbin allowed two runs and eight hits in five innings. He struck out Ozzie Albies with the bases loaded in the first and fanned Albies to end the fifth with two out.
Albies hit a two-out double in the fourth and scored on Austin Riley’s double. Acuña’s RBI double against Tanner Rainey gave the Braves a 3-1 lead.
Nationals: RHP Max Scherzer, on the 10-day IL since July 10 with an injury originally announced as a mid-back strain, was given a cortisone shot on Tuesday to address inflammation in the bursa sac under his right shoulder blade. Scherzer still has some discomfort and must throw a bullpen session before cleared to pitch in a game. With Scherzer unavailable, RHP Austin Voth is expected to start in Sunday night’s series finale.
Braves: RHP Patrick Weigel, who had Tommy John surgery in 2017, was recalled from Triple-A Gwinnett for his major league debut. Weigel will pitch in relief. … RHP Wes Parsons also was recalled from Gwinnett. RHPs Kyle Wright and Touki Toussaint were optioned to Gwinnett.
Corbin couldn’t win on his 30th birthday while paired with catcher Yan Gomes, who turned 32. Corbin and Gomes became only the second pitcher-catcher tandem to start together on their birthdays since 1900, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Chicago Cubs pitcher Dave Hillman and catcher Jim Fanning did it against Pittsburgh on Sept. 14, 1957.
Freeman was 2 for 20 in his career against Corbin before his RBI single in the fifth.
Acuña has reached base in a career-best 26 consecutive games since June 19, the longest active streak in the majors. Donaldson’s on-base streak was extended to 16 games.
Nationals: RHP Aníbal Sanchez (5-6, 3.71) is 1-0 with a 3.00 ERA in two starts this season against the Braves, his former team.
Braves: Rookie RHP Mike Soroka (10-1, 2.24) will try to win his sixth straight decision on Saturday night. The 21-year-old right-hander became the youngest pitcher in franchise history to be selected an All-Star.
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