LOS ANGELES (AP) — The Atlanta Braves came achingly close to forcing the National League division series back to Turner Field, where they had the best home record in the majors this season.
Needing a win to avoid elimination Monday, pinch-hitter Jose Constanza’s RBI single gave the Braves a 3-2 lead and plenty of hope in the seventh inning.
It didn’t hold up, though, and they went on to lose 4-3 to the Los Angeles Dodgers on Monday night.
“We battled the whole game and just came up a little short,” first baseman Freddie Freeman said.
That’s been a familiar story for the Braves, who haven’t won a postseason series since 2001. They dropped this best-of-five matchup 3-1, extending a stretch in which they’ve lost seven straight playoff series and the 2012 NL wild-card game.
“We came together and achieved a division title,” said Justin Upton, who struck out to end the game. “It was fun to be a part of. At the end of the day, it wasn’t as much as we wanted, but we played well.”
The Braves were 56-25 at Turner Field, but they were the only division champions with a losing road record at 40-41.
“We expect that next season we’ll be right back where we are,” backup catcher Gerald Laird said.
Juan Uribe hit a two-run homer in the eighth inning off losing pitcher David Carpenter to give the Dodgers a 4-3 lead. Yasiel Puig doubled down the right-field line leading off the inning.
Brian Wilson pitched a scoreless eighth to get the victory. Kenley Jansen struck out all three batters in the ninth for a save.
Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez never got the ball to lights-out closer Craig Kimbrel.
“You don’t want it to ever end the way we ended today. But we had the right guy out there. Carp has been good for us,” Gonzalez said. “There is nothing to be ashamed of.”
The Dodgers gambled in bringing back Clayton Kershaw on three days’ rest for the first time in his career. But with a chance to close out the series, they opted for their ace over scheduled starter Ricky Nolasco. The move paid off when the 2011 Cy Young Award winner tossed six solid innings before turning it over to the bullpen.
Kershaw squandered a 2-0 lead, giving up two unearned runs and three hits. He struck out six and walked one on 91 pitches.
With one out in the seventh, Elliot Johnson tripled into the right-field corner, sending Puig sliding into the dirt chasing the ball as it caromed off the wall. Constanza, batting for starting pitcher Freddy Garcia, singled into center, scoring Johnson to put the NL East champion Braves ahead for the first time.
Garcia allowed two runs and eight hits in six innings. He struck out six and walked two.
“It’s tough to swallow when you get a great performance like Freddy gave us,” Freeman said. “For him to do what he did in an elimination game, that was more than we could have asked for.”
The Braves tied it 2-all in the fourth, when the Dodgers’ defense faltered.
Chris Johnson’s RBI single scored Freddie Freeman, who singled leading off, went to second on first baseman Adrian Gonzalez’s throwing error and advanced to third on a wild pitch by Kershaw.
Andrelton Simmons grounded into a fielder’s choice to third in what should have been an inning-ending double play, but second baseman Mark Ellis’ throw to Adrian Gonzalez went wide and Evan Gattis scored from third.
“To end the way it did tonight, it’s going to hurt. It’s going to be a long way back,” Fredi Gonzalez said. “But tip your hat to the Dodgers and congratulate Donnie and his staff. The sad thing is there are no more games, you know?”
NOTES: Braves C Brian McCann went 0 for 4 and finished 0 for 13 in the series. He can become a free agent this fall. … Elliot Johnson was 0 for 10 in the series before he tripled. … Chris Johnson went 3 for 4 and batted.438 with five RBIs in the series. … Garcia, who turned 37 on Sunday, made his 11th career postseason start and lowered his ERA to 3.25.