Error lets in winning run in Braves’ loss to Nationals

In a rapid and wrenching turn of events for the Braves, shortstop Andrelton Simmons botched a ninth-inning grounder and two runs scored to give Washington a 6-5 win in the first game of a doubleheader at Nationals Park, delaying the Braves’ division-clinching opportunity for at least another day.

Closer Craig Kimbrel allowed three runs (two earned) in the ninth for his first blown save since May 7, and the Braves’ magic number to clinch the National League East title remained at four.

After overcoming a 3-0 first-inning deficit, the Braves wasted a go-ahead, two-run homer by Evan Gattis in the eighth inning and lost for the eighth time in 12 games.

“You always want the ball hit to Simmons, and you always want the ball in Kimbrel’s hand in the ninth inning,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “But it’s a cruel game sometimes.”

Kimbrel was charged with three runs for the first time in his major league career and snapped a franchise-record streak of 37 consecutive saves with his fourth blown save in 51 opportunities.

“That was a big game for us, and I wasn’t able to do my job and close it out,” said Kimbrel (3-3), who walked the first and third batters of the ninth inning, sandwiched around an infield single that second baseman Elliot Johnson tried unsuccessfully to flip with his glove to Simmons covering the base.

Chad Tracy’s bases-loaded ground out drove in a run to cut the lead to 5-4, and with runners on second and third and one out, Denard Span hit a grounder that Simmons fields cleanly perhaps 99.9 percent of the time. Just not this time.

It glanced off his glove and to the outfield. Span was credited with the tying RBI, and Anthony Rendon scored easily from second with the winning run.

“I just missed it,” said Simmons, widely regarded as the best defensive shortstop in baseball. “No excuses.”

The Nationals won for the ninth time in 10 games and beat the Braves for the first time in seven games at Nationals Park.

Gonzalez noted two walks issued by starter Mike Minor against the first batters in the first inning (both scored) and two by Kimbrel in the ninth (both scored).

Kimbrel allowed multiple runs for the first time since giving up two homers May 7 at Cincinnati. He allowed one run in his next 46 appearances before giving up a homer to San Diego’s Chase Headley in Saturday’s 2-1 win.

He’s been scored upon in consecutive appearances for the first time since three in a row April 29-May 4, 2012. The major league saves leader walked Adam LaRoche to start the ninth inning and walked Rendon to load the bases with none out.

“I just couldn’t throw strikes,” Kimbrel said. “I couldn’t get my curveball over. If I can’t get that over for a strike, it kind of opens up the door.”

Minor gave up three runs in the first inning, but settled down and retired the last 13 batters he faced in a six-inning outing. He was charged with three runs, three hits and four walks with three strikeouts.

The Braves trailed 3-0 until Freddie Freeman’s sacrifice fly in the sixth, which made him the team’s first 100-RBI man since Chipper Jones and Jeff Francoeur in 2007.

Dan Uggla’s two-out pinch-hit single in the seventh inning cut the Nationals’ lead to 3-2 and set the stage for Gattis, whose homer off Tyler Clippard in the eighth inning was his 20th of the season, tops among major league rookies. After Freeman drew a one-out walk, Gattis drove an 0-2 fastball to the center-field bleachers, over a “#NATITUDE” sign on the fence.

The Braves added a run in the ninth after Johnson hit a one-out single and went to second on Bryce Harper’s throwing error. Johnson stole second and scored when Freeman hit a two-out grounder that was booted by shortstop Ian Desmond.