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Santana tallies 1,500th career strikeout

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ATLANTA -- Braves right-hander Ervin Santana received a rousing ovation when he notched his 1,500th career strikeout during the second inning of Sunday afternoon's game against the Mets at Turner Field.

Santana reached the milestone when he got Kirk Nieuwenhuis to swing and miss on a 1-2 slider during the second inning. The 31-year-old hurler stands as one of 23 active pitchers who have recorded at least 1,500 strikeouts in their career.

Entering Sunday's game, Santana had recorded 8.3 strikeouts per nine innings. This stood as his highest mark in this category since he notched 8.8 in 2008, when he earned his only All-Star selection and finished sixth in balloting for the American League Cy Young Award.

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Minor exits start with shoulder discomfort

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ATLANTA -- Though Mike Minor spent most of this season denying that he was being plagued by the left shoulder discomfort that bothered him during Spring Training, he was unable to hide from the truth when he was forced to exit Saturday night's 4-2 loss to the Mets after the first inning.

The Braves simply labeled Minor's ailment as left shoulder discomfort. The 26-year-old lefty will learn more about his status when he meets with Braves doctors over the next few days. It seems highly unlikely that he will make his last regular season start, which had been scheduled for Thursday.

"It's very frustrating, but I guess on the positive side hopefully it's nothing and I can get it taken care of this offseason and I don't go into Spring Training behind like I did this year," Minor said.

Minor felt some discomfort as he warmed up in the bullpen and exited when he did not feel any relief after his adrenaline started pumping during the first inning. He walked a batter, hit another and surrendered three loud fly balls.

"He's had a little bit of history there that he's been fighting," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "We didn't want to push him any further than that. He saw the doctor here, but we'll run some further tests."

Though Minor has pitched more effectively lately, this past week has provided some reason for concern. He allowed hits to five of the last 11 hitters he faced during Sunday's 4 2/3-inning effort against the Rangers.

"It's kind of frustrating because I don't feel like it's anything serious, but it's nagging pain that won't go away," Minor said. "It's there every pitch. I felt it the last couple starts more and more and then obviously tonight worse than others."

Minor reported to Spring Training behind schedule because a urinary tract procedure left him sedentary most of January. He was shut down for two weeks in February because of what he called "a cranky left shoulder."

Minor joined Atlanta's rotation in May and pitched effectively for most of the next month. But questions about his health began to develop as he produced a 7.33 ERA in 10 starts from June 10 to Aug. 1.

"There were some times when [the shoulder] was barking a little bit, but I can't write that off as all year long," Minor said. "[That it was] hurting every game, I can't really say that."

After having one start skipped in early August, the southpaw turned things around and seemed poised to end this season on a positive note. He entered last weekend's start against the Rangers with a 2.59 ERA over his previous six starts.

"It's unfortunate," Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman said. "Let's just hope he's OK and there's nothing serious. If that's his last start of the season, he can get some rest and hopefully come back in Spring Training."

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Major organizational changes may come for Braves

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ATLANTA -- Now that the Braves have been essentially eliminated from the playoffs, they might not wait until the conclusion of this season to make what would be their most significant organizational change in nearly a quarter of a century.

As the Braves have collapsed over the past few weeks, there has been growing reason to wonder about the futures of general manager Frank Wren and manager Fredi Gonzalez. The club has not dismissed a general manager or manager since 1990. But this could change within the next few days.

If the Braves opt to part ways with Wren, they will likely utilize assistant general manager John Coppolella as an interim general manager until hiring a permanent replacement.

There is reason to believe longtime baseball executive John Hart, who joined the organization last year, would help guide Coppolella and the other members of the baseball operations department through the transition. But because he enjoys his other responsibilities, namely serving as an analyst for MLB Network, Hart has indicated he is not interested in handling any full-time duties.

The Braves would look at all their options to fill the general manager's position. But the most intriguing candidate appears to be Royals general manager Dayton Moore, who learned his craft while working for Braves president John Schuerholz from 1996-2006. Schuerholz was the club's GM throughout that span.

Moore has two years remaining on his contract and he has further endeared himself to Kansas City's ownership by taking the Royals to the brink of a postseason berth this year. But there would certainly be many members of the Braves organization pulling for the chance to work for Moore, whose people skills have been likened to those possessed by Schuerholz.

Gonzalez has taken responsibility for the struggles the Braves have encountered during this disappointing season. But there seems to be a good chance he will be allowed a chance to remain in his role for one more season with an altered coaching staff. The club's offensive struggles have jeopardized the futures of hitting coach Greg Walker and assistant hitting coach Scott Fletcher.

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Braves' elimination number drops to two with loss

Minor exits after one inning and offensive woes continue

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ATLANTA -- Though they returned to town still with a chance to gain a playoff berth, the Braves have languished through this homestand displaying the wear and tear of a disappointing season.

Instead of generating some hope, they have simply extended a horrific offensive stretch that grew even uglier with Saturday night's 4-2 loss to the Mets.

"It's the same story, it's just a different day," Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman said. "It's hard to win ballgames when you only score two runs. That's the name of the game for us the last few weeks."

For the first time since 2008, the Braves are heading into the regular season's final week with the realization that they have been all but eliminated from the postseason picture. With 13 losses in 17 September games, they have seen their tragic number drop to two. Consequently, they will be officially eliminated on Sunday, if they lose and the Pirates win.

Unfortunately, the Braves have been playing like a club that is just grinding out the remainder of the schedule. Before tallying a pair of eighth inning runs on Saturday night, they were staring at the possibility of being shut out for the third time in four games and the seventh time in the past 19 games. They have now scored two runs or fewer in eight of their past 12 games.

"I thought we had good at-bats up and down the lineup," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "But the first column is the one you worry about, the runs."

Mets starter Jon Niese had surrendered just four hits before allowing the Braves to notch three consecutive one-out singles in the eighth. Freeman greeted lefty reliever Josh Edgin with a two-run single. But Carlos Torres then ended the threat by retiring Justin Upton and Chris Johnson.

The Braves seemed to hit rock bottom last weekend, when they totaled six runs while getting swept by the Rangers. But they have seemingly fallen further as they have scored in just three of the 44 innings they have batted during this homestand.

"We hit the ball hard all night," Freeman said. "I think it's just one of those weeks, months or years where nothing is falling our way."

The primary difference with this latest script and most of the others the Braves have played out recently centered on the fact that Saturday's offensive woes did not squander yet another strong start. This stemmed from the fact that Mike Minor lasted just one inning before left shoulder discomfort forced him to head to the clubhouse for further evaluation.

Minor will learn more about his status as he meets with Braves doctors within the next few days. He is hopeful that he is not dealing with a serious ailment.

"I could tell in warmups," Minor said. "I just thought it would get a little better as I threw my bullpen or when a batter steps in there you get that adrenaline and the [pain] goes away a little bit. Tonight, it didn't. Every pitch, I could feel something."

Minor issued a walk, hit Daniel Murphy with a pitch and surrendered a Lucas Duda sacrifice fly during his short stint.

Forced to take over on short notice, David Hale was fortunate that he surrendered just two runs in the second inning. Hale gave up hits to each of the first four batters he faced. But because Curtis Granderson was thrown out attempting to score on an Eric Campbell single, Dilson Herrera's two-run homer served as the only the damage.

The early three-run cushion proved to be more than enough for Niese, who left leadoff hitter Emilio Bonifacio stranded at second twice within the first three innings. After Bonifacio doubled with one out in the third inning, Phil Gosselin struck out and Freeman grounded out.

"We've just got to keep going up there and grinding it out," Freeman said. "Obviously, we're coming down to the end, but you've still got to keep fighting and grinding it out until Game 162 is over."

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Gattis relieved by kidney stone diagnosis

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ATLANTA -- Now that he has been cleared to resume normal activities, Evan Gattis admits that he was relieved to learn that a kidney stone has been the source of the discomfort he's occasionally felt over the past week. The pain the stone could potentially create is much easier to accept than the uncertainly his lab results initially created, he explained.

"Walking around in pain and not knowing was kind of the worst part," Gattis said. "So, it was good to just figure it out."

Before taking batting practice Friday, Gattis had not participated in any baseball activities since he was diagnosed with strep throat Sept. 8. As he was recovering from the bacterial throat infection last week, he started to feel the discomfort that went undiagnosed until doctors found the kidney stone Wednesday.

"When I would get in awkward positions and stuff, it would just bother me," Gattis said."I just didn't know what it was."

While the Braves are hoping Jason Heyward's bruised left thumb heals in time for him to return to the starting lineup by Monday, they will continue taking their time with Gattis, whose potential return is complicated by the physical rigors that come with the catcher's position.

Before the game, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez indicated that he would like to use Gattis as a pinch-hitter during this weekend's Mets series. And Gonzalez followed through on that. Gattis was used as a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the fifth on Saturday, grounding out to third on the first pitch he saw.

"It's just a matter of when we're going to stick him in there," Gonzalez said. "The thing that scares you is [the long span] without playing. It's a tough spot because you don't want to run him in there and catch him nine [innings] right off the bat. It's too bad we don't have the [designated hitter].

There is also a chance that the stone could move and cause Gattis to feel a level of pain that would prevent him from continuing to perform the physical activities that he has done without any problem the past few days.

"We've known from the beginning that [the stone] was small, but it was enough to cause enough pain," Gattis said. "I might pass it and I might not. I've been doing fine, so I'm thinking I might not."

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Peraza, Hursh receive top Minor League honors

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ATLANTA -- As the Braves offense proved troublesome throughout this summer, some ambitious fans were calling for Jose Peraza to make the jump to the Majors despite the fact that he began this season with Class A Advanced Lynchburg. Though that never happened, Peraza was at Turner Field on Saturday proudly standing as the organization's Minor League Player of the Year.

"I'm happy with all the hard work I've done this year," Peraza said with Braves executive assistant Annie Lee serving as an interpreter.

Joining Peraza was Jason Hursh, who was recognized as the organization's Minor League Pitcher of the Year. Hursh received this honor 15 months after the Braves took him with their first-round selection (31st overall selection) in the 2013 First-Year Player Draft.

"I feel more mature," Hursh said. "I've been out there and seen some of the best hitters in the Minors and some former big leaguers. I'm definitely more mature as a pitcher and off the field as well."

Peraza's quick rise has at least positioned him for the possibility to play second base and handle the leadoff duties in Atlanta next year. The 20-year-old Venezuelan speed demon batted .339 with 60 stolen bases and an .806 OPS in the 110 games he combined to play for Lynchburg and Double-A Mississippi this year.

Peraza, who counts Omar Infante and Martin Prado among his favorite players, plans to spend at least a month of this offseason playing in the Venezuelan Winter League.

While Hursh does not having overpowering stuff, the Braves are hopeful that his sinker-slider repertoire leads to enough ground balls to be successful at the Major League level. The 22-year-old right-hander went 11-7 with a 3.58 ERA in 27 appearances (26 starts) for Double-A Mississippi this year.

"I really think my secondary pitches improved a lot," Hursh said. "That helped me get through the year and have some success."

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Heyward treating, waiting out bruised thumb

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ATLANTA -- While Andrelton Simmons was able to shake off an ankle injury that pulled him out of Wednesday's 3-1 win over the Nationals, Jason Heyward was not so lucky.

Heyward suffered a thumb contusion when he was hit by a pitch in the sixth inning, but Thursday's day off was not enough to reduce the swelling and get him back in the lineup for the start of the series against the Mets on Friday.

"[The thumb is] stiff, tough to bend," Heyward said. "Soreness was obviously going to be there. Not able to grip a bat, so that obviously is not going to go well for playing, and that's where we're at today."

Heyward suffered a thumb injury in 2010 as well, which he said was comparable from a stiffness and flexibility standpoint, but this instance is less severe, and he is considered day to day.

The treatment plan for Heyward is to apply heat and ice to the injury and try to rub some of the swelling out. Beyond that, he said all he can do is wait it out.

"The tough thing about thumbs is once swelling gets in there, it takes longer than you'd like for it to go down," Heyward said. "It's not fun to sit down and watch. Again, all you can do is wait after you ice. That's where we're at."

While the prognosis for Heyward playing Friday was not promising, manager Fredi Gonzalez did not rule it out. Heyward was to receive two more rounds of treatment on Friday, and Gonzalez said that he could be used as a defensive replacement in a pinch. 

"He's done this before as far as, not the thumb, but he'll come in and say, 'I can't play but, if I can help you defensively, I'll let you know.' And so you trust him," Gonzalez said. "We'll play it by ear. That'll be more, I think, more of a scenario than trying to swing the bat. ... If he could swing the bat, he would've been in there."

Cody Pace is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Teheran deals, but Braves blanked in costly loss

Wild Card elimination number at three as Atlanta falls below .500

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ATLANTA -- The Braves' offense squandered another quality start by Julio Teheran, consequently pushing Atlanta another game closer to being eliminated from playoff contention.

Teheran and Mets starter Zack Wheeler were involved in a tight pitchers' duel on Friday night at Turner Field. But Mets first baseman Lucas Duda ended that with a two-run home run that proved decisive in the Braves' 5-0 loss.

"I think I'm a broken record, but two runs, your starter gives up two runs and you have a chance to win the game, and we didn't score runs, so the two runs they hang on Julio are big," manager Fredi Gonzalez said.

The defeat trimmed the Braves' National League Wild Card elimination number to three after the Pirates rallied late to beat the Brewers, dropping Atlanta to seven games back with nine to play. It also dropped the Braves under .500, at 76-77.

"As long as there's a number beside you, you've got to keep playing and keep hanging on," Gonzalez said. "They know, and I don't think we need to remind anybody what's at stake and what we could accomplish if we start winning games, start swinging the bats."

Beyond being a missed opportunity, the game was another showing of Atlanta's offensive struggles.

The loss was the 15th shutout for the Braves this season and the sixth in the last 18 games. It was also the third time in the last four outings that Teheran has gone at least six innings, allowed two or fewer earned runs and lost.

"Just trying to [not] think and [not] let it affect me at all, but it's kind of difficult for us," Teheran said. "We're trying to win games, and we're just trying to do our best, and the thing doesn't go like we want. It's kind of tough."

Teheran finished seven innings, allowing seven hits, two runs and striking out six. He allowed two singles through the first four innings and pitched out of a fifth-inning jam. But he was not as fortunate in the sixth, when Duda sent his shot over the right-field fence. 

"It was the pitch that I wanted," Teheran said. "I don't know how he's hitting changeups, and he got me on that one. That's part of the luck that I have."

The Braves drew two walks from Wheeler, managing five hits, and had runners in scoring position in the first, third and fifth innings but were unable to knock anyone in. In those three innings, Atlanta had five strikeouts and stranded six men on base.

"It seems like it's really hard to get runs on the board, and it's a little frustrating," shortstop Andrelton Simmons said. "You've just got to take it one day at a time, one play at a time and hope for the best, but it's really, really frustrating right now."

Though Jason Heyward (thumb bruise) was missed, Simmons returned from an ankle injury to be the one bright spot in the Braves' lineup, going 3-for-4 with two singles and a double. 

"I felt OK, not great," Simmons said. "At the end of the day, it's the win and loss that count right now, and you go home not feeling that good." 

The loss dropped the Braves to 9-8 against the Mets this season. If the Mets take the final two games in the series, it would mark the first time New York has beaten Atlanta in head-to-head records since 2006, when the Mets won the NL East.   

Cody Pace is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Braves bestow top Minors honors on Peraza, Hursh

Prospects named Player of Year and Pitcher of Year, respectively

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ATLANTA -- Jose Peraza and Jason Hursh will be among the prospects honored when the Braves introduce their Minor League Players of the Year during an on-field ceremony before Saturday night's game against the Mets. Gaining the top honors, Peraza was named the organization's Player of the Year and Hursh was named the organization's Pitcher of the Year.

Blessed with tremendous speed, Peraza has provided at least some reason to wonder whether he will be ready to play second base and serve as a leadoff hitter in Atlanta at some point next season. The speedy infielder -- ranked by MLB.com as the Braves' No. 1 prospect -- batted .339 with 60 stolen bases and an .806 OPS while combining to play in 110 games for Class A Advanced Lynchburg and Double-A Mississippi this year.

Hursh, ranked as the organization's No. 5 prospect, has garnered attention since the Braves took him with their first-round selection (31st overall) in the 2013 First-Year Player Draft. The 22-year-old right-hander went 11-7 with a 3.58 ERA in 27 appearances (26 starts) for Mississippi this year.

The Braves will also recognize their pitcher and player of the year from each Minor League affiliate. They are as follows:

Triple-A Gwinnett: RHP Juan Jaime and INF Phil Gosselin
Double-A Mississippi: RHP Williams Perez and 3B Kyle Kubitza
Class A Advanced Lynchburg: RHP Nate Hyatt and OF Kyle Wren
Class A Rome: LHP Yean Carlos Gil and 1B Jake Schrader
Rookie Level Danville: RHP Alec Grosser and SS Ozhaino Albies
Gulf Coast League: RHP Jorge Zavala and SS Ray-Patrick Didder
Dominican Summer League: LHP Dilmer Mejia and SS Alejandro Salazar

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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MLB.com Columnist

Mike Bauman

Pitching staff remains bright spot for Braves amid struggles

Atlanta still dominant on mound despite setbacks from injuries

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It is true that the Braves have gone from first place in the National League East to the margins of the NL Wild Card race due to a numbing offensive slump. But for the longer-term future of the Atlanta franchise, there will be the usual solace: A core of pitching strength that should be around for many seasons to come.

The Braves, despite losing three starting pitchers to injury this season, rank third in the NL in team ERA. They lead the league in quality starts. Atlanta has a strong bullpen, anchored by one of the best closers in the game, Craig Kimbrel.

You consider these facts and you are reminded of the 2013 Atlanta team that won 96 games and won the NL East by 10 games. The fact that the Braves are currently a .500 team is not the result of a diminished pitching staff. Had the Braves received any sort of consistent offense in recent weeks, they wouldn't have won 96 games again, but they also wouldn't have been eliminated from the NL East race on Sept. 16.

Atlanta manager Fredi Gonzalez has seen the pitching hold up regardless of what else has gone on with his club. He's suitably appreciative.

"I'm proud of the fact that our starters -- we lead the league in quality starts, but we lost two starters in a matter of two, three, four days in Spring Training," Gonzalez said. "And our guys have picked it up.

"I think you've also got to give a lot of credit to our scouts, the guys who recommended [Aaron] Harang just before Spring Training ended. And you've got to give our front office credit, to go get [Ervin] Santana after [Brandon] Beachy and [Kris] Medlen went down.

"And then the emergence of [Alex] Wood, that's a big piece right there. Julio [Teheran] has gotten better and better with every start. And Mike [Minor] has made a nice run here of late."

After losing Beachy and Medlen to Tommy John surgery, the Braves also lost Gavin Floyd with a broken elbow. And yet the advances made by their young pitchers more than compensated for these setbacks.

Teheran, 23, is 13-12 with a 2.89 ERA and a WHIP of 1.07. Minor, 26, appeared to turn a corner in the second half, putting together a five-start stretch with a 2.31 ERA, which included 7 1/3 innings of one-hit ball against the Reds in August.

Wood, 23, has been a revelation. He is 11-10 with a 2.78 ERA and a 1.13 WHIP, and he's getting even better. Wood has gone 4-2 with a 1.84 ERA in his past 10 starts.

"This guy competes and he's prepared," Gonzalez said. "He is way better than any young guy I've ever dealt with in terms of how he prepares himself, how he competes. He'll finish today's start, and tomorrow he'll be ready for the next one."

Santana and Harang have also been major contributors, but they are with the Braves on one-year deals and it is unclear at this point how they will fit into Atlanta's future.

Beachy and Medlen, who have both displayed the ability to be major factors for the Braves, can be expected to return at some point next season. But both have had two elbow ligament replacement surgeries, and it will be difficult to put a timetable on their return to full effectiveness.

Still, for a club that has gone 4-15 in September, pondering the long-term pitching possibilities can lead to some serious down-the-road optimism.

Even during these difficult days, when Atlanta's collective lineup slump has cast a shadow over what had seemed to be bright postseason possibilities, the pitching has given the manager daily reason to hope.

"Every time I drive to the ballpark, I feel comfortable," Gonzalez said. "I feel that our starters are going to give us a great chance to win a ballgame, one through five.

"This may have been the only year since I've been doing this that I've felt this way. [In] every rotation, there's usually one guy where you go, 'Oh, no, he hasn't been pitching that well.' You just don't know what's going to happen. With this rotation, even if they don't have their best stuff, they're going to give you six solid innings and keep you in the game."

There is an excellent chance that the Braves will be able to approach seasons to come with that same kind of comfort level with their pitching.

Mike Bauman is a national columnist with MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Yet to pass kidney stone, Gattis takes BP, shags flies

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ATLANTA -- Evan Gattis has not passed the kidney stone that doctors found on Wednesday. But because the stone had not yet moved to a location that elicits what is often intolerable pain, Gattis was cleared to participate in batting practice before Friday night's game against the Mets at Turner Field.

As Gattis stretched, shagged some fly balls and took some swings in the batting cage, it marked the first time he had done any physical activity since he was diagnosed with strep throat on Sept. 7. There seems to be reason to believe his battle with the bacterial throat infection might have led to dehydration, which could have led to the kidney stone.

"He hasn't done anything in 11 days, and when I say nothing, I mean nothing baseball-related," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "If the training staff says he feels good, then he's available to pinch-hit. But he hasn't seen a fastball in [nearly two weeks]."

After being diagnosed with strep throat, Gattis was hoping to return to action a few days later. But inconclusive lab results and lingering fatigue have forced him to experience this extended absence, which reached 10 consecutive starts missed on Friday night.

If the stone does not provide any further lingering problems, Gattis will continue working to regain his endurance and timing. Given the physical demands a catcher faces every game, the Braves might opt to keep him out of the lineup through this weekend.

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Braves with decisions to make after disappointing '14

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ATLANTA -- Though a near-perfect conclusion might miraculously vault them into the playoffs, the Braves are much more likely to spend this season's final week tasting the disappointment that has followed them for most of this year. Then, when it is all said and done, the organization will decide whether it will dismiss a general manager or manager for the first time since 1990.

This possibility seemed to be out of the question just one year ago, when Atlanta captured its first division title since 2005. But the 12 months that have followed have altered the landscape and given the club's top executives reason to assess the direction of the franchise.

Thus, as the final days of the 2014 season approach, there is reason to wonder about the futures of general manager Frank Wren, manager Fredi Gonzalez and the members of the coaching staff.

There has been some discontent throughout the organization dating back to last October, when pitching coach Roger McDowell nearly went to the Phillies before Braves president John Schuerholz stepped in during the final hours to make sure McDowell had reason to continue serving as one of the most influential members of Atlanta's coaching staff.

Around the same time, Dave Wallace left his role as the Braves' Minor League pitching coordinator to become the Orioles' pitching coach. Then one of Schuerholz's longtime aides, Dick Balderson, suddenly opted to retire -- to the surprise of many of his friends and associates.

Having already made his mark as a pitching coach in Boston and Los Angeles, the 66-year-old Wallace seemed content to continue working at the Minor League level. But he opted to exit because of the regular battles he had with assistant general manager Bruce Manno.

The Yankees and Cardinals stand as the only clubs that have won more games than the Braves since the start of the 2009 season. But as the past few years have progressed, players, coaches, scouts and front-office employees have complained that the organization has lost the harmonious family feel that it possessed under the direction of Schuerholz, who served as the club's general manager from 1991-2007, and Bobby Cox, who spent five seasons as the club's GM before becoming manager midway through the 1990 season.

Wren's mistakes with high-priced free agents have been well documented, going back to Kenshin Kawakami and Derek Lowe. Atlanta bid adieu to Dan Uggla this year despite still owing him nearly $20 million. Now the question is what will the team do with B.J. Upton, who is owed approximately $46 million over the next three seasons.

Still, if Wren is relieved of his duties, the decision would likely have more to do with the club's desire to regain the culture of cohesion and pride that the organization enjoyed for many years.

With the Braves winning just four of the 15 games this month, they have nearly fallen out of the playoff picture -- 5 1/2 games behind the Pirates, who are positioned to claim the National League's second Wild Card spot. At the same time, they have conjured memories of their 2011 collapse, during which they went 9-18 in September.

There is reason to be concerned about the fact that Atlanta has struggled during two of the four Septembers that Gonzalez has served as the club's manager. The 2011 collapse was influenced by the injuries suffered by Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens. This year's version has been a product of a disappointing offense that's averaged a Major League-worst 2.43 runs since Aug. 23. That is nearly a half-run less than the Padres (2.92), who rank second-to-last.

While Gonzalez has taken the role of a leader by assuming responsibility for his club's disappointing results, the Braves might opt to keep him in his current position and alter their coaching staff. Hitting coach Greg Walker and assistant hitting coach Scott Fletcher appear to be the most likely casualties given the offensive struggles the club has experienced throughout the year.

Since receiving contract extensions earlier this year, Freddie Freeman, Andrelton Simmons and Chris Johnson have all proven unsuccessful in their attempts to build on the offensive success they had during the 2013 season.

Simmons and Johnson have regressed back toward initial expectations, which both exceeded last year. Freeman might have been slightly burdened by the pressures a franchise-record contract can place on a 24-year-old.

Whatever the case, Walker might not have had much influence regarding these declines. At the same time, there will be those who think Wren and Gonzalez deserve a mulligan. But as things currently stand, it seems the Braves are destined to do whatever's necessary to avoid experiencing another season as disappointing as this one has been.

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Braves hold steady in WC race after topping Nats

Wood, Bethancourt lead way for Atlanta as club chases Pittsburgh

Braves hold steady in WC race after topping Nats play video for Braves hold steady in WC race after topping Nats

ATLANTA -- When rookie catcher Christian Bethancourt strolled toward the plate with two outs and the bases loaded in the sixth inning of Wednesday night's series finale against the Nationals, there was reason to assume he would become the latest Braves player to squander a prime scoring opportunity. But the young catcher instead created some much-needed excitement for a club that slumbered over the past few weeks.

Bethancourt's sharp single accounted for each of the three runs Alex Wood received as the lefty extended his mound dominance in a 3-1 win over the Nationals, who filled their lineup with backups after clinching the National League East title on Tuesday night.

"We finally got a guy to come through in that big spot with a couple guys on," Braves infielder Phil Gosselin said after matching a career-best three hits. "[Bethancourt] has been able to do that since he's been up. He's done it a few times. He's done a great job offensively and defensively."

The Braves are still a miraculous finish away from claiming a postseason berth. But they at least gained a spark with Bethancourt's single that scored two easily and gave Jason Heyward a chance to display his hustle and baserunning skills.

Heyward scored from first base despite the fact that the single deflected off first baseman Tyler Moore's glove and came to rest in shallow right field. There was a roar from the home crowd when Heyward caught the Nationals by surprise by taking off toward the plate as right fielder Nate Schierholtz threw the ball to shortstop Danny Espinosa at second. The resulting excitement was certainly justified given that fact that the Braves scored three runs on the play, which was greater than what they had totaled in 10 of their past 16 games.

"You're always trying to be aware of your surroundings," Heyward said. "I saw the guy receiving the throw had his back turned. When I saw the throw go up out of [Schierholtz's] hand, I said, 'Hey, I can get there,' and it worked out."

Heyward was forced to exit in the eighth inning because of the swelling that formed around his left thumb after he was hit with a Ross Detwiler pitch that loaded the bases for Bethancourt, who showed off his rocket arm while preventing Michael Taylor from stealing third base with none out in the top of the sixth.

"His approach at the plate has been really good," Wood said. "Behind the plate, we've been on the same page, for the most part. Obviously, his arm is nice to have back there."

With what was just their fourth win in their past 15 games, the Braves snapped a five-game losing streak and at least maintained some hope to sneak back into the playoff picture. They are 5 1/2 games behind the Pirates, who are currently positioned to claim the NL's second Wild Card spot.

The Braves began their sixth-inning rally with the second of the three singles notched by Gosselin, the newly appointed leadoff hitter. They totaled just three hits during the five innings completed by Blake Treinen, who learned he would start in place of Gio Gonzalez once the Nationals had clinched the division. Treinen had not completed more than two innings since he tossed 4 2/3 innings on Aug. 24 in the final start he made for Triple-A Syracuse.

With Jayson Werth, Adam La Roche, Anthony Rendon and other Nats regulars resting on the bench, Wood limited the Nationals to one run and five hits over six innings. The only blemish on his line came courtesy of Steven Souza Jr., who drilled his first career home run deep over the center-field fence with one out in the fifth inning.

Wood has posted an impressive 1.84 ERA over his past 10 starts. The Braves had scored fewer than three runs in six of his previous nine starts.

"He deserves about 20 runs one of these nights as well as he has pitched," Gosselin said. "It's nice to get a few there. He did a good job, as always."

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Braves break ground on new SunTrust Park

With construction starting, stadium on schedule for Opening Day 2017

Braves break ground on new SunTrust Park play video for Braves break ground on new SunTrust Park

ATLANTA -- Major League Baseball Commissioner-elect Rob Manfred and Hank Aaron were among the many dignitaries who flocked to Cobb County on Tuesday morning to be part of what Braves CEO and chairman Terry McGuirk described as one of the most important days in the franchise's history. They all gathered for the groundbreaking of SunTrust Park, a state-of-the-art stadium that will open before the 2017 season.

"A groundbreaking is a beginning," McGuirk said. "In two years, we'll transform this bare patch of dirt from what it is today into a magnificent ballpark and a majestic ballpark village."

While the ceremonial breaking of the ground with shovels stood as the basis of the event, the highlight occurred during the early portion of the ceremonies, when McGuirk revealed that SunTrust Bank would serve as the naming rights partner for the stadium.

"We are extremely proud to be affiliated with a world-class franchise with tremendous business potential and incredibly loyal fans," SunTrust chairman and CEO William Rogers said.

The ceremony was held inside a tent that was positioned on a plot of dirt that will soon serve as the new stadium's center-field area. Around the open-air, 41,500-seat ballpark will be a mixed-use village that will include restaurants, hotels, office space and residential opportunities.

With this mixed-use development, the Braves are hoping to gain year-round revenues that will continue to assist them in their efforts to construct championship-caliber rosters on a consistent basis.

"The feel of this new ballpark will foster a one-of-a-kind experience unrivaled in all of baseball," club president John Schuerholz said.

Manfred said the vision of this facility is another example of the business excellence the Braves have shown over the years.

"The Braves have always had great leaders, from [past owners] Bill Bartholomay to Ted Turner, to Terry McGuirk and John Schuerholz," Manfred said. "The Braves truly have been blessed with business acumen and vision.

"Today, here in Cobb County, there is a new history of the Braves being launched. The state-of-the-art facility that will be built here will be essential to the Braves continuing their great winning tradition, and this project is an example of the kind of vision the Braves have always shown.

"No club in Major League Baseball has ever undertaken to building a facility and a stadium that is as fully integrated with a mixed-use project as this one. It will provide a unique experience for the fans of the Braves."

While the day was certainly special for McGuirk and Schuerholz, who have long beamed when speaking about the new stadium and mixed-use development that will attempt to attract consumers 365 days a year, this event was truly a celebration for Braves executive vice president Mike Plant, who spearheaded the initiative.

As far back as 2005, Plant had visions of building a mixed-use facility around Turner Field. But when it became apparent that he would not be able to complete this project, he set out looking for alternatives, and he found what he was seeking in Cobb County.

"This is going to be a legacy transformation and a generational impact throughout the whole Southeast," Plant said. "I think we're going to set an example for sports teams well into the future. I feel proud that I helped get it going in the beginning and have a pretty significant role moving forward working with our whole team.

"We've got a lot of good people working on this. I think we all understand the significant impact this is going to have not only on this region, but the whole sports legacy."

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Kimbrel named Braves' Clemente Award nominee

Kimbrel named Braves' Clemente Award nominee play video for Kimbrel named Braves' Clemente Award nominee

ATLANTA -- Though he is still learning the many different ways he can assist as the spokesman for Athletes Curing Kids' Cancer, All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel has already made enough of an impact on the Atlanta community to be named the Braves' nominee for this year's Roberto Clemente Award.

"At this point, I'm still figuring out what I can do and who to help," Kimbrel said. "It's been fun figuring that out over the past few years. I've come to learn that you can do a lot more than you think you can if you just try."

Wednesday is Roberto Clemente Day throughout Major League Baseball, a day instituted on the 30th anniversary of his passing in 1972 to keep alive Clemente's spirit of giving.

Beginning Wednesday, fans will be able to go to MLB.com/ClementeAward to decide which of this year's 30 club winners will receive this prestigious Roberto Clemente Award. The nominees were chosen based on their dedication to giving back to the community, as well as their outstanding ability on the field. Voting will end on Oct. 6.

"My wife [Ashley] and I do as much as we can to help," Kimbrel said. "Our time is limited and affects how much we can actually help. But when we get the chance, we do."

Many members of the baseball world have come to recognize Kimbrel as the only pitcher in Major League history to notch at least 40 saves during each of his first four full seasons. Clay and Grainne Owen have come to know Kimbrel as a kind-hearted, generous individual who has proven to be the perfect spokesperson for their charity, Curing Kids' Cancer.

"We just feel so blessed," Grainne told MLB.com last winter. "We really do. If I had written down all of the qualities I wanted in somebody, I couldn't have found anyone any better."

The Owens started their charity in 2004, one year after their 9-year-old son Killian died of Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia, which has become recognized as the most common and curable type of childhood cancer.

During his 4 1/2-year battle with this disease, Killian underwent chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta. He also received experimental targeted treatment at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md.

"They are great people," Kimbrel said. "They're only focus is to raise money to come with better research. They send their own doctors through schooling to come up with new cures and learn more about pediatric cancer, which is so different than regular cancer, but they treat it the same. We see that as a problem, because how are you going to treat a child like an adult, because a child's body can't withstand the same amount of stress that an adult body can."

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Bats struggle again as Harang takes tough-luck loss

Braves can't gain ground in WC race as Nats clinch NL East title

Bats struggle again as Harang takes tough-luck loss play video for Bats struggle again as Harang takes tough-luck loss

ATLANTA -- As their offense spent most of the past few weeks appearing to be lifeless, the Braves bid adieu to their hope of defending their division crown. But that did not necessarily make things any easier as they were forced to watch the Nationals celebrate the clinching of the National League East after claiming a 3-0 win on Tuesday night at Turner Field.

"It's a tough one with them slamming the door on the division tonight," Braves starting pitcher Aaron Harang said. "Obviously I was out there pitching for them to hopefully not win. But it is what it is. We've got to come back out tomorrow and just keep fighting for that Wild Card spot."

Harang did all he could to prevent the Braves from having to deal with watching a division rival celebrate on their home turf. But the two-run home run he surrendered to Ian Desmond in the sixth inning proved to be too much to overcome for the Atlanta offense that has been shut out in five of the last 16 games and a total of 14 times this season.

Desmond's rocket into the left-field seats proved to be the crushing blow for the Nationals, who never lost sole possession of first place in the NL East standings after July 21. The Braves held a season-high 3 1/2-game lead after the games played on April 27. But since then, they have gone 58-69 and the Nationals have produced a 73-51 record.

As the Nationals celebrated in a controlled manner on the field, the Braves gathered their gear in the clubhouse and dealt with the reality that their record has dipped below .500 during the month of September for the first time since 2008.

"You've got to congratulate them on winning the division," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "You've got to tip your hat, they've had a solid year. Good for [Washington manager] Matt Williams and his coaching staff and the Washington Nationals. Yeah, you never want anybody celebrating on your field. But they did it professionally, and I didn't expect anything less from that organization."

Now that the Braves have been officially eliminated in the division race, they can only hope for an incredible turnaround during this season's final 11 games. They sit 5 1/2 games behind the Pirates, who are currently positioned to claim the NL's second Wild Card spot.

Though the Braves can hold out hope because of the fact that they will welcome the Pirates to Turner Field for a four-game set next week, they can't ignore the fact that they have not played like a playoff-worthy club while losing eight of their past nine games and 15 of their past 22 going back to Aug. 23. They have averaged 2.4 runs per game during that 22-game span.

"It's tough, it's a grind," Braves third baseman Chris Johnson said. "We just all can't get on the same page together. That's been the story of the year. There are still games left. But we'll just keep grinding."

After allowing Stephen Strasburg to notch a rare win in Atlanta on Monday night, the Braves squandered far too many opportunities against Tanner Roark, who scattered five hits over seven scoreless innings.

Roark got through unscathed despite allowing a single to begin the first, third and sixth innings.

Having allowed just two earned runs in the 20 innings completed during his three previous starts against the Nationals, Harang entered this contest with a sense of confidence that grew as he navigated his way through the first five innings without allowing a run. The veteran stranded a pair of runners to end both of the first two innings and then found a groove that allowed him to enter the sixth having retired nine of his previous 10 batters.

After Jayson Werth drew a walk to begin the sixth, Desmond jumped on a 2-2 slider and then watched it soar over the left-field wall. The resulting two runs accounted for the only blemish for Harang, who allowed five hits in seven innings.

"I felt like I was executing pitches," Harang said. "That's what it comes down to in pitchers' duels, whoever makes the first mistake. I threw a slider up there that didn't have much break on it, and Desmond jumped all over it."

As they look ahead, the Braves can only hope to avoid what has become an all-too-familiar script that forced them to deal with painful conclusions far too often this year.

"The bottom line is you need to win," Braves right fielder Jason Heyward said. "That's the only thing that never changes every night."

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Braves, SunTrust anticipate fruitful partnership

Naming-rights deal between team and Atlanta-based bank revealed at groundbreaking

Braves, SunTrust anticipate fruitful partnership play video for Braves, SunTrust anticipate fruitful partnership

ATLANTA -- When the Braves announced that they would stage the groundbreaking for their new stadium on Tuesday morning, they said there would be a significant announcement. True to their promise, they revealed the surprise by announcing that their new home, scheduled to open in 2017, will be named SunTrust Park.

"The new ballpark constitutes a new chapter in Atlanta Braves baseball, and we are excited that SunTrust has decided to build upon our decades-long relationship and embark on this journey with us," Braves chairman and CEO Terry McGuirk said. "Both of our organizations have deep roots in Atlanta and loyal fans throughout the Southeast and across the nation. We couldn't imagine a more perfect partner and look forward to seeing the first pitch at SunTrust Park in 2017."

SunTrust Bank chairman and CEO William Rogers was in attendance for Tuesday's groundbreaking ceremonies, which were staged on the Cobb County plot of land that will serve as the foundation for the 41,500-seat stadium and the surrounding mixed-use development that will include restaurants, hotels, office space and residential opportunities that could provide a steady revenue stream year-round.

"This is a special day for SunTrust and the Atlanta Braves," Rogers said. "It's just an incredible day. Atlanta is our headquarters. This is our hometown. SunTrust Park will be the heart and soul of what we stand for as an organization and what the Braves stand for as an organization."

After proudly addressing the new partnership, Rogers announced that SunTrust was donating $100,000 to Hank Aaron's Chasing the Dream Foundation, which provides scholarships and financial assistance to children who are pursuing their dreams through education or the arts.

"This donation will go a long ways in helping young people," Aaron said as he expressed his gratitude to Rogers and SunTrust Bank.

While the Braves will gain significant revenues via the 25-year naming-rights partnership, SunTrust will receive marquee signage as well as additional signage and promotional opportunities throughout the ballpark and the adjacent mixed-use complex.

"The partnership between SunTrust and the Atlanta Braves really fits like a glove," Rogers said. "We both share an incredible competitive spirit, we both have long-standing roots in Atlanta and we both believe in building and investing in our communities."

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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MLB.com Columnist

Mike Bauman

With SunTrust Park, a new day for Braves

Ballpark development includes more than just a stadium for franchise, city

With SunTrust Park, a new day for Braves play video for With SunTrust Park, a new day for Braves

ATLANTA -- A new ballpark can energize a franchise on several levels, from economics to competitiveness to fan-friendliness.

The Atlanta Braves are going bigger than just a new stadium with SunTrust Park. They are undertaking a "ballpark village" concept, with their new park the centerpiece of a development that will include restaurants, hotels, retail outlets, office space, entertainment venues and residential areas.

Tuesday's groundbreaking ceremonies for the new park were suitably star-studded. Henry Aaron was there. That would have been enough right there for many of us.

The ceremonies were held at the Cobb County site of the new park, inside a nicely air-conditioned tent. There were many notables from the business world, the Georgia political scene and baseball. Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal was in attendance. Major League Baseball Commissioner-elect Rob Manfred was on hand. From the Braves, chairman and CEO Terry McGuirk, chairman emeritus Bill Bartholomay, team president John Schuerholz and general manager Frank Wren took part in the ceremonies.

There were numerous Cobb County officials, with this suburban area soon to become the new home of the Braves. And there were numerous officials of SunTrust Banks, Inc., because that organization will have the stadium naming rights. SunTrust, suitably enough, is an Atlanta-based operation. So, welcome to SunTrust Park, which is scheduled to open in 2017.

There were many compliments paid to the Braves, dating back to the "Miracle Braves" of 1914. That happened two cities ago in franchise history, but more recently, there were the record 14 consecutive division titles. And less than two months ago, as Manfred reminded the crowd at the groundbreaking ceremony, four former Braves -- Bobby Cox, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Joe Torre -- were inducted in one class to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

"As some of you know, the Braves are the longest continuing operating professional sports franchise in North America," Manfred said. "As long as I've been in baseball, they've also been held up as the gold standard for the operation of a great club."

Manfred also extolled the Braves' performance off the field.

"The Braves truly have been blessed with business acumen and vision," Manfred said. "Today, here in Cobb County, there is a new chapter in the history of the Braves being launched. The state-of-the-art facility that will be built here will be essential to the Braves continuing their great winning tradition. And this project is an example of the type of vision the Braves have always had. ... I personally can't wait for Opening Day 2017."

In an interview after the ceremony, Schuerholz explained why the Braves had chosen the larger, more comprehensive project as opposed to simply building a new ballpark.

"It is our belief that our investing in and being part-owner in the mixed-use development is a very, very viable decision for us to make," Schuerholz said. "We believe in this project. We believe that with this beautiful new ballpark, hosting the Atlanta Braves -- as Rob Manfred said, 'the gold standard' organization in the view of Major League Baseball -- in this community -- Cobb County, which is robust, growing and dynamic in its economic outlook -- we believe that this is the place to be. And so we're invested in this, as well."

Schuerholz also responded to the criticism that the Braves were leaving the city of Atlanta proper with this move.

"When we told [Atlanta mayor Kasim Reed] that we would be leaving Turner Field after our lease expired, and moving to Cobb County, we said, with respect, 'We're still going to represent the Atlanta Braves,'" Schuerholz said. "We are Atlanta's Braves. We represent the community of Atlanta.

"We have been the Atlanta Braves since we moved here in 1965. We're not going to change that. We're simply moving 12 miles up into Cobb County, which had a vision and a forward-thinking plan to bring us here. We're still going to wear 'Atlanta' across our chest and the 'A' on our cap, and represent the great City of Atlanta. And proudly so.

"I don't think there's been a lot of opposition. I think there's been some. But there's been an awful lot of people who are supporting this and are glad that it's happening. And we are, too. And so is SunTrust. And so is Cobb County. I think the vast majority of people feel that way. And I think they'll love this place when they see it. I think when it opens, they will embrace it and have ownership in it, as citizens of Atlanta."

Aaron was presented with a $100,000 donation to his Chasing the Dream Foundation by SunTrust. In brief remarks, he explained the origins of his foundation and thanked SunTrust. He did not speak of the new ballpark development.

Perhaps the best question of the day was asked by Gov. Deal: "Have you ever noticed that the hot dogs taste just a little bit better when you are at a baseball game?"

The correct answer there is yes, definitely. The Braves are hoping that their new ballpark/development generates every bit of that better-tasting hot dog feeling.

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Fredi's challenge gets call overturned at second

Fredi's challenge gets call overturned at second play video for Fredi's challenge gets call overturned at second

ATLANTA -- Though his club's postseason hopes were further weakened during Tuesday night's 3-0 loss to the Nationals, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez proved successful in his attempt to prevent a run from scoring during the eighth inning.

After second-base umpire Ed Hickox ruled that Anthony Rendon had successfully stolen second base with no outs and the Nationals leading, 2-0, Gonzalez came out of the dugout and challenged that second baseman Phil Gosselin had received Christian Bethancourt's strong throw and applied the tag before Rendon reached the base.

Umpires reviewed the initial ruling and the call was overturned.

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Braves fall back in WC race after falling to Nats

Santana strong for six innings, but bats silent vs. Strasburg in loss

Braves fall back in WC race after falling to Nats play video for Braves fall back in WC race after falling to Nats

ATLANTA -- Coming off a miserable road trip, the Braves were hoping to gain some momentum courtesy of their latest opportunity to face Stephen Strasburg. But instead of frustrating Strasburg yet again, they extended their offensive woes in Monday night's 4-2 loss to the Nationals, who are now on the brink of clinching the National League East title.

"We all collectively, from the front office to our coaches to our fans, we want to win," said manager Fredi Gonzalez. "Anything short of us getting into some playoff game or play-in game is not acceptable. You see guys fighting."

To prevent the Nationals from clinching and celebrating at Turner Field this week, the Braves must win the final two games of this series. But their motivation should have more to do with the fact that with just 12 games remaining, they are 4 1/2 games behind the Pirates in the battle for the NL's second Wild Card spot, with Milwaukee -- three games ahead to the Braves -- to also jump past in the race.

"We're not giving up," Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman said. "We're fighting until the end, and we're still not out of this thing."

Long after Freeman was ejected for his reaction to a called third strike, the Braves tallied a pair of ninth-inning runs to avoid being shut out for the fifth time in their past 15 games. Justin Upton plated Andrelton Simmons with a double off the recently demoted Rafael Soriano, who eventually had to hand the ball to newly appointed Nationals closer Drew Storen. Christian Bethancourt followed with an RBI single. But Storen then ended the game by getting B.J. Upton to ground out with the tying run on second base.

While Freeman and Gonzalez said they hoped the ninth-inning rally would provide some momentum going into Tuesday's game, Simmons viewed it in a more realistic light.

"It's a good sign, but we had the whole game to do it and we waited until the last minute," Simmons said. "We've got to do a better job of getting it done earlier in the game."

Working with no room for error, Braves starting pitcher Ervin Santana walked Wilson Ramos to open the third inning and then paid for the first hit he allowed -- a Denard Span two-out double that scored Ramos. Two innings later, Ramos hit a leadoff homer against Santana, who allowed just three hits and two runs during his six innings.

After getting two outs with nobody on in the seventh, Luis Avilan allowed Strasburg to drive in what proved to be the decisive run with a single up the middle. Avilan has struggled against right-handed hitters, but he was given a chance to pitch to switch-hitter Asdrubal Cabrera, who has hit .244 against lefties this season. Cabrera won the battle by notching a double ahead of Strasburg's single.

"The guys are battling," Gonzalez said. "They know what is in store. They know what is up against them. You like the effort. It's just that right now, if you miss an opportunity to score a run, it comes back and bites us, or you give up an extra run or an add-on run late in the game that comes back to haunt us."

Given that Strasburg had gone winless and posted a 4.98 ERA in his previous nine starts against Atlanta, there was reason to wonder if this would be one of those nights where the Braves' offense would show life, much like it did while beating the Nationals' right-hander last week in Washington.

But Strasburg was in total command as he scattered five hits over seven scoreless innings. When he encountered a potentially damaging situation, he simply added to the frustration of the Braves, who entered Monday having hit .193 (31-for-161) with runners in scoring position over the past 22 games.

The Braves were given a prime opportunity when an errant pickoff attempt moved Jason Heyward to third base with none out in the fifth inning. But Strasburg responded by sandwiching a Bethancourt groundout between strikeouts of Chris Johnson and B.J. Upton.

Simmons doubled with two outs in the sixth inning and then was left stranded at second base when Freeman looked at a called third strike to end the inning. Plate umpire Tim Timmons ejected Freeman after he slammed and broke his bat in front of the plate. This led to a brief argument from Gonzalez, who also was ejected.

"I thought it was a ball, and after looking at it, it was a ball," Freeman said. "I guess it was a little bit of frustration built up at a pivotal point of the game. That would have been first and second with Justin coming up down by two. That's just kind of the way things have been going. You get a bad call right there, and unfortunately, I let the frustration boil over."

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Freeman, Fredi tossed after Stras K's slugger

Freeman, Fredi tossed after Stras K's slugger play video for Freeman, Fredi tossed after Stras K's slugger

ATLANTA -- Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman and his manager Fredi Gonzalez both displayed some frustration when they were ejected by plate umpire Tim Timmons during Monday night's series opener against the Nationals at Turner Field.

Freeman was tossed when he slammed his bat and broke it in objection to a called third strike Timmons awarded Stephen Strasburg on a 3-2 pitch to end the sixth inning. Though Freeman simply looked at the veteran umpire in a disdainful manner without seemingly saying anything, Gonzalez rushed toward the plate to express his feelings. After providing a few choice words for Timmons, Gonzalez kicked the bat that was laying in the batter's box and subsequently was ejected.

"I think it was just ball four," Gonzalez said. "Really all he did was slam the bat and broke it. He never said a word to Tim. ... I was trying to get out there and keep [Freeman] in the game. I came up short. I said what I said. They could play the game without the manager, but it's hard to play the game without your three-hole hitter."

Now 4 1/2 games behind the Pirates in the battle for the National League's second Wild Card spot, the Braves know they can't continue to squander opportunities like the one Freeman gained after Andrelton Simmons had doubled with one out in the sixth.

Nor could they afford to lose Freeman, who has batted .470 (31-for-66) against the Nationals this season.

"I didn't say a word, not even, 'Are you serious, Tim?' Or anything like that," Freeman said."Not a word came out of my mouth. He's usually pretty good about that stuff. But he had a quick one tonight. I guess I shouldn't have slammed my bat."

After getting tossed, Freeman and Gonzalez watched the remainder of the game together in the clubhouse.

"I've never really heard [Gonzalez] in the game like that," Freeman said. "He was rooting for the players. It was kind of cool to see. It's nice to see he has our back. Even though he's not managing the game up in the dugout, he's still fighting for everybody."

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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With Gattis out, Heyward looks to provide power

With Gattis out, Heyward looks to provide power play video for With Gattis out, Heyward looks to provide power

ARLINGTON -- Jason Heyward batted fifth for the second straight game as the Braves continue to wait for Evan Gattis to recover from strep throat, which has caused him to miss the last six games.

Heyward has started 95 of the 140 games he's played this year in the leadoff spot, but with Gattis unavailable to even pinch-hit, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez wanted him in the middle of the lineup. There is no timetable for Gattis' return.

"The symptoms are still there," Gonzalez said. "With not having Gattis and not knowing how long we're not going to have Gattis, we needed somebody in the middle of that order to protect Justin [Upton] a little bit, to give us some thump. … We need to thicken up that middle."

Heyward is a career .282 hitter when batting leadoff and a .257 hitter when batting fifth. But this year, his batting average has been higher when hitting fifth (.286) than when hitting leadoff (.270), although 10 of his 11 home runs have come when he's in the leadoff spot.

"At the top of the lineup, it's a little tougher. You feel like you have to go to the plate and get a hit or get on base. There are RBI opportunities, but there's just not as many," Heyward said. "That's not to say I only want to drive guys in, but as far as going up there with a free mindset and letting the game come to you, the leadoff spot has a little different mentality."

Christian Corona is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Minor struggles as Braves lose ground in WC race

Lefty allows five runs over 4 2/3 innings in Atlanta's third straight loss

Minor struggles as Braves lose ground in WC race play video for Minor struggles as Braves lose ground in WC race

ARLINGTON -- A three-game series against the worst team in baseball seemed to be exactly what the Braves needed to break out of their September slump.

Instead, the Braves became just the second team swept by the Rangers this season and the first since April while falling to four games back in the National League Wild Card race. Left-hander Mike Minor, who entered the game with six straight quality starts, couldn't stop the bleeding during a six-run fifth inning for the Rangers, who handed the Braves a 10-3 loss at Globe Life Park on Sunday afternoon.

"We've got to step it up," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "We're not playing good baseball. It's not the way we're used to playing. It's a shame. We've played 140 games, but now these last couple weeks, we're not playing good baseball."

A day after a sinking liner went in and out of his glove during a pivotal three-run sixth inning, Justin Upton saw a ball ricochet on a hop off his leg and onto the center field warning track during the second inning. The result was an RBI triple for Michael Choice and a 1-0 Rangers lead.

Minor gave up an RBI double to Luis Sardinas to make it 2-0 in the fourth before the Braves fell apart in the fifth. The inning started harmlessly enough, with Minor striking out J.P. Arencibia and getting Adrian Beltre to foul out. But the next seven Rangers reached base, the first three off Minor and the next four off reliever David Hale, six of them scoring.

The Rangers, who entered this series having lost 11 of their previous 12 games, got an RBI bloop single from Robinison Chirinos to begin the fifth-inning rally. Sardinas, who also delivered a two-run double in the sixth, singled to bring Chirinos home in the fifth before Choice doubled home two more to make it 6-0.

"They absolutely erupted with two outs in the fifth," Rangers right-hander Colby Lewis said. "[Ryan] Rua started it off with that double and it kind of just escalated. It was a good time, especially scoring that many runs and going out there trying to pound the strike zone."

"Everybody has their bad days. It just [stinks] that it happened today," said Minor, who threw first-pitch strikes to just 12 of the 25 batters he faced. "The sinkers I usually throw were off today. I was working 1-0, 2-0 behind every batter. I felt like my curveball wasn't as sharp… It just [stinks] that we got swept."

That was it for Minor, who allowed five runs on eight hits, striking out one while walking three and hitting two as he lost his third straight start. But it wasn't the end for the Rangers, who tacked on two more with an RBI single from Leonys Martin and an RBI double from Elvis Andrus.

"We just couldn't get that third out and they dropped a six-spot," Gonzalez said. "He's rattled off five or six good starts and this was just one of those starts where he might have left the ball out over the plate. A lot of pitches in five innings, 107 pitches, he just got in some deep counts."

The Braves scored only six runs -- one on Ryan Doumit's seventh-inning solo shot and two more on Joey Terdoslavich's double in the eighth Sunday -- during this three-game series as their offensive woes continued. They have scored just 32 runs in their last 14 games, going 4-10 during that stretch.

"Our pitchers have to pitch a perfect game every time, pretty much," Freedie Freeman said. "We're not scoring any runs. That puts a lot of pressure on the pitchers and that's not something you want to do every single day… When you have early opportunities, you have to get those guys in. We haven't been able to do that for the last couple weeks."

More importantly, the Braves are now four games behind the Pirates in the race for the second NL Wild Card spot with 13 regular season games remaining. The Brewers, like the Pirates, won Sunday and currently sit two games ahead of the Braves, who are hoping a 10-game homestand that starts Monday will help them get back on track.

"We're putting ourselves back up against a wall," Gonzalez said. "It's not a good feeling. It's not the way we play baseball. You see one or two good at-bats here, but up and down the lineup we haven't really put anything together."

Christian Corona is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Braves recognize need to get offense going

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ARLINGTON -- The Braves have scored just 34 runs over their last 14 games and are batting just .215 over that stretch. If they don't produce more on offense over their final 14 games, it could cost them a chance at going to the playoffs.

"We're running out of games," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "September hasn't been the best month for us offensively, not just for one guy, but you look at some of the September numbers for every offensive position player we have, it's not real good. But we've got 14 games left and that could change."

In Saturday's 3-2 loss to the Rangers, the Braves took a quick 2-0 lead in the third inning, but didn't advance a baserunner past second base the rest of the game. The Braves are now in danger of becoming the first team swept by the Rangers since April and entered Sunday's series finale three games behind the Pirates for the second National League Wild Card spot.

"We've gotten situations where we were able to get runs, but we didn't manage to capitalize," Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons said. "We've got to get better at that. It's time to take advantage of those situations."

Meanwhile, the Braves continue to pad their Major League-leading quality start total, which now stands at 103. Alex Wood and Julio Teheran combined to allow just one earned run over 15 innings against the Rangers this week, but the Braves dropped both games, each by only one run.

"If we don't score any runs, we're not going to get there," Braves right-hander Ervin Santana said. "At the same time, you just have to see the view from the hitters. They're trying to do everything they can to score runs. So you have to be in their shoes, too."

Christian Corona is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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After Rangers miss on review, Braves get call overturned

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ARLINGTON -- The Rangers unsuccessfully challenged a play at first base in the second inning Sunday, when Leonys Martin was picked off by Braves pitcher Mike Minor for the third out. Two innings later, the Braves had a call overturned as Andrelton Simmons threw out Luis Sardinas trying to advance from second to third base after Sardinas was originally called safe.

Martin dove back behind the bag and reached out to tag the bag with his right hand, but was called out by first-base umpire Adrian Johnson. Interim Rangers manager Tim Bogar challenged the ruling, but after a review of 2 minutes, 8 seconds, the ruling on the field stood.

The play ended a potential rally as the Rangers would have had men on first and third had the call been reversed.

The Braves' challenge was a much quicker one, lasting just 47 seconds. Michael Choice hit a routine ground ball to Simmons at shortstop, who fired to third baseman Phil Gosselin. Sardinas was called safe at third before Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez successfully challenged the play.

Instead of having runners on the corners with one out and the top of the Rangers' lineup coming up, they had just the man on first with two out. Braves left-hander Mike Minor got out of the inning without allowing the Rangers to extend their 2-0 lead.

Christian Corona is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Teheran takes a hard-luck loss against Rangers

Holds Texas hitless for 5 1/3, succumbs to three unearned in the sixth

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ARLINGTON -- The sixth inning was once again problematic for Julio Teheran.

The Braves' right-hander no-hit the Rangers through the first five frames before things came unraveled in the sixth, allowing three hits and three unearned runs on his way to losing his third straight start. With a 3-2 loss to the Rangers on Saturday afternoon at Globe Life Park, the Braves remained three games behind the Pirates in the National League Wild Card race.

Teheran was brilliant for seven of the eight innings he pitched. But, with Teheran protecting a 2-0 Braves lead, Luis Sardinas broke up the righty's no-hit bid with a one-out single in the sixth. After Michael Choice popped out, Leonys Martin hit a ball that ricocheted off of left fielder Justin Upton's glove to put runners on the corners with two out.

"We're human. People make errors," said Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez. "Nobody's going to feel worse than Justin. He makes that play 100 out of 100 times. He's coming in hard trying to get it, and it just bounces off his glove."

Elvis Andrus followed with a sharp RBI single to right and Rougned Odor knocked a two-run double to deep left-center off Teheran to put the Rangers on top, 3-2. Teheran did not allow another runner to reach base, but the Braves could not push another run across. Atlanta has now lost five of its last six games.

"A lot of nights, [Teheran] holds that 2-0 lead and gives [Craig] Kimbrel the ball in the ninth inning. But he pitched tremendous baseball today," Gonzalez said. "He goes from no hits to a couple hits to losing the ballgame. But he pitched well."

"Teheran is an excellent pitcher," Rangers manager Tim Bogar said. "He obviously showed that today. We didn't have many good swings off him. We hit a couple right on the screws. The rest of the game, he dominated us."

Of the 20 runs Teheran has allowed over his last seven starts, only three have come before the sixth inning -- while 12 of the 17 coming after the fifth have scored in the sixth.

"I was just trying to keep the lead and trying to win the game," Teheran said. "After that, you're trying to control what you can control, and that's what I did. The whole game I felt pretty good."

After getting shut out in each of Teheran's previous two starts, the Braves scored twice for him in the third inning -- thanks, in part, to a late lineup shuffle that put Emilio Bonifacio in the leadoff spot.

Bonifacio ripped a two-out single to right in the third, before stealing second and scoring on an RBI bloop single to center by Phil Gosselin. Freddie Freeman gave the Braves a 2-0 lead by following with a double to left, taking advantage of the Rangers shifting their defenders to the right.

But those were the only runs the Braves scored on Saturday, as they did not advance a runner past second base over the final six innings. They have now dropped the first two games of a three-game series against the Rangers, who have the worst record in baseball and had lost 11 of their last 12 games coming into this series. The two losses came in spite of Atlanta getting a pair of quality starts from its starting pitchers.

"You definitely appreciate what those guys do for us. You don't take it for granted," said outfielder Jason Heyward. "You're going to need to win one-run ballgames -- especially down the stretch, when you're trying to get in the playoffs. If you want to win in the playoffs, it's going to take [success in one-run games] to do it. We came out on the wrong side of it today."

The Braves have managed to score only 51 runs in their last 20 games -- batting .221 as a team and going 8-12 during that stretch.

"You've got to get hits and have good at-bats, get on base -- whether it's a walk or a base hit," Upton said. "You've got to get the big hit. We haven't been doing that, and our run production has kind of showed that."

Christian Corona is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Key connections: Star-Spangled Banner, baseball forever linked

Verses that became National anthem celebrates 200 years, is part of baseball's fabric

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Francis Scott Key never got to see a big league baseball game. He died in 1843, some 26 years before the first professional team was established. But you can imagine his joy if he did get that chance. These days, he'd probably sit in a shiny bleacher seat, waiting for a batting-practice homer with a soft, weathered glove raised high ... in his non-writing hand. Maybe he'd inhale a hot dog while jotting down a few pretty lines for his next song. That would come about an hour before he'd hear the iconic bars of his first one, which, contrary to American lore, does not end with the words, "Play Ball." Odds are he'd be pretty happy at the twilight's last gleaming.

This weekend, the celebration of the 200th anniversary of our national anthem, "The Star-Spangled Banner," is on, and Key's memory is being rightly feted for his poetic description from the "dawn's early light" of Sept. 14, 1814, at the height of the War of 1812.

Hours after being stuck on a ship in Baltimore Harbor as the British pounded Fort McHenry in the Battle of Baltimore, Key saw the skies clear from the smoke and the indelible image that "our flag was still there."

The verses were called "The Defence of Fort M'Henry," and it was put to the tune of "To Anacreon in Heaven," a British drinking song purportedly written by John Stafford Smith that had been composed more than 30 years earlier and served as the theme of the Anacreontic Society of London, a men's club of amateur musicians.

Soon after Key wrote the words, a local newspaper gave it the title "The Star-Spangled Banner," and in 1931, it became our official anthem. All the while, another grand tradition steeped in collective nostalgia and American togetherness -- the game of baseball -- was steaming along, gaining prominence in our country's conscience.

Not surprisingly, the national anthem and the National Pastime became stitched together forever, like red laces in white horsehide.

According to John Thorn, the official historian of Major League Baseball, the playing of the national anthem before big league games did not become an everyday tradition until 1942. Taking that into account (and including a slight margin of error based on the lack of documentation regarding split doubleheaders in the earlier days), the Star-Spangled Banner has been heard right before the first pitch of at least the last 121,000 games. Oh, say can you see, indeed.

So with that in mind, 200 years after the night a 35-year-old Washington, D.C.-based attorney known to friends as Frank found himself under a war-torn sky, with honor in his heart and a pen in his hand, we go around the horn with nine things to know about "The Star-Spangled Banner" and its now-eternal link to the national pastime.

1. A first for everything
The first time the song was played at a baseball game was May 15, 1862, at William Cammeyer's Union Grounds park in Brooklyn. It had been converted from an ice skating venue into a field for summer sports, including what, at the time, was known as "base ball." In the midst of the Civil War, a band played "The Star-Spangled Banner."

The first big league Opening Day to feature the eventual anthem took place in Philadelphia on April 22, 1897. The New York Tribune newspaper included a brief and lyrical account of the game: "Opening Day here was a great success. The weather was delightful and the attendance numbered 17,074. The players paraded across the field, company front, and then raised the new flag, while the band played 'The Star Spangled Banner.' "

In spite of all the pageantry, there had to be some accounting for the four errors that led the Phillies to a 5-1 victory over the Giants at the Baker Bowl.

"The game was rather dull and long-drawn out," the article read, "and on the part of the New-Yorkers was somewhat unsteadily played."

2. An unforgettable rendition
The first national anthem played at a World Series game occurred on Sept. 5, 1918, during World War I, when Major League players were in the midst of being drafted into service. The regular season was ordered by the government to be completed by Labor Day, hence the Fall Classic that year was played in September.

The Cubs borrowed Comiskey Park from the White Sox to take advantage of the larger seating capacity, but things got quiet in Game 1, a 1-0 shutout by Red Sox pitcher Babe Ruth. But that game will be forever remembered for what occurred in the seventh inning.

That was when the military band on hand struck up "The Star-Spangled Banner," and the song took on a different meaning. Red Sox third baseman Fred Thomas, for example, was on furlough from the Navy, and he saluted the flag during the playing of the song.

And then the crowd caught on. The New York Times opened its account of the game by writing, "Far different from any incident that has ever occurred in the history of baseball was the great moment of the first world's series game between the Chicago Cubs and the Boston Red Sox, which came at Comiskey Park this afternoon during the seventh-inning stretch" and then continued with the play-by-play … of "The Star-Spangled Banner."

"First the song was taken up by a few, then others joined, and when the final notes came, a great volume of melody rolled across the field. It was at the very end that the onlookers exploded into thunderous applause and rent the air with a cheer that marked the highest point of the day's enthusiasm."

The Cubs and Red Sox repeated the tradition for the rest of the Series.

3. Making it official
Even though the Secretary of the Navy in 1889 had designated "The Star-Spangled Banner" as the official song to be played at the raising of the flag, and even though President Woodrow Wilson, a huge baseball fan himself, treated it and referred to it as our national anthem, it had failed to stick in Congress after numerous attempts in the 1920s.

Baseball's increased use of the song prior to games, a petition with millions of signatures, and a nice little push from noted composer John Philip Sousa helped finally get the job done on March 3, 1931, when President Herbert Hoover signed into law the establishment of the song as the official national anthem of the United States of America.

4. A lasting tradition
"The Star-Spangled Banner" still wasn't being played before every baseball game in 1941, but on April 26, 1941, the ball got rolling in the Bronx. As The New York Times reported, "With more war new in the making, president Ed Barrow of the Yankees ordered that 'The Star-Spangled Banner' be played before all games at the Stadium.

"Meanwhile, all continued to go well for the Yankees and [Joe] DiMaggio. He singled home a run in the first and scored twice as New York beat Washington 8-3 for its fourth straight victory."

By the following year, with the country deep in World War II, the anthem became the daily staple of baseball that we know today.

And DiMaggio was still hitting.

5. Controversy hits the field
It was October 1968, and the country was fighting in Vietnam and had already lived through the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. that year. Protests were boiling over in the streets at home, and the Detroit Tigers were hosting the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series.

Jose Feliciano was a 23-year-old blind folk singer from Puerto Rico who had scored a hit on the U.S. charts with a cover of The Doors' "Light My Fire," and Tigers radio legend Ernie Harwell invited him to sing the national anthem at Tiger Stadium prior to Game 5.

Feliciano was accompanied in left field by his acoustic guitar and his guide dog, Trudy, and he launched into an emotional, heartfelt, and, well, different version of "The Star-Spangled Banner." He strummed the guitar in a slightly syncopated, Latin-influenced rhythm, careened back and forth from the traditional vocal melody to something more adventurous, and offered the finishing flourish of "Yeah, yeah."

It was bold and innovative and fresh, but it was also many years ahead of its time. Feliciano was booed heartily by the crowd and caused a public uproar that took years to live down.

"Back then, when the anthem was done at ballgames, people couldn't wait for it to be over," Feliciano told The Guardian last month. "And I wanted to make them sit up and take notice and respect the song. I was shocked when I was booed. I felt, 'God, what have I done wrong?' All I was trying to do was create a soulful rendition. I never in my wildest dreams thought I was going to have the country against me, radio stations stop playing me.

"But in part, it was good -- because I ended up meeting my wife. She couldn't understand the injustice and started a fan club, even though we'd never met. We fell in love and the rest is history."

On Oct. 14, 2012, prior to Game 1 of the National League Championship Series at AT&T Park in San Francisco, the same stylized, heartfelt version of the national anthem was performed by Feliciano on his acoustic guitar.

This time the crowd roared.

6. "O"-dience participation
The anthem itself is a tradition, and at Oriole Park in Camden Yards in Baltimore, there's a tradition baked into the tradition. When the song rounds third base and heads for home with, "O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave," the crowd screams the "O" together, celebrating their beloved O's.

This started at the old Memorial Stadium in the club's pennant-winning season of 1979. Out in Section 34 of the upper deck, Orioles superfan Wild Bill Hagy would lead fans in chants of O-R-I-O-L-E-S, with the emphasis on the "O." Mary Powers sat nearby and took the inspiration to another level.

"We would accentuate the 'O' in any word that would have an 'O,' and one night when they were playing the anthem, I thought, 'There's an 'O!' in this song,' and the first time I did it, I remember people turning around and looking like, 'Oh, my God, I can't believe she just did that,' " Powers recently told WBAL-TV.

"Well, Wild Bill had a little grin on his face, so the next night, he did it with me, and once he put his blessing on it, everybody started to do it."

Orioles fans still do it -- loudly -- and will likely be doing it in October this year.

7. Setting the (low) Barr
We all know now that Feliciano's rendition was eventually respected, if not appreciated. We all also know now that the version of "The Star-Spangled Banner" performed by comedian Roseanne Barr before a Padres-Reds doubleheader at Jack Murphy Stadium in San Diego on July 25, 1990, was not.

Barr screeched a fast, off-key rendition of the anthem that drew loud boos midway through, and when she was finished, she grabbed her crotch and spit, as if to mimic a ballplayer. The joke bombed, she was lambasted all over TV and in the newspapers, and she inspired President George H. W. Bush to call the whole act "disgraceful."

Bush's comment was met with bipartisan approval.

8. A hymn of healing
The horrific events of Sept. 11, 2001, changed the United States forever, but not only in tragic ways. The courage, brotherhood and human decency shown that day in New York, Washington, D.C., and on a hijacked airplane that would crash in a Pennsylvania field showed our country's strength and will to persevere.

The emotion was palpable 10 days later when the Mets played the Braves at Shea Stadium in the first professional sporting event in New York City since the attacks. Marc Anthony delivered a somber rendition without musical accompaniment and the game was played quietly until the eighth inning, when Piazza's two-run home run gave the Mets the lead and got the crowd going again.

"I remember standing on the line during the national anthem -- actually when the bagpipes and band came out -- I said to myself, 'Please, God, give me the strength to get through this,' " Piazza told the New York Daily News in 2008. "I was fortunate to find the strength to hit a home run in that situation. I'm flattered, I'm honored that people put that moment as a time where it helped the city at least have a little bit of joy in a really tough week."

9. 200 and many more
Every year now, we're treated to incredible musical talent on the baseball field. From the seasoned operatic pipes of longtime Yankees national anthem singer Robert Merrill to commercial acts James Taylor, Paul Simon, Sammy Davis Jr., John Legend, Lyle Lovett, the Grateful Dead, Slash from Guns N' Roses, Mary J. Blige, Billy Joel, Idina Menzel, Kelly Clarkson and countless others, it's now a grand American tradition to bring out the best in the business to sing "The Star-Spangled Banner" at the biggest baseball games.

But Sunday, the song itself will shine.

At Fort McHenry in Baltimore, a real-time anniversary program will kick off, with artillery salutes, a reading of the song's four stanzas and a replica 15-star, 15-stripe flag raising at precisely 9 a.m. to commemorate the history that Key had witnessed.

And MLB teams playing at home will show a special video montage of "The Star-Spangled Banner." In conjunction with the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) and the program Great Performances, Maryland Public Television has provided the montage originally seen in the PBS production Star-Spangled Banner: The Bicentennial of our National Anthem to the ballparks and to MLB.com and all 30 club websites and official MLB social media channels.

Fittingly, the last game on Sunday will be played at Camden Yards, about three miles away from Fort McHenry, and fittingly, the Orioles will play the Yankees.

We all know what song we'll hear right before the first pitch.

Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @DougMillerMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Simmons showing signs of life at the plate

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ARLINGTON -- After managing only three hits in his first 30 at-bats this month, Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons had as many hits in his last six at-bats over his last couple of games, entering Saturday.

Entering Wednesday's game against the Nationals on an 0-for-13 skid, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez left Simmons out of the lineup. But he brought him in to pinch-run and he later singled in the ninth, before going 2-for-4 on Friday, scoring the only run in a 2-1 loss to the Rangers in Friday's series opener.

Simmons hopes it's a sign of things to come.

"I just need to build on the confidence I've been getting from good at-bats," Simmons said. "I've been working on some things and feel confident at the plate, right now. Hopefully, I'll keep it going."

Considered one of the game's finest shortstops, Simmons leads the Majors with a 3.6 defensive WAR and is third with 24 defensive-runs saved this year. Teammate Jason Heyward leads the Majors in that category (34). While Simmons has had his struggles at the plate at various times this season, his defense has not fluctuated.

"I take a lot of pride in my defense. I feel like that's my main objective whenever I come to the field," said Simmons. "With the stats that are being kept, it's a nice way to reward players who play defense -- like Freddie [Freeman] and Jason. It's nice to know that all I've been doing defensively is being noticed."

Simmons went 1-for-4 during Saturday's 3-2 loss to the Rangers.

Worth noting
• Braves outfielder B.J. Upton is batting .112 with two strikes on him this season, worst among National League outfielders with at least 75 two-strike at-bats. He is hitting .315 in at-bats that don't reach two-strike counts in 2014, but is hitting just .099 with two strikes since joining the Braves last season.

Alex Wood delivered the Braves' 102nd quality start this season, when he allowed just one run over seven innings in Friday's series opener. Those 102 quality starts are seven more than any other big league team.

Christian Corona is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Fredi feels for his former player Stanton

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ARLINGTON -- When Marlins All-Star right fielder Giancarlo Stanton went down Thursday night after being beaned in the left jaw by Brewers pitcher Mike Fiers, it affected players and coaches across the league.

Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez was Stanton's first manager at the big league level as a rookie with the Marlins in 2010 and hated to see the National League MVP candidate go down during a career year.

"Anytime you get smoked like that, it's scary," Gonzalez said.

Braves right fielder Jason Heyward had similar injury in 2013 when he was hit by a pitch that resulted in a broken jaw. Heyward was able to return later in the season, but it is unlikely Stanton will return this season after sustaining multiple face fractures, lacerations and dental damage.

Stanton, the backbone of the surprising Marlins team eyeing a Wild Card berth, has an NL-leading 37 home runs and an MLB-best 105 RBIs. Both are career highs for Stanton.

"I think [Stanton] will be fine," Gonzalez said. "With his makeup I don't think it'll be a problem."

Ryan Cox is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Braves drop duel, fall back in Wild Card race

Wood twirls nine-strikeout gem before Rangers rally vs. 'pen

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ARLINGTON -- Coming off a win on Wednesday in Washington, the Braves were facing a Rangers team that had the worst record in baseball and had lost 11 of 12 games entering Friday night's series opener. The Braves spoiled another dominating pitching performance from starter Alex Wood, stranding eight men on base in a 2-1 loss.

The loss for the Braves moved their deficit for the second National League Wild Card spot to three games after the Pirates defeated the Cubs, 7-3.

Wood entered the game having thrown seven innings or more in four straight starts, and hadn't allowed more than three runs in eight straight. The trend continued for Wood, even in the hitter-friendly confines of Globe Life Park. The lefty tossed seven solid innings, surrendering only four hits, striking out nine and giving up one earned run in the no-decision.

"The only thing that's frustrating is us not getting a win as a team," Wood said. "Right now everything matters and we were grinding and battling against a good pitcher tonight. Sometimes that's just how things shake out at their home ballpark after an off-day."

Wood has received three runs or fewer of support in each of his last five starts.

"It doesn't bother him," manager Fredi Gonzalez said of Wood and his lack of run support. "He'll come back out next time and give you a chance to win a game.

"We had some opportunities early on. It's hard to win games [scoring only] one run. Our pitching staff is doing a tremendous job by just giving up two runs."

In the third inning, the Braves scattered four singles, but only managed one run, with Jason Heyward's fielder's choice groundout scoring B.J. Upton. Atlanta had opportunities with the bases loaded and only one out, but Justin Upton struck out swinging and Ryan Doumit popped out to third base.

The Braves went 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position.

After not starting the series finale against Washington on Wednesday, shortstop Andrelton Simmons went 2-for-3 with two singles in his return to the starting lineup. The rest seems to have benefited Simmons, who now has three hits in his last four at-bats after starting the month going 3-for-30. It was Simmons' first multihit game since Aug. 31 vs. Miami.

"You can't expect to beat anybody in the big leagues," Simmons said. "They've got big leaguers, too, and can play good at any moment. We have to make sure we do our part and play solid baseball, play solid defense and produce runs."

In his third start of the season since coming back from a knee injury, Rangers left-hander Derek Holland doesn't appear to have missed a beat on the mound. Holland matched Wood by hurling seven innings of his own and striking out six while only giving up one run.

"You can tell why [Holland] is what he is," Gonzalez said. "He doesn't panic. It was bases loaded early in the game with Justin Upton at the plate and he threw a 3-2 changeup with a ball in the dirt that Justin couldn't lay off on. That's what makes good pitchers. They don't give in."

Texas' offensive struggles continued, but the Rangers did enough late to pull off the rare September win.

A leadoff double in the sixth inning by J.P. Arencibia that bounced over the third-base bag started the rally to tie the score. Guilder Rodriguez pinch-ran for Arencibia and moved to third on an Adrian Beltre single. He scored on Ryan Rua's groundout.

In the top of the eighth with the game tied, 1-1, it appeared the Braves might retake the lead when Freddie Freeman reached on a walk, stole second and advanced to third when the throw by Rangers catcher Robinson Chirinos went into center field. With runners at second and third after Doumit was intentionally walked, Chris Johnson struck out swinging.

David Carpenter relieved Wood in the eighth. After retiring the first two Rangers hitters, Beltre started the two-out rally with the first of three straight singles. The last was the game-winner, an RBI knock up the middle by Chirinos.

"It stinks because Woody pitched his butt off again and we spoiled another really good outing," said Carpenter (6-4). "It's a tough loss against a team who's had some tough luck this year. We have to come back the next two days and grind it out to try and get two."

Ryan Cox is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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