ATLANTA (AP) — Ronald Acuna Jr. struck out twice and reached base once in his first six at-bats against Nationals ace Max Scherzer.
“I think it helps having some previous at-bats against him,” Acuna said through a translator. “I just went in with the same approach. I wanted to have fun out there on the field and have good at-bats.”
Acuna went 4 for 5, had two RBIs and scored the tiebreaking run in the fourth inning to help the NL East-leading Atlanta Braves win their season-best sixth straight game with a 10-5 victory over the Washington Nationals on Friday night.
The Braves stayed 7½ games ahead of second-place Philadelphia. Any combination of nine Atlanta victories or Phillies’ losses will give the Braves their first division title since 2013.
Scherzer (17-7) endured his shortest outing of the year, four innings, while allowing six runs — a season high — and seven hits in 102 pitches.
Scherzer, a three-time Cy Young Award winner, was no match for Acuna, one of baseball’s hottest hitters since the All-Star break.
The 20-year-old left fielder doubled off the wall in his first at-bat. He drove in two runs with a bloop single in the second. He tripled and scored the tiebreaking run on a sacrifice fly in the fourth. His single in the eighth gave Acuna a single-game high in hits.
Juan Soto, Washington’s 19-year-old left fielder, was impressive, too, homering in his fourth straight game and running a long way to catch a liner in the third. Soto scored the game’s first run in the second after beating a tag on Acuna’s throw to third. His 20th homer was a solo shot in the fourth.
“I would say I’m definitely having fun sharing the field with him,” Acuna said, “but I’m always going out there to have a good time on the field every time.”
The third-place Nationals had won four of five, but they dropped to 74-74 and can be eliminated from the division race by any combination of six Atlanta wins or Washington losses.
Kevin Gausman (10-10) gave up seven hits, two walks and four runs — three earned — in 5 2/3 innings. Gausman improved to 5-2 with a 2.61 ERA in eight starts since the Braves acquired him in a trade with Baltimore.
Scherzer, the majors’ active career leader in strikeouts, threw 31 pitches in the second, the worst coming on a two-out, eight-pitch walk to Gausman that loaded the bases. Acuna, the next batter, fought off a slider on his hands to drop the ball into shallow right field and make it 2-all.
“I think with a pitcher of his stature, the only way you’re going to get to him really is to tire him out,” Gausman said. “It was pretty hot, and when you have a long inning like that — yeah, the guys were stringing together some pretty good at-bats and made him work.”
Scherzer was sweating so profusely in the second that he had to replace his hat after Acuna’s hit. Sweat was rolling off the bill of his cap, affecting Scherzer’s vision, and he appeared to be struggling with his grip on the ball.
“I wasn’t able to get in rhythm,” Scherzer said. “I never felt I had good command of any of my pitches. I could never get in sync.”
Atlanta led 4-2 in the third on Tyler Flowers’ two-run single. After Soto’s homer and Wilmer Difo’s RBI double forced a tie in the fourth, Acuna answered in the bottom half of the inning, tripling and scoring on Freeman’s sacrifice fly. Markakis’ RBI single put Atlanta up 6-4.
Charlie Culberson’s infield RBI single put the Braves up 7-4 in the sixth. Bryce Harper had an RBI groundout in the sixth for Washington. Markakis drove in two of the Braves’ three runs in the eighth.
HE SAID, HE SAID
Washington slugger Bryce Harper and home plate umpire Laz Diaz were arguing with each other much of the night. It started when Harper disagreed with a call in the fifth and continued when Harper was in center field as they yelled at each other during the next inning. It stopped short of reaching a boiling point in the seventh when Diaz called a strike on a pitch that was clearly off the plate. Harper argued with Diaz while looking straight ahead, not making eye contact with the umpire. Nationals manager Dave Martinez came from the dugout to back Harper, but Diaz did not eject either.
“I’m not going to make any comment on balls and strikes there, but umpires are supposed to be non-confrontational,” Martinez said. “They’re supposed to uphold the peace on the baseball field. For me MLB needs to take a look at that. . (Diaz) is saying things to Harp, and I thought that was uncalled for.”
Atlanta 3B Johan Camargo missed his second straight game with left groin tightness. … The Braves returned RHP Arodys Vizcaino from a rehab assignment and reinstated him from the 60-day disabled list. Manager Brian Snitker said Vizcaino, the team’s closer during parts of each of the last three years, will not be used in high leverage situations immediately. Vizcaino missed 63 games with right shoulder inflammation.
TIME GONE BY
The 3 hour, 54-minute game was the longest nine-inning game Atlanta has played since April 10, 2016 against St. Louis. The last time the Braves played a longer game without needing a bottom of the ninth was June 3, 2000 against the Yankees.
Nationals: RHP Jeremy Hellickson (5-3, 3.57 ERA) will make his 19th start and first since Aug. 15 at St. Louis. He missed 21 games with a right wrist sprain and was sidelined 22 games earlier this year with a right hamstring strain. Hellickson is 2-0 with a 3.18 ERA in six career starts against Atlanta.
Braves: RHP Julio Teheran (9-7, 3.95 ERA) will make his 29th start. Atlanta has won three of his last five outings. Teheran has been hit hard by the Nationals this year, going 0-1 with a 7.56 ERA in two starts. He is 6-5 with a 4.12 ERA in 20 career starts against Washington.