Braves eliminated, then lose third in a row

Still, the Braves insisted there was plenty to play for in the season-ending four-game series against the Nationals. Then they lost 2-1 in the series opener at Turner Field, with ex-Brave Pete Orr driving in the winning run in the ninth against closer Rafael Soriano.

Rookie Tommy Hanson struck out nine in seven crisp innings, but got no decision in his final start.

“Tommy pitched a real nice ballgame; one run to work with is not a lot,” said manager Bobby Cox, whose Braves totaled six hits in their third consecutive one-run loss since a 15-2 surge brought them within 2-1/2 games of Colorado. “We just couldn’t get the hitting going again.”

After they put runners on the corners in the ninth with a walk and Ryan Church’s two-out single, Omar Infante grounded into a fielder’s choice.

Nate McLouth’s third-inning homer provided a 1-0 lead, but the Braves were done scoring.

Hanson, who allowed five hits and two walks, finishes his season with an 11-4 record and a 2.89 ERA that should put him in the running for National League Rookie of the Year.

“I wanted to finish off my last game on a good note, and I think I did that,” said the lanky right-hander, who recorded nine outs in the first nine batters before giving up a run in the fourth.

The Braves are an insurmountable five back of Colorado with three to play. They are one game ahead of Florida for second in the NL East.

Garret Anderson had two hits to give him 2,501, the 89th player to reach 2,500 hits.

“You don’t ever want to give up,” reliever Peter Moylan said before the game. “You want to finish the season strong and use that as motivation for next year…. These guys in here are playing for pride, playing for next year -- whatever it is that you have to draw from. I want to finish strong.”

The Braves entered Thursday with an 86-72 record, after going 72-90 in 2008.

“If you told me at the beginning of spring training that we’d win 90 games, I would have said we were a lock for the playoffs,” third baseman Chipper Jones said before the game. “To make that big a jump … gives us a lot of confidence, and should give the fans of the Braves a lot of confidence.

“I don’t think that there’s any doubt in anybody’s mind in here that we’ll be a playoff team next year."
Diaz revisits The Play

He could have avoided seeing a replay of The Play, if he had tried. But Matt Diaz wanted to view it, to see what it was that made him think, for a split-second Wednesday night, that he might be able to score a tying run from third on a pitch in the dirt that got away from catcher Ronny Paulino.

Diaz hesitated halfway down the line, and Paulino threw him out to end the game when Diaz tried retreating to third. Wes Helms applied the tag before Diaz touched the base with his hand.

“I read the ball in the dirt. I guess it ricocheted off his foot,” Diaz said. “I was like, ‘Oh, it stopped too close.’ So I stopped to go back [to third]. But as I’m about to go back, I see that Paulino’s nowhere near the ball. Ergo the stutter step toward home.

“Once I stuttered, it was a foregone conclusion that I was going to be out.”

He said it was not third-base coach Brian Snitker’s responsibility to send him or get him back.

“It’s the base runner’s read,” Diaz said. “The third-base coach, he’ll tell you before a play if you’re going on contact or not. But the only play he really has say over you is a ball behind you that you’re scoring on or coming to third on. If I hit a ball down the right-field line and I’m running hard, I lose that ball coming to second, so I’ve got to look to him.”

In situations like the one Wednesday, Diaz said, “He’ll say, ‘Anticipate a ball in the dirt.’ Certain times, if we’re down three or four runs, he’ll say ‘Be real careful on a ball in the dirt; make sure.’ ”

Ultimately, a decision to go or retreat is up to the player.

Diaz was out of the lineup Thursday for the first in 14 games, but manager Bobby Cox said it had nothing to do with Wednesday and he had planned to play Church.

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