baseball

Meneses’ go-ahead homer helps Nats salvage series finale in Atlanta (updated)

ATLANTA – Like a library desperate for an overdue rental, the Nationals were making empty threats, lacking the power to follow through.

Washington had scored just five total runs and gone a combined 4-for-22 with runners in scoring position over the last three games, all losses.

But Wednesday in Atlanta, the Nats finally broke through, and all it took was one mighty swing from Joey Meneses.

The 30-year-old rookie mashed a two-run homer onto the second deck in the left field in the seventh inning, turning around what was then a 2-1 game and helping the Nationals (52-97) take the series finale over the Braves (93-56) by a final of 3-2.

“I can’t say enough about what Joey’s been doing since he came here,” manager Davey Martinez said after the win. “He’s been hitting doubles, homers, getting on base, playing good defense.”

Meneses’ go-ahead blast, coming on 1-2 changeup from Jesse Chavez, was his 10th of the season and the Nats’ first longball since Sept. 17.

“I’ve been working my whole life to get to this point and have success at the big league level,” said Meneses. “It’s very satisfying to finally get here and being able to do what I’ve been doing.”

After allowing a run in each of the first two innings, Nats starter Paolo Espino settled down to toss four-plus solid innings, allowing four hits and two walks while striking out a pair. Only one of his two runs allowed was earned.

Espino hurt himself with two throwing errors in the first inning, one of which allowed a run to score.

“Those first two innings, I don’t know what happened, throwing those balls away and stuff like that,” said Espino. “I guess it just happened today. But I think overall it was an OK outing.”

Martinez then used four relievers to keep the Braves off the scoreboard for the final five innings.

“I keep saying it all year long, but our bullpen has come through time and time again,” Martinez said after the win. “They’ve endured a lot all year long.

“I couldn’t wait (for) the game to be over to give these guys a day off.”

Nats pitchers got some help from the defense behind them as well. After Vaughn Grissom walked to open the bottom of the fifth, Ronald Acuña Jr. lifted a ball to shallow center field. Victor Robles stormed in, caught the ball on a dive, then popped up and fired a strike to first base to double up Grissom.

Grissom ran into another out in the seventh. As Dansby Swanson swung through strike three, Nats catcher Tres Barrera completed the strike-him-out, throw-him-out double play by cutting down Grissom attempting to steal second. It was just Barrera’s third caught stealing in 34 career attempts.

“He was spot on today,” Martinez said of Barrera. “He was really good. Throwing that runner out was huge for us, got us out of an inning there. Played well today.”

Barrera also had a nice game at the plate in his first big league action since Aug. 21, going 2-for-4 with a pair of singles.

“I knew it was going to come at some point,” Barrera said about getting the opportunity to start. “That’s part of it. I just tried to maintain ready, come with the same attitude like I was going to play every day. Today was the day, and I just had fun with it.”

The Nats’ first run of the game came in the fifth, when Josh Palacios was hit by a pitch with one out and Barrera singled to move Palacios to third. On an 0-2 count, leadoff hitter Lane Thomas served a fly ball into right field, deep enough to bring in the speedy Palacios from third on a sac fly. The Nats halved the Braves’ lead, 2-1.

Luis García then ripped a double into the right field corner and Meneses was intentionally walked, setting up Luke Voit with a bases-loaded opportunity. He grounded out to Grissom, ending the threat.

The Braves, meanwhile, jumped on Espino early, but couldn’t do much after the second inning. Acuña led off the bottom of the first inning with a single, then moved to second on an errant pickoff throw by Espino two batters later. After walking Matt Olson, Espino induced a dribbler back to the mound from William Contreras. The righty fielded it cleanly but made another wild throw to first base, allowing Acuña to score and handing the Braves a 1-0 lead.

In the second, Acuña drove in right fielder Robbie Grossman on an RBI single in the alley in right-center field. It easily could’ve gone for extra bases had Acuña not tripped and taken a tumble after rounding first base. Nonetheless, it was 2-0 Atlanta.

Espino was followed by Hunter Harvey, Andres Machado, Carl Edwards Jr. and Kyle Finnegan, the latter picking up his 11th save of the year.

The Nationals head to Miami tonight with an off-day tomorrow before beginning a three-game series against the Marlins.

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