ATLANTA (AP) — Austin Riley likes where the Atlanta Braves are heading into a big series against the first-place New York Mets.
The Braves have kept winning and chipping away at the Mets’ lead in the NL East.
“I’ve said from the beginning that it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon,” Riley said. “Early on things weren’t going our way. Now we’re playing the ball we want to and right where we want to be. If we continue to do that, I like our chances.”
Riley hit a tying home run in the eighth inning and a winning single in the 12th, lifting the surging Braves to a 4-3 victory over the Washington Nationals on Sunday.
The defending World Series champion Braves have won six of seven and improved to 29-8 since June 1, the best record in the majors in that span. They are 1½ games behind the Mets and open a three-game series against them Monday night in Atlanta.
Washington has lost 10 of 11. Juan Soto extended his hitting streak to 13 games — he’s batting .409 during the run — and also has a 20-game on-base string.
Dansby Swanson started the Braves 12th as the automatic runner at second base. After an intentional walk to Matt Olson, Riley lined a single to left off Jordan Weems (0-1).
“It’s hard to win a major league game against anybody,” Atlanta manager Brian Snitker said. “We’ve got to keep doing what we’re doing.”
Riley was the automatic runner in the 10th when William Contreras lined an infield single that second baseman Alcides Escobar bobbled. Escobar recovered in time to throw out Riley at the plate to end the inning.
Riley also had an RBI single in the third.
Collin McHugh (2-1) earned the win after pitching clean innings in the 11th and 12th.
Riley, going deep for the second straight day, hit his 23rd homer to tie it at 3 off Kyle Finnegan in the eighth. He is batting .489 with multiple hits in eight of his last 10 games.
“My work has been good in the cage and being able to repeat my swings,” Riley said. “If you do that and stick to your plan, you have a good chance.”
Lane Thomas hit the Nationals’ first pinch-hit homer of the season, a three-run drive off reliever Dylan Lee in the sixth that made it 3-2. Thomas drove his ninth homer into the left-field seats to give Washington its first lead of the three-game series.
“Any time you can come from behind like that, it boosts everyone’s morale, including yourself,” Thomas said. “The hard work you put in to prepare for situations like that makes a difference.”
The Braves have won six straight in the season series against the Nationals. Washington was swept in Atlanta for the first time since April 11-13, 2014.
Atlanta starter Ian Anderson, who had the NL’s highest ERA over six starts in June at 6.91, was trying to win his second straight start, but left after issuing consecutive one-one walks to Soto and Nelson Cruz in the sixth.
Nationals starter Paolo Espino allowed two run and six hits in four innings.
Atlanta 1B Olson dove to his left in the second for a backhanded spear of Maikel Franco’s grounder. He flipped the ball to Anderson for the out. … Franco returned the favor from third base in the fourth, ranging to his right to make a tough jump-throw from foul territory across the diamond on one hop to retire Orlando Arcia.
The Nationals reinstated RHP Hunter Harvey from the 60-day injured list and optioned RHP Joan Adon to Triple-A Rochester. To make room on the 40-man roster, RHP Jackson Tetreault was transferred to the 60-man injured list.
The Braves and Mets meet Monday night to begin a three-game series with LHP ace Max Fried (9-2, 2.52 ERA) going against Mets RHP ace Max Scherzer (5-1, 2.26). Fried is 5-3 with a 2.80 ERA in 12 career starts and five relief appearances against New York.
Washington is off Monday. RHP Josiah Gray (7-5, 4.14) will face Seattle when the Mariners and Nationals begin a two-game series on Tuesday.
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